You may read the title of this piece and think we’re biased – after all, hemp clothing is what THTC is all about - but we prefer to think of ourselves as based. After all, we’ve known these hemp facts since the beginning, and they rank among the many reasons we do what we do.
Hemp clothing is gaining a reputation for being more than just a viable alternative to cotton; it’s finally being seen by many as a superior alternative.
When you compare these two fibres side by side, it’s not even close. Hemp wins, on almost all fronts. While it’s tempting to end the piece here, it’s not entirely fair, is it? We owe it to you to break it down, list the facts, make the comparisons and allow you to draw your own conclusions. So that’s exactly what we’re going to do.
Cotton – a brief history
Unless you’ve been an organic buff for years, you’ve almost certainly had cotton products in your life. From clothing and bedding to towels and washcloths, cotton has been the backbone of the textile industry for thousands of years – around 7,000 years, to be more precise! As far back as the ancient Greeks and Romans, cotton was a mainstay fabric, particularly for clothing.
One of the more surprising facts about cotton is its popularity around the ancient world. Not only was it used in the historical epicentres of Europe, but it had its place and importance in the Middle East, the Far East, and South America.
Cotton was an abundant fabric, but more than that, it was valuable. Its value was so high that the Aztecs used the fabric as currency – a trend that continued into modern times and saw many countries print money on cotton paper or a cotton-linen mix. According to the United States Federal Bureau of Engraving and Printing, U.S. ‘paper’ money is about 75% cotton and 25% linen.
As with cannabis, hemp, and many other plants, cotton was developed through selective breeding to become an even more useful plant for the modern textile era. Domesticated cotton has long fibres that are more easily separated from the seeds than wild cotton varieties.
To this day, cotton remains a valuable mainstay of the textile industry and a crucial resource worldwide, accounting for between 30-40% of fibre requirements.
Hemp – a brief history
The use of hemp easily rivals cotton in the historical stakes, with its origins as a cultivated fibre plant dating back to ancient civilisations in Northern China as far back as 10,000 BC. Records suggest that, back then, hemp fibre was used to improve pottery. Its use as a textile fibre is thought to predate cotton by over 1,000 years – a significant head start.
Hemp would sail the world, finding use in paper, fabrics, construction, and even medicines. If the criteria were versatility and this was a fight, hemp would win by first-round knockout.
Hemp certainly takes it in terms of pedigree and longevity of use. But how do the two fabrics stack up side by side as modern-day clothing materials?
Hemp vs Cotton – Sustainability
When making a sound choice for the environment, Hemp wins hands down. Let’s take a look at the environmental impact of cultivating each:
While it’s undoubtedly the case that cotton can be produced organically, it takes more of a toll on the environment to grow than hemp does. For one, it’s a much lower-yielding plant than hemp, so to produce the same volume, you’d have to plant a lot more cotton, meaning you’d have to use a lot more land. For the stats lovers, one acre of hemp will produce around 700kg of fibre – about three times as much as you’ll get from an acre of cotton.
Then there’s water. To produce just one kilogram of cotton, you need anywhere between two and five times the amount of water required to grow a kilogram of hemp. Hemp is simply a hardier plant, needing less care, attention, water and pesticides than cotton during the growing stage. It also grows much faster, finishing in between four and twelve weeks. You could say it grows like a......weed. Cotton, however, needs between 21 and 25 weeks to develop.
Hemp is a more robust fabric than organic cotton
It’s not just stronger than cotton – it’s one of the strongest and most durable of all natural fabrics. Hemp fibres are long, strong, and tougher and more resilient due to the composition of the fibres themselves. Hemp is so tough and durable that it’s used to make ropes in the construction industry and beats cotton hands down in the strength stakes. It’s a more rugged material, meaning it’s less likely to rip and succumb to wear and tear.
Hemp is roughly four times stronger than organic cotton, and it won’t stretch, either, meaning hemp clothing retains its shape longer. Have you ever taken a favourite cotton sweater or hoodie out of the closet only to notice its appearance has become spoiled by pilling of the fabric? Hemp doesn’t do that, either. Nor will it fall apart after 20 washes. That means you’ll look good in your THTC clothing longer, too. In terms of tensile strength and durability, hemp is the clear winner.
Hemp is more comfortable than cotton
Some people will argue this is subjective, and that’s fine. After all, cotton is the softer fibre from the outset, making it the more popular choice for t-shirts, hoodies, and other garments worn on the skin. This is where cotton initially took the lead as a fabric for clothing. Its more delicate nature made for a softer and more refined material – but that doesn’t tell the whole story.
Hemp is indeed the slightly stiffer fabric (not solid, but not as soft as cotton initially), but where hemp truly shines is in the long term. Hemp gets softer over time and becomes worn in (but won’t wear out!) and more comfortable with every wear. It doesn’t lose its shape the way cotton garments can after countless outings and washings. Cotton will break down over time due to that softness, while hemp will wear in nicely, becoming ever-softer but retaining that all-important strength.
Hemp is better at wicking moisture
Wicking is a term used to describe a fabric’s ability to absorb and release moisture, pulling it away from the skin to the outer edges of the garment, where it can evaporate. This is particularly handy when it comes to perspiration. The less moisture a fabric retains, the less likely you will experience a build-up of sweat.
Hemp’s natural breathability results from its more porous fibres, meaning it excels at wicking moisture. Conversely, cotton soaks up moisture like a sponge, making it more likely to rot. If a fabric is less likely to retain moisture, you’re less likely to experience unpleasant areas of sweat, which means fewer odours, too! Hemp clothing is smart clothing.
Hemp has natural antibacterial properties
Another bonus in the sweat stakes is hemp’s natural antibacterial nature. Add that to the moisture-wicking properties, and you can look forward to a lower risk of perspiration and odours while grooving in your hemp gear. This also means you can store your hemp clothing away for long periods with a much lower risk of mould and mildew appearing on the garments.
Cotton, on the other hand, absorbs sweat and holds it there, meaning those odours are trapped in the fabric and shall most assuredly reek.
Hemp clothing helps repel UV rays
As far as benefits go, this is a pretty big one, but don’t just take our word for it. Independent testing agency SGS Testing conducted studies, pitting hemp against denim and synthetic fabrics. The findings? Hemp fabric is 99.9% effective in blocking UVA and UVB rays, ranking it ‘excellent’ when offering protection against the sun. Better still, these results didn’t budge an inch when the fabric was wet. Note: If you’re going out in the sun, you should still apply sunscreen to your exposed areas.
When compared against cotton in the same test, hemp blocked 50.9% more rays, making it easily the more capable fabric of the two. Hemp can protect you in the sun while allowing the skin to breathe. In addition to protecting you, this UV resistance offers another benefit – your natty hemp clothing won’t be subject to the same fading of colours or print as cottonwear.
It’s starting to look like a shut-out for hemp clothing.
Hemp clothing is hypoallergenic
A common excuse you may encounter in the argument against hemp clothing is that the fabric is itchy. This is a myth because hemp is naturally hypoallergenic and free of chemicals or proteins that can cause allergic reactions, thus making it suitable for even sensitive skin types.
Compare this to cotton, which undergoes various chemical treatments as part of the process, as well as being somewhat susceptible to multiple forms of mould such as Alternalia and Aspergillus (in cotton crops). It’s easy to see which of the two fabrics is likely kinder to skin.
Hemp clothing lasts longer
It almost goes without saying, but we’ll say it anyway – hemp’s toughness, durability, and tendency to improve with age and become more comfortable, coupled with its resistance to stretching, losing its shape, fading or becoming discoloured all add up to one thing. Hemp clothing lasts longer - especially if looked after properly by washing at lower temperatures and avoiding tumble drying - and that’s good news for you.
So, to sum up our own argument - hemp is a much better choice than cotton. Not ust for the planet, but for your soul.