glasses and a pocket watch on top of a historical book

Hemp's Rich History: Ancient Times to Modern Fashion

In a world increasingly concerned about sustainability, hemp has emerged as a versatile and eco-friendly option for a large variety of consumer products. From its ancient origins in Eastern civilization to its modern-day applications across industry, hemp has a rich history - and an even more promising future. 

Hemp's History

Hemp, a versatile and sustainable plant, has a vibrant history . From its cultivation in ancient civilizations to its diverse applications across cultures, hemp has been an integral part of human society for thousands of years. 

Hemp's cultivation can be traced back to ancient times. Some of the earliest records of hemp cultivation come from China, where it was utilized for a multitude of purposes. Chinese civilizations recognized the value of its strong fiber and used it to create textiles, ropes, and even paper. The resilient fibers made it an ideal material for everyday necessities. 

Hemp cultivation thrived in other ancient societies too. Mesopotamia was another hub for hemp production. Hemp fibers were used to create durable textiles and ropes, as well as pottery . The versatility and strength of hemp made it essential for trade, agriculture, and human flourishing across the region. 

As time went on, the cultivation and utilization of hemp spread to different parts of the world. In Europe, hemp played a vital role in the textile industry, providing a reliable source of fiber for clothing and other fabric-based products. European settlers later introduced hemp to the Americas, where it became a staple crop in the early U.S colonies. Once again, hemp was used for clothing, rope, paper, and even oil. Hemp was so fundamental to the economy and production of goods for the early colonies, laws were even passed to ensure its cultivation!

According to PBS, In 1619 the Virginia Assembly passed a decree that required every farmer to grow hemp. At the same time, hemp was allowed to be exchanged as legal tender in Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Virgina. 

Loyalty to the hemp plant continued after the American Revolution. Congress decreed that the US Navy would buy hemp from US farmers to be used for sails and cordage. 

During the Industrial Revolution, hemp experienced a surge in demand as textile production became mechanized. Mills and factories emerged. The fibers were processed to create a wide range of fabrics, from canvas to denim-like materials. The strength and durability of hemp made it the choice for heavy-duty applications, including ship sails, military uniforms, and industrial products.

Unfortunately, hemp's journey hit a roadblock in the 20th Century. The politically-motivated campaign to categorize hemp as inextricably similar to marijuan marijuana led to its prohibition and subsequent decline in cultivation. Misunderstandings and misguided perceptions overshadowed hemp's vast potential, hindering its widespread use for several decades.

However, in recent years hemp has made a remarkable comeback. With increased awareness of its sustainable qualities, hemp is once again being recognized for its versatility and ecological benefits. Hemp now finds itself at the forefront of the sustainable revolution, offering a myriad of applications across diverse industries. 

How Hemp is Turned into Fabric

Now that we know a bit about hemp’s intriguing history, we can explore how the crop is brought to bear for use in industry. The plant undergoes a fascinating transformation to become the versatile fabric

The journey from crop to fabric involves several essential steps, each contributing to the creation of a durable and eco-friendly textile. 

The process begins with the cultivation of the hemp plant, scientifically known as Cannabis sativa. Hemp plants grow tall and fast, reaching heights of up to 15 feet within a few months. Once the plants have reached maturity, they are harvested, usually by cutting the stalks close to the ground to preserve the roots.

After harvesting, the outer bark of the hemp stalks is removed through a process called decortication or retting, which occurs in one of three ways: open field retting, dew retting, or enzyme retting. This process separates the outer bark from the woody core of the plant, necessary because there is a sticky substance called lignin that binds the outer and inner layers together

Next is the separation and cleaning of the bast fibers. The fibers are mechanically separated to remove any remaining plant material and impurities. This process ensures that only the high-quality fibers are retained for further processing.

Once the fibers have been cleaned, they undergo additional preparation to transform them into yarn or thread. This can involve a process called carding; the fibers are combed to alignment in a uniform direction. Carding helps improve the quality and consistency of the fibers, making them more suitable for creating yarn.

Spinning is the next crucial step in which the carded fibers are twisted together to create yarns or threads. This spinning process gives the fibers strength and stability, making them suitable for weaving or knitting.

With the yarn or thread prepared, it is time to weave or knit the hemp fabric. Weaving involves interlacing the yarns to create a stable and structured fabric. This process can be done on traditional looms or using modern weaving machinery. Knitting involves looping the yarns to form a more flexible and stretchable fabric. 

The fabric then undergoes finishing processes to enhance its final characteristics. This often includes dying, softening, and treating the final product make to it ready for use as a textile. 

windmills across a bright field

Hemp's Environmental Benefits

Hemp’s journey from farm to factory is one that actually mitigates environmentally detrimental impacts. 

Hemp requires significantly less water compared to other crops, such as cotton. It has a remarkable ability to thrive with minimal irrigation, making it an ideal choice in regions prone to drought. Hemp's efficient water usage reduces strain on freshwater resources, contributing to water conservation and sustainability.

One of the most notable of hemp’s numerous qualities is its natural resistance to pests and diseases, eliminating the need for harmful chemical interventions. This reduces the environmental impact associated with pesticide usage, safeguarding beneficial insects and the local ecosystem.

Hemp also has a deep root system that helps prevent soil erosion. Its extensive root network anchors the soil, protecting it from erosion caused by wind or water. Additionally, hemp plants have the unique ability to remove toxins and heavy metals from the soil, a process known as phytoremediation. 

As if it’s possible to believe that hemp’s miracle-crop-like qualities could get any more impressive - they do! 

Hemp acts as a carbon sink, meaning it absorbs significantly more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere during its rapid growth cycle than other plants are capable of. By capturing CO2, hemp helps mitigate climate change by reducing net greenhouse gas emissions. The carbon stored within hemp biomass even remains sequestered when it is transformed into select products. 

Hemp's numerous, extraordinary qualities promote a greener and more sustainable future that addresses pressing environmental concerns while advancing us towards a more balanced coexistence with nature.

Image of a sewing machine working

How Hemp Fabric Is Superior

Having established hemp as a plant of nearly unbelievably pro-environmental qualities, it naturally makes sense to question how high quality of fabric it makes. 

The answer? Very, very high quality. 

When it comes to clothing, finding the perfect fabric that combines comfort, durability, and performance is essential. Hemp hits that bill. 

From breathability to durability and moisture-wicking properties, hemp fabric stands out as a superior choice for clothing.

One of the key advantages of hemp fabric is its remarkable breathability. The natural structure of hemp fibers allows air to circulate freely, creating a cooling effect on the skin. This breathability is particularly beneficial during warmer weather or physical activities when heat and moisture build-up can cause discomfort. Hemp fabric keeps you feeling fresh and comfortable by allowing air to flow through the fabric, preventing the trapping of heat and sweat.

Hemp fabric is also renowned for its exceptional durability, making it a long-lasting option for clothing. The fibers derived from the hemp plant are incredibly strong and resistant to wear and tear. This means that hemp garments can withstand frequent use, washing, and various activities without losing their shape or quality. The durability of hemp fabric reduces the need for constant replacements, making it an economically and environmentally sustainable choice.

Another outstanding quality of hemp fabric is its excellent moisture-wicking properties. Hemp fibers have a natural ability to draw moisture away from the skin and transfer it to the outside of the garment for it to evaporate. This moisture-wicking action keeps the fabric dry and helps to regulate body temperature. 

Moreover, the moisture-wicking properties of hemp fabric also contribute to odor resistance. By pulling moisture away from the skin and allowing it to evaporate, hemp fabric minimizes the growth of odor-causing bacteria, ensuring that you feel fresh throughout the day.

Hemp fabric is miraculous as the plant it comes from. Combined with its sustainability and versatility, clothing made from hemp fabric stands out as an exceptional choice for those seeking comfortable, long-lasting, and eco-friendly apparel.

Facts and Fiction About Hemp

Despite all of the incredible positives surrounding the hemp plant, its story is not one without tragedy. It has long been shrouded in misconceptions and misinformation, which at one point saw it the victim of a near-total prohibition due to a completely false conflation with its cousin, the marijuana plant

Hemp is not marijuana. While hemp and marijuana belong to the same plant species, they are distinct varieties. Hemp contains only trace amounts of THC, the psychoactive compound that gives marijuana its intoxicating effects. In contrast, hemp has higher levels of cannabidiol (CBD), a non-psychoactive compound known for its potential health benefits.

Hemp grown for fiber does not get a smoker high like marijuana does. Due to its low THC content, hemp does not possess the psychoactive properties associated with marijuana. Consuming hemp products, such as hemp seeds, oil, or clothing made from hemp fabric, will not induce a "high". And for the record, hemp or not, you probably shouldn’t be ingesting clothing!

Hemp's long history of cultivation in different civilizations across the globe is testament to its foundation as a staple crop. Hemp has been cultivated for thousands of years, with records dating back to ancient civilizations in China, Mesopotamia, and other regions, including what became the United States. It was used for various purposes across industries, but none of those purposes indicate abuse by those who had access to it. 

There are now some modern misconceptions that hemp is illegal in many places. 

While it is true that the legal status of hemp varies across countries and regions, its cultivation is legal, especially for industrial purposes, in many countries and locales. In recent years, there has been a global movement towards hemp legalization, driven by its potential economic, and very real, environmental, and health benefits.

The truth is that hemp has a complex history, with periods marred by hysteria-driven prohibition in the U.S. by hysteria-driven prohibition. 

In the grand scheme of human history, hemp has been a valuable companion to numerous civilizations and has played a positive role in many material advancements. 

Understanding these facts and fictions is crucial for modern society to properly assess the potential of hemp as a staple crop of the sustainable revolution. 

Hemp's Contribution to the Sustainable Fashion Revolution

The fashion industry is undergoing a transformative shift towards sustainability, and hemp is emerging as a game-changer. With its eco-friendly qualities and versatile applications, hemp is being embraced by designers and consumers as a sustainable alternative to traditional fabrics. 

Its numerous qualities make it a standout candidate for widespread adoption by the global fashion industry as it inevitably shifts towards more eco-friendly textiles. The plant’s mass cultivation will help local ecosystems thrive, and reduce production of poorly made garments that lead to waste. 

Airetage is positioning itself as the standard bearer in this hemp-led revolution in the sustainable fashion industry, with its market entry with the launch of its Hemp Hoodie. 

In Conclusion, Hemp’s Future is Bright

Hemp’s remarkable history and versatile applications in modern society are reason enough to give it the respect it deserves. Add in its impressive environmental benefits and it’s easy to see how it is quickly becoming a transformative force in the sustainable fashion industry. 

By dispelling myths and embracing the truth of hemp, we can recognize its immense potential and contribute to a more sustainable future. 



Could hemp be a key tool in fight against climate change? | Plants | The Guardian

Hemp Carbon Credits Explained, Sequestration, Biochar

Back to blog

Leave a comment

Please note, comments need to be approved before they are published.