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From seed to compost: The Hemp Temple for compostable clothing

Hemp proves a worthy adversary to reining fabric cotton as it enables the making of compostable clothing for Australian label The Hemp Temple

The plain truth about composting fashion

All compostable clothing is biodegradable but not all biodegradable clothing is compostable. The distinction between the two terms can create landfills of difference when it comes to a brand’s ecological footprint. Though interchangeably used, biodegradable fashion breaks down into elements of nature in a process that can sometimes take up to hundreds of years, whereas compostable clothing and accessories become organic matter in soil within mere months. Most brands claiming to sell organic and biodegradable products fail to include the fine print on their labels – the degree of degradation, which is largely influenced by the chemical dyes and synthetic material including that used in labels, zips, buttons and sewing threads. Despite the omnipresent sustainable initiatives in the industry, few names use natural materials in every component of their garments, rendering products 100% compostable. Australian label, The Hemp Temple, with deep-set roots in hemp powerhouse, Nepal and craftsman central, India – is among few embodying the solution. The creed that brings together the brand’s three co-founders Isabella Gillespie, Anna Townsend and Brittany Godden: «hemp is a living agent of change. It is a revolution in its own right».

Introducing: The Hemp Temple

Making this historically controversial crop the hero of the story, The Hemp Temple aims to balance the scales between profitable business and sustainable practice. «Hemp is the vehicle of transformation we use to spread our philosophy», reveals Gillespie. The brand’s journey with hemp started in northern India when the founders met with a man selling clothes made of the resilient fiber and discovered that it ages – the proof was in the fifty year old shirt on the vendor’s back. The transformation from loving the fabric’s texture to becoming promoters of the plant was swift and The Hemp Temple was born in partnership with that same vendor in 2018, from the seedlings of their existing eco-friendly label, Friday Hut Road. Long before the hemp conversation happened in the industry, the brand was creating refined, practical men and womenswear, made to be returned to the earth at the end of its lifecycle. Carefully thought out designs use drawstring instead of zips, wrap and tie silhouettes, and coconut-base buttons to ensure complete compostability. Each part of the garment including the thread used for construction is compostable. The brand’s zero-waste approach ensures all excess materials are reused and repurposed in the production process: «By investing in this garment over fast fashion, you are not only helping prevent waste, pollution and landfill, supporting families and communities but you are helping to co-create an entirely new system that respects the world». In advocating for timeless style over transient trends, The Hemp Temple negates the idea that hemp is simply the sustainable fabric of the moment.  

Planting the seed in Nepal, producing in India 

With production geographies distributed between Nepal and Himachal Pradesh in India, the process starts right from seeds and ends at compost. The brand is invested in the farming process as the three founders have had on-ground meetings to document hemp and the culture of it for the Nepali people who community farm it in the wild. Hemp has remained a staple product and abundant for the communities in these regions for a long time. Harvested, the stalk fibre is sent to local villages and hand woven into hemp and organic cotton blends. The dyeing process takes place in Pushkar. Each piece is sewn by a family of five tailors in India and then packaged into hemp and biodegradable post bags.

Hemp plants produce more fibre per acre than any other textile plant, The Hemp temple

Hemp is the future of fashion – a statement or reality in the making? 

Hemp is gaining traction as a worthy opponent to the fashion industry’s reining fabric: cotton. Gillespie sees the potential of the hemp industry, «We may not see the full face of hemp just yet, but there is a lot happening in the undergrowth for new and current businesses. We are co-creating a consumer trend». While regenerative cotton farming may be a centre-piece at the latest industry round tables, this fiber has always been grown in monoculture, i.e. repetitively without crop rotation, degrading the soil quality and leading to barren land. 

Cotton is a drain on natural and human resources like fresh water, pesticides, chemical fertilizers and underpaid labor. Contrastingly hemp has many accolades in its favor, from being a carbon negative crop for absorbing carbon dioxide from the air to one of the strongest natural fibers with a potential to eliminate long-living plastic waste. Gillespie turns to weeds to explain hemp’s characteristics «Hemp grows like a weed with a purpose to heal the soil». The plant’s roots navigate deep into the ground to hold loam together preventing erosion and loosen it up in preparation for the next crop. It is also recognized for being least thirsty, using less than half the amount of water that cotton demands for growth and processing and virtually no pesticides. 

Using comparison to shed further perspective, hemp plants produce more fibre per acre than any other textile plant such as cotton, linen or bamboo. According to a study published by Ecological Economics in 1998, hemp provides double dividend by decreasing land use and improving environmental quality where it is grown. In 2015, the Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI) reported that hemp is a low maintenance crop requiring minimal inputs, including agro-chemicals and has not been plagued by pests to date. The bast fibers of hemp can be woven into one of the most versatile fabrics, solving many needs of the fashion industry and making it a jack of all trades. 

Hemp fabrics are anti-fungal, anti-bacterial and anti-odorous, ensuring reduced washing cycle and longer lifespans for products. Being highly breathable, insulating and four times more absorbent than cotton, hemp clothing is weather-proof, capable of drawing moisture from skin, making it an ally for summer and winter. The potential of hemp is tangible beyond fashion as it has the capacity to alter the fabric of industrial production across numerous sectors. Not only can hemp be used to create plastics, oils, construction material, food, paper, medicine, cosmetics and textiles – it is also a means to create ‘bioplastics’, which are alternatives to many petrochemical plastics.

The legal landscape of industrial hemp farming

Despite its illicit history over the last few decades, industrial hemp (containing less than 0.3 per cent TCH) has begun to make its way into legislature. Ecopreneurs lobby for hemp cultivation as myths surrounding the crop are busted in every industry accompanied by a long trail of its benefits. With the legal landscape shifting in different countries, hemp is undergoing a socio-economic evolution. Industrial hemp can be grown in certain states of India, United States, Europe, Canada among others, but there is a vast grey area yet to be mapped out as some European countries such as France ban the ‘whole plant’ business model whereas others create elaborate loopholes in simple subsidy programs. Being deemed a legit agricultural commodity, enabled The Hemp Temple to facilitate sustainable conversations around hemp that aren’t yet happening «The more we invest into hemp, as producers, consumers the cheaper and more widespread it will become». While the brand sources its hemp from Nepal where businesses can only use wildly grown crop as per the Narcotic Drugs Control Act, there is still a long way to go in breaking down barriers to entry for hemp that have been in place for decades. 1937 saw the Marijuana Tax Act signed in America during the Great Depression where sections of society were divided between hemp – a boon or a bane. In 1942, the black and white film Hemp for Victory was launched to defend the plant but the second Controlled Substances Act (CSA) of 1970 classified marijuana as a schedule 1 drug bringing hemp farming to a standstill in the Unites States and subsequently many other countries. The underdog has found its foothold once again in the industry since the Hemp Farming Act of 2018 made a legal clarification defining industrial hemp. 

The Hemp Temple’s zero-waste approach ensures all excess materials are reused and repurposed in the production process

Leveling the political field between hemp and cotton

The cotton versus hemp battle is steeped in politics as governments play a huge role in incentivizing farmers, often fueled by corporate needs. The International Cotton Advisory Committee (ICAC) confirmed that in 2020 eleven countries reported providing financial assistance to their cotton industry, including direct payments, border protections, subsidizing crop insurance, transport, fertilizers, marketing and setting minimum prices. According to Kingpins Show, an information network in the textile industry, global government support for cotton in the 2019-2020 crop year was eight billion dollars, a thirty nine per cent increase from the prior year – causing environmentalists to scrutinize the usage of this tax-payer money and its purpose in attaining sustainability goals. Contrastingly hemp has its repertoire of champions, environmentalists and industrialists alike – as each part of the plant offers opportunities for sustainable development and profit streams. From stem to flower, hemp can be broken down and used in different industries from fashion and beauty to construction and food. 

Given the minimal demand hemp makes on resources, this inexpensive crop seems a viable threat to cotton businesses worldwide. While EU has operated in a legal gray zone concerning hemp farming since 1999, the U.S. has only recently amended laws and final regulations are still under process. Brussels’ recent legal hurdle throws a wrench at hemp farmers ‘whole plant’ business model as they indicate an initial ruling where CBD food products derived from the top of the plant will not comply with EU’s novel foods regulations. «Farmers need to be able to use the whole crop», says Liz McCulloch, director of policy at the British drug advocacy group Volteface. 

Meanwhile, the 2018 Farm Bill in U.S. has rendered hemp businesses federally legal and eligible for subsidies yet they still face challenges from law enforcement and banks among others. In January 2021, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced its final rule regarding hemp production which defines criteria such as – negligent violation where producers are required to dispose plants that exceed the acceptable hemp THC level, get samples tested using registered laboratories, follow methods of sampling etc. Crop insurance for hemp is only becoming available in 2021. The USDA’s Multi-Peril Crop Insurance (MPCI) plan has been extended to hemp for the 2021 crop year with eligibility criteria like one year history producing the plant and an established sale contract for insured hemp. These initiatives may have set off a chain reaction across the world as many agricultural states in countries like India, Australia are also seen legalizing industrial and medicinal hemp farming.

The Hemp Temple

Based in Australia, Byron Bay, The Hemp Temple was founded in 2018 with the purpose of creating conscious clothing for men and women, woven from organic Himalayan hemp and organic cotton blends. The three founders consider it to be a temple of slow fashion and sustainable practice with a focus on creating compostable items.

The writer does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article.

check and buy on Prototipo Store
item collections in limited edition
crafted according to our editorial search

Hemp / made in Italy
Lampoon is working to restore Hemp production in Italy
as hemp is the one and only natural vegetal fiber sourceable in the country
for more info, please email us

check and buy on Prototipo Store
item collections in limited edition
crafted according to our editorial search

Hemp / made in Italy
Lampoon is working to restore
Hemp production in Italy
as hemp is the one and only
natural vegetal fiber sourceable in the country
for more info, please email us at [email protected]

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