Fashion: The Next Generation of Fabric Hails from Hemp, by Kelly Drennan

Over the past few years we have witnessed the exponential growth of sustainable fabrics. This is a movement, not a trend. Organic cotton, hemp, tencel, recycled polyester and organic wool are gaining popularity, evidenced on the international runways and in fashion media.

By now most of us are familiar with the advantages of sustainable fabrics that include fewer toxic chemicals by reducing the amount of textiles dumped into our landfills and producing in a closed loop environment. But consumers are still largely dependent on non-sustainable fabrics like Polyester, Lycra, Spandex and Gore-tex to name a few. These fabrics hold properties that we have grown to view as necessities, like stretch, durability and price. So how do we discover a sustainable alternative?

CRAiLAR® Organic Fibers is poised to become the revolutionary next step in sustainable fibers. CRAiLAR is developed by Naturally Advanced Technologies (NAT), in collaboration with the National Research Council of Canada. It is an ingredient, much like Lycra or Gore-tex, except that it is completely sustainable. NAT’s hope is that apparel companies who currently use common blends like cotton/lycra, will shift to using a cotton/CRAiLAR blend. If blended with other sustainable fabrics, this new technology could have a significant impact on the apparel and textiles market as a whole.

The fibers are made from hemp stalk, not commonly used in apparel because of its rough texture and stiffness. The all-natural CRAiLAR process transforms the rough hemp stalk into a velvety-soft, yet strong and durable, textile fiber. The enzymes used in the process are all natural and GMO-free. The result is a fabric that is soft and supple like cotton with the same performance traits, so it is cool and comfortable to wear year-round. NAT claims that it is even better than cotton because it reduces shrinkage and has more tensile strength than cotton. It looks like cotton, dyes like cotton, fits the same and washes the same.

Hemp is known to be one of the most sustainable, renewable, and environmentally friendly crops that requires no irrigation, no chemical fertilizers and no pesticides. It can grow to 14 feet in just a few months, producing multiple yields within one year. While many plants deplete the surrounding soil of vital nutrients, hemp is beneficial to the soil and actually improves its condition. Industrial hemp absorbs carbon dioxide – the most prominent greenhouse gas in the Earth’s atmosphere – at five times the rate of the same acreage of a forest.

CRAiLAR is currently undergoing approval for third party GOTS certification; however, NAT does claim that the entire life cycle can be certified organic, making it eco-friendly from beginning to end.

It is too early to know what the cost implications of CRAiLAR are at this stage. But recent trials sponsored by Hanesbrands Inc. reveal that blending it with cotton significantly reduces manufacturing costs by reducing shrinkage and improving dye uptake. The resulting savings could bring the final cost closer to that of regular cotton, as opposed to the premium paid for organic cotton (which in some cases is as much as 60 percent higher).

I am impressed with this new technology, and I love the fact that it is derived from hemp. However, the overall sustainability of the garment really comes down to with what CRAiLAR is blended. If it is blended with conventional fabrics, then it really is only a slight improvement. However, if blended with organic cotton, tencel and other sustainable or certified organic fabrics, then the final product definitely meets my standards and gets a full thumbs up.

Originally posted at Ecosalon.

Kelly DrennanKelly Drennan is a true social entrepreneur, devoted to making change within an industry known for its many negative social and environmental impacts including labour, energy, waste, water, and the use of toxic chemicals.

Kelly has successfully aligned her company Fashion Takes Action with many leading businesses and ENGOs including Fashion Fights Poverty, Social Alterations, Environmental Defence, Earth Day Canada, Change for the Environment, FEM International, Vancouver Fashion Week, Green Enterprise Ontario, Toronto Greenhouse and Fashion Group International.

As a media “go-to” expert on sustainable fashion, Kelly has been featured in top media outlets including the Globe & Mail, Fashion Television, Metro, Breakfast Television, Toronto Star, Virgin Radio, Green Living Magazine, UK Times and Flare Magazine. Kelly also writes the “green” column for Canada’s fashion industry magazine, Trends, and is a contributor to two of the top US blogs in the “green” space, Elephant Journal and Eco Salon.