In many industrialised countries, there is renewed interest in hemp as sustainable textile fibre from a perspective of bio-renewability, circularity, and local (European) cultivation. The range of hemp products in textile and fashion is expanding.
However, the origin of commercially available hemp products is not always transparent and often involves Asian imports. The revival of locally harvested hemp fibres is still being held back by the fact that no homogeneous fibre quality can be guaranteed.
With the projects Eigen Kweek and Hemp4all, HOGENT wants to tackle the problems and support the revival of hemp as a circular driver for the textile and fashion industry.
During this Ellie.Talk Tex, expert Alexandra Deraeve of HOGENT talks about the projects set-up, the findings, and perspectives for the future.
How HOGENT is Optimizing Hemp Cultivation for Sustainable Textiles
The fashion industry is one of the most polluting industries globally, accounting for 10% of global carbon emissions and 20% of wastewater. The use of synthetic fibers like polyester, nylon, and acrylic have contributed significantly to this environmental damage. In response, there is a growing interest in sustainable and renewable raw materials, and hemp is making a comeback in the textile industry.
HOGENT, a university of applied sciences in Ghent, Belgium, is involved in different projects around the optimization of hemp cultivation for textiles. They are working closely with the Agrifood Nature Research center for the cultivation and fiber extraction part. The aim is to produce high-quality hemp fibers that can be used for textiles with minimal environmental impact.
In this blog post, we will discuss how green your closet is, the challenges of hemp cultivation and processing, and the potential of hemp for sustainable textiles.
How Green is your closet?
When you look at the clothing you are wearing today, chances are high you are wearing cotton, polyester, or a blend of both. Synthetics account for 60% of the raw materials used in the textiles sector today. While cotton accounts for 24% of materials used, its cultivation is limited to warm areas, and it needs a high input of pesticide and water during cultivation. Furthermore, only 1% of textile waste is recycled back into new textiles, most are still down-cycled like isolation.
The growing interest in alternative raw materials
Flax and hemp are known as sustainable and organic raw materials. However, their availability is limited, and the region for high-quality flax is rather small. Hemp, on the other hand, has disappeared as a fiber for textiles for many years. The first traces of hemp in textiles date back to the Egyptians, who used it for sailing clothes. However, the Marijuana Tax Act in the United States destroyed the entire Hemp for textiles industry as the cultivation of all types of Hemp became prohibited. It was only in the nineties that cultivation was permitted again in Europe. The long-term ban had hard consequences as it put a hold on all investments into processing technologies.
The Revival of Hemp
Interest in hemp is back, and bigger than before. The EU mainly uses hemp fibers for the pulp and paper industry, which is low-end applications. However, there is a challenge to increase European hemp cultivation and improve processing into high-quality textile applications. Several factors play a role, including the choice of the hemp variety, sewing and harvesting conditions, and retting processes.
Retting processes traditionally occur on the field, but they are very sensitive to climatic conditions, and enzymatic field retting seems a better alternative than the traditional process. The tenacity of hemp fibers is quite high, which means that hemp has a potentially long lifetime and could be very successful for recycling textile products end of life.
The processing of Hemp
Today, there are no specialized processes yet for cultivating hemp. However, the flax industry offers a good start but needs some minor adjustments. Different types of fibers and processes are possible, including long fiber spinning, which is similar to flax fibers and can be wet spun. However, only five spinning mills have this technology. Short fiber spinning is also a valuable raw material that can be transformed into fine yarn.
Fiber preparation is considered the most important step in the process to obtain nice quality. This involves carding, drafting, spinning, weaving/knitting, and dyeing/finishing. A lot of research is being done to drive the cultivation and processing of hemp in Flanders. While much of it is still done on a smaller scale, the aim is to scale up to industrial levels.
The final goal of the HOGENT projects is to present a collection of hemp garments, designed for circularity.