Hemp - The Most Eco-Friendly Fabric For Furniture
by Kenneth Fonville
amount of water required for the crop, and the vulnerability to a variety of pests and
diseases require a great deal of intervention by the farmer, whether with herbicides
and pesticides or equivalent quantities of organic alternatives.
Some other "rapid renewal" fabric products are currently on the market such as
bamboo, abaca, linen, and fabric made from other grasses. Their rapid growth means
they absorb a great deal of carbon in the atmosphere quickly, but especially in the
case of bamboo, the toxic chemicals needed to separate the fiber from the other
plant material before it can be woven, is problematic.
There is one rapidly growing natural product that lends itself nicely for fabric that is
environmentally friendly from a growing and processing point of view. The product is
primarily grown in Eastern Europe and Asia where subsistence farms make it a cash
crop. I am speaking of hemp-a fiber that has been grown by people since prehistoric
times for its fiber, oil, medicinal qualities, and as a base for soaps, creams,
moisturizers and shampoos.
Annually, an acre of land will produce as much fiber as 2-3 acres of cotton. The fiber
is stronger and softer than cotton, lasts twice as long in use, and will not mildew.
Historically most hemp fiber was used for cordage (ropes) and the many strange
names for marine ropes derive from the various specific fiber blends and strengths
for specific on board ship uses.
Hemp grows in a much wider climate range than cotton and is frost tolerant. In
addition to the fiber for fabrics, hemp can be used for paper, cardboard, a plastic
substitute and even as fuel (think bio-diesel).
It is interesting to note that in the US most paper is made from tree fiber-which take
many years to grow to harvestable size. A hemp crop can be harvested in 120 days
and requires no toxic chemicals to release the fiber from the pulp. (Anyone who has
passed an operating paper mill will relate to this!) Hemp fiber is released mechanically
by steam and machinery.
It is distressing that hemp has been illegal to grow in the US since the 1930's, and
made even stricter about a decade ago. Its cousin, marijuana, has virtually
indistinguishable leaf and stem structure, but Cannabis Hemp (Indian hemp) does not
have the THC content that makes marijuana such a social problem.
Most countries in the EU, plus Canada and Australia, allow industrial hemp to be
grown. In Eastern Europe and Asia, hemp has always been a valid crop that
replenishes the soil and doesn't require expensive herbicides and pesticides.
Nevertheless, industrial hemp is legal for import and sale in the US, but illegal to grow
as a domestic crop.
This state of affairs means that American consumers can benefit from the
eco-friendly nature of the product, when used in their clothing or furniture, and are
supporting mostly third world agricultural efforts to be self-sustaining and enriching
their standard of living.
About The Author
Ken Fonville is the president of EcoSelect Furniture, which sells , made with eco-friendly leather and hemp fabrics. Our of sofas, loveseats and chairs are high quality for the price of ordinary brand
There has been a great deal of
publicity lately about fabric
construction and the various
materials from which it is made.
"Synthetic" fabrics made from
petroleum feed-stocks have been
panned as not sustainable. There has
been progress in manufacturing these
kinds of fabrics from bio-based oil
derivative raw material, but not much
is being done commercially.
"Organic" cotton has gotten a lot of
press as well, but the inherent issues
in producing cotton remain. The long
hot growing season, the copious
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