Anti-marijuana campaigns destroyed Australia’s hemp industry almost a century ago. Only recently have the producers of the world’s oldest natural fibre finally started clawing their way back, replacing misleading propaganda with the much more interesting truth.
Hemp doesn’t need pesticides or huge amounts of water and takes up little space. The plants produce more pulp per acre than trees, the material is biodegradable and the crops even return nutrients to the soil. This hardy weed makes a strong and durable fabric that drapes and softens like linen and uses half the water and land of cotton.
Despite thousands of years being used to make everything from paper and fabric to rope and fuel, only this century has again been legal for farmers to harvest this fast-growing, sustainable crop on Australian soil.
So what happened? A misunderstanding. Cannabis sativa is the plant species that produces both marijuana and hemp but with one key difference. While marijuana may be more than 25 per cent tetrahydrocannabinol (the psychoactive component more commonly known as THC), hemp has been bred to contain less than 1 per cent.
Basically every element of the plant can be used. Fabric is made from the stalk’s outer fibre and the woody core is used for paper and constructions. The seeds, high in protein and omega-3 fats, can be used for oil in paints, cooking and plastics, and the leaves can even be juiced.
A future fabric with an ancient history, there’s no denying hemp has PR issues to overcome. But modern clothing made with hemp fabric isn’t the itchy hessian sack you might be thinking of from hippy market stalls a decade or so ago. Just like linen, hemp becomes softer and more luxurious over time.
Lots of Australian labels are using it this way or blending it with organic cotton to make a more sustainable jersey or denim fabric. Read on to find out who they are.
This Adelaide-based brand uses hemp fabrics in its clothing and bedsheets and is Ethical Clothing Australia accredited. The aesthetic is chic minimalism with comfortable cuts in neutral and block tones inspired by the local landscape. Beyond the 100 per cent hemp linen fabric, Good Studios deploys hemp denim, hemp twill and hemp jersey (55 per cent hemp, 45 per cent organic cotton blends) in its locally designed and produced pieces. A percentage from every online sale goes towards planting a tree.
You’ll find timeless, transeasonal pieces at Hemp Clothing Australia: a classic tee, a crisp shirt, well-fitting pants. This label boasts a great men’s range along with a smaller women’s selection, socks and bed linen. There’s also an artist range of naturally dyed tees. But arguably most interesting is the label’s school uniform project, which aims to swap synthetic fabrics for natural hemp polos.
ZONE by Lydia, a brand by Olympic champion turned eco-warrior Lydia Lassila, takes a holistic approach to all things wellness and sustainability. Its hemp apparel range encompasses comfort, style and inclusivity with its gender neutral and timeless designs. It was actually the hemp fabric that inspired Lydia to move into apparel in the first place and the collection features hoodies, tees, tanks, track pants and bike shorts.
Comfortable, sustainable threads made in Australia using eco-friendly materials and dyes, What’s not to like? The Vege Threads range includes a hemp jersey and various tees, shorts, pants and singlets in neutrals and block colours.
Make more than one statement with activewear from Solomon Street. The label creates leggings and crop tops with bright, fun floral and fruit patterns using hemp cotton. The range is made in Australia using a blend of 53 per cent hemp, 42 per cent organic cotton and 5 per cent elastane. The result is soft, sustainable activewear that’s good for you and the planet.
Byron Bay surf and skate label Afends has been slowly but surely turning over a new leaf. After looking for more sustainable alternatives, the brand started working with hemp in 2016. Now the brand claims every move it makes is driven by environmental and social impacts and it has become a big advocate for the fibre.
This Sydney-based label makes custom made-to-measure T-shirts, all the more reason to order one made with hemp fibre. Known for its strength and durability, hemp is also the most UV resistant natural fabric, making it an ideal material for everyday wear. Citizen Wolf recently crowdfunded even more colours of hemp jersey to create planet-friendly tees with texture that looks and behaves like linen, getting softer over time.
Sisters Kel and Em, who say they’re environmentalists first and foremost, make all pieces to order in their Grampians studio. After discovering the benefits of hemp, they’re transforming the label to work with 100 per cent hemp fabrics. The environmental impact of each piece is important to the duo, so every element of each Folk Tribe garment is designed to be composted (yep, no zippers here).
Designed in the Sunshine Coast hinterland, Tasi Travels pieces are light, breathable and primarily made of TENCEL. The label’s focus is on biodegradable fabrics that will feed nutrients back into the earth when worn out, so there’s no surprise some of the range blends hemp with TENCEL too.
With the aim to close the loop on fashion, A.BCH has nothing to hide and makes transparency the focus of its label. Every garment has a detailed story explaining the background and supplier location of everything from buttons and thread to end-of-life recycling instructions. A.BCH has used 100 per cent hemp in a number of items including jackets, shorts, scarves and a hemp-cotton blend t-shirt. The style is minimal, classic and made to last.
Photo by Katie Goodwin.
Ethical activewear brand Pinky & Kamal is best known for organic cotton yoga clothing but the label also creates cute hemp cotton dresses and jumpsuits. Every piece is handmade and dyed in Bali and comprises completely natural fibres. A tree gets planted for every purchase.
Britt’s List readers can get 15% off Pinky & Kamal with code BRITTSLIST at checkout. Shop here.
Most of the labels on this list source hemp from China but this Western Australian label uses hemp grown in Himalayan soil for its fabrics. The fibre is spun into yarn in a local village, then sent to another town in India where the fabric is dyed and the garments are cut and sewn by five locals the label works closely with. The Hemp Temple creates clothing for men and women.