Levi Strauss & Co., the American clothing giant known around the world for its jeans, has found a way to make the fibre from the hemp plant feel as soft as cotton. The company calls it "cottonized hemp" and their goal is to produce garments made entirely of this material by 2025.
Hemp is one of the most versatile plants in the world, but its misunderstood association with cannabis, as well as the interests of the almighty chemical industry, have made it illegal in the United States for the past century. But times are changing, and hemp cultivation is now legal in the country with the passage of the 2018 Farm Bill was passed.
Legalising this incredible plant could be revolutionary for many industries, such as clothing manufacturers. Hemp produces twice as much fibre as cotton, and uses far less water and chemicals to grow. It also grows much faster, and improves the soil as it does so, making it a more sustainable crop. Moreover, it can be grown locally, to provide producers with a more affordable and environmentally friendly fibre source to make fabric.
The availability of hemp as another material option is always a plus for companies, which can cite sustainability to impress their customers (and, in the process, reduce their contribution to climate change). Levi Strauss is one of the companies that is establishing itself as one of the most environmentally-friendly companies out there, by incorporating this plant into its textile catalogue.
The ultra-famous clothing brand will offer jeans made of 30% hemp and 70% cotton, thanks to an innovative technology they have developed that makes hemp as soft as cotton. The cotton fibres are obtained from the cocoon of the plant, and are easy to work with. Hemp fibres, on the other hand, are embedded in the stem and branches. Unlike cotton, however, it is difficult to work with the material. Nevertheless, Levi's has found a way to soften the hemp fibres and mix them with pure cotton.
A gradual process
Levi's was desperate to find an alternative to cotton as a raw material, as it is increasingly difficult to access fresh water for its cultivation. This technology unexpectedly emerged after years of research in Europe, where industrial hemp was already legal in many countries. And, while Levi's has not disclosed its partners in this discovery, they will be ready to roll out a marketable version of these garments in three years, with clothing made from 30% hemp and 70% cotton.
While Levi's plans to release the first version in three years, research will continue to find a way to make hemp 50% of the mix with cotton. Ultimately they will be looking for a production process using 100% hemp. The company says that within five years they hope to market "100% hemp garments that still feel like cotton".
What's more, there is hardly any difference between this hemp fibre and pure cotton. After all, most customers just want quality clothing. So, the company is not particularly concerned about how this new material will be received by the market, confident that it will be easier to sell, as hemp is actually "greener" than cotton.
“We are going to go from a garment that needs 3,781 litres of fresh water to make, 2,655 of that in fibre cultivation alone, and slash that by more than 2/3, in terms of total water consumption. Those are major savings," says the company, citing data gathered by the Stockholm Environmental Institute.
The substitution of just 30% of cotton in the manufacturing of these jeans would be very good for the environment. Thus, the time and effort to make hemp as smooth as cotton could make this textile technique a real discovery for the clothing industry; one that will soon transform your wardrobe.