While medical and recreational cannabis are both becoming more fashionable, Australians might soon find themselves opting for hemp clothing over cotton.
Since 1937, Australians have been banned from growing hemp for consumption. In 2017, that ruling was overturned, starting a new conversation about industrial hemp. Although you might relate hemp to marijuana, hemp isn’t capable of getting you high.
While marijuana contains the psychoactive component THC, Australian hemp contains less than 1% THC. This gives it the same narcotic effect as grains and oats. Marijuana is also produced from leaves, while hemp is produced from the stems. While Australia’s hemp industry is still growing, it is estimated to be worth $3 million in 2023.
As a distant cousin of marijuana, hemp has been subjected to a vicious smear campaign. However, we now need hemp more than ever.
Globally, the clothing industry causes 20% of freshwater pollution, and over 30% of the microplastics in the ocean comes from clothing. The materials used to make fabrics like polyester also contain large amounts of crude oil and plastic, which is creating an environmental nightmare Australia may never wake up from.
While cotton is a great alternative to polyester, it still requires around 2,700 litres of water to make a single cotton shirt. Cotton is also expensive to farm, as it needs to grow in a consistently lukewarm environment and spends nearly six months in the ground.
Unlike cotton, hemp is a more flexible plant. It’s able to grow at a wider range of temperatures and is ready for harvest in just 90 days. When it comes to water, it only takes 918 litres of water to produce a hemp t-shirt – 66% less than a cotton t-shirt. When produced in Australia, it could shrink the carbon footprint of our garment industry significantly.
Despite this, Australia is still struggling to accept hemp as a legitimate material. Hemp is still considered a controlled substance, and hemp farmers Australia-wide are subject to ridiculous levels of scrutiny – from special licenses to farmer-funded government testing.
With an over-regulated industry and very little positive press, hemp is no wonder plant – but it does present an interesting solution to Australia’s current clothing problem. As James Vosper from the Australian Hemp Alliance put it:
Hemp shouldn’t have to be a magic bullet. What we’re saying is that it’s a viable alternative to cotton, to wool, to concrete.
To read more about Australia’s regressive hemp laws, click here.