Hemp Textiles, An Environmental Game Changer | EDGE Talks to Hemp Traders

The biggest challenge for hemp has been its legality. It has been illegal to grow for the last 80 years.

Lawrence Serbin, President
Hemp Traders
Hemp, the cousin crop to marijuana, is a textile wonder that many consumers and industry professionals know little about. Although hemp has been around for thousands of years, today it is making head way as an environmental game changer in spite of it’s legal challenges. 

Lawrence Serbin, President of Hemp Traders., studied the properties of cannabis hemp, as a biology major. During these studies he discovered that hemp was not just a drug, but had been used since ancient times for its fiber to make rope and textiles. But because of current drug laws, hemp was outlawed and no longer being utilized. Upon graduation, Lawrence wanted to start a business that would help make the world a better place and realized he would start a hemp company.

He started Hemp Traders in 1993 and has never looked back.  It is the largest supplier of hemp fiber products in the United States.

Hemp has superior properties and environmental advantages as a crop and textile.  It grows rapidly, requires little water, can be grown with little to no use of pesticides, and produces more fiber yield per acre than any other source. Hemp can produce 250% more fiber than cotton and 600% more fiber than flax using the same amount of land.  Because of its porous nature, it absorbs water and dyes well and holds dye better than all other textiles.  It’s strong and durable properties outlast that of cotton and linen and hemp doesn’t wear out it wears in.

As part of EDGE’s sustainable advocacy, education and resource, this interview with Lawrence speaks to the small footprint the fashion industry has with sustainable fabrics, yet represents a significant opportunity and game changer for this environmentally sensitive fiber.

Source: Wikimedia Commons
Yunnan Nationalities Museum | Bai Woman Hemp and Shell Ornamented Clothes

More people are concerned about what they eat vs what they wear.

Larry, how advanced do you think the textile industry is in committing to the vast offering of sustainable materials? 

Not too much. Certainly the companies making the textiles are trying to be more environmental in their processes. But overall, organic textiles are a very small percentage of the overall textiles which are produced. Only a few companies specialize in organic fabrics.  Also this is consumer driven. More people are concerned about what they eat vs what they wear.  Most people want their textiles to be as lower priced as possible.

Are you seeing a demand from your clients for sustainable materials?  Give us an indication of what that looks like. For example, what percent of growth have you seen in the last decade? 

Yes, there is growth in the sustainable textile market.  But it is still very small. Our company has doubled in size in the last ten years since the demand is growing. But organic fabrics are more expensive than conventional fabrics and price is a big factor.

What are the obstacles, challenges in advancing sustainable materials, like hemp?  What part of the supply chain stands in the way of this progress – government regulations, farmers, clients, consumers?

The biggest challenge for hemp has been its legality.  It has been illegal to grow for the last 80 years.  Only now are some laws changing.  And then we need to play catch-up with the technology in farming, harvesting, and processing.

Source: pixabay
Hmong Hemp Weavers | Phongsaly province of Laos | photo: Tessa Bunney, sea-globe.com

What are you and the industry doing to communicate the hemp properties to the consumer?

From the very beginning of starting my company back in 1994 we have made every attempt to showcase the benefits of hemp.  As you can see by our flyer we talk about beneficial properties of hemp and its beneficial environmental properties. We have made the flyers, gone to trade shows, done fashion shows and communicated via our web page.  

Even then, hemp is not suited for every application.  In some cases cotton will work better or even synthetic fabric would work better. Hemp is not a replacement for all textiles.

What are some of the popular uses of hemp in apparel?

Hemp works best for casual apparel and rugged apparel.  Hemp is very breathable and cool to wear.  It is comfortable and durable.  Items like t-shirts, casual shirts, dresses, and shorts work very well.

Does Hemp Traders engage in fair trade practices and how would you rank the importance of fair trade with your partnering suppliers and manufacturers? 

Yes we do. You can read about our fair trade policies here.

Source: Wikimedia Commons
Yunnan Nationalities Museum | Jino Man Cotton and Hemp Clothes

Given the country’s political climate regarding climate change, how do you feel about making the world a better place?   What’s next for Hemp Traders?

“Making the world a better place” is the entire reason I started my company.  I wanted to have a company which was environmental.  I am now working on hempboard as a replacement for wood board made from trees. The hempboard is an ecological board made entirely out of hemp stalks and hemp hurds.  It is most similar to particleboard or medium density fiberboard.  It uses no trees and is a great replacement for boards derived from trees. Our binder does not use any formaldehyde.  Since hemp was legalized to grow in California last November, I am now writing a business plan to begin producing the board right here in California.  I plan to build a factory in the central valley and make the board from California grown hemp.

We will stay tuned for that sector of your business. Larry, you truly are a pioneer in hemp products for the US and we thank you. EDGE wishes you continued success and appreciates your contribution to the environment in bringing hemp textiles to mainstream apparel.

The EDGE network of designers [industry professionals] should make note that Hemp Traders makes it easy to work with hemp products by requiring no minimum order and keeping all of their products in stock for immediate delivery.

Click Hemp Traders, Hemp Textiles Flyer for Hemp Traders informational flyer.

Read more on best business practices and resourceful tips in the EDGE-ucation category.

More information on sustainable practices at sustainable EDGE.

Rhonda P. Hill

Founder, Publishing Editor