Is Hemp the Material of the Future?

Is Hemp the Material of the Future?

From the invention of hemp planes, to Patagonia’s hemp investments – why is everyone so hemp crazy?



Table of Contents

1. Why is Cotton so Popular?

2. What is Hemp?

3. Why Fiber Thickness Matters

4. Why Hasn't Hemp Already Take Over the World?

5. Why is Patagonia Investing in Hemp?


Well, why is cotton so popular?

Learn more about cotton here!

Cotton is the most profitable non-food crop in the world, according to the World Wildlife Fund. It is the perfect blend of strength and softness, and it can be woven into tough workwear (e.g. duck canva), or delicate fabrics (e.g. cotton gauze).

Cotton was the first fiber to get industrialized for fabric production and was one of the first exports of its kind for the U.S. and the UK. This fiber comes from the seed hairs or the cotton plant, and when compared to hemp, it is cheaper, softer, and people generally like to wear it more. So why is hemp such a topic of conversation lately?


What is hemp?

While hemp is also used in fabric and textile development, it is not that closely related to cotton – it’s more similar to jute, linen, nettle, sisel, and other similar plants and fibers. In other words, it’s more similar to a burlap sack than it is a cotton pillowcase.




Technically speaking, hemp is a bast fiber, meaning it is sourced from the stem of certain plants (in this case, hemp) and has a lot of strength and flexibility to it. Think of it this way: the stem is the strongest and most structured part of a plant, so when processed for textiles, it retains similar properties. And, since bast fibers are dramatically longer than cotton fibers (we’re talking about feet vs. inches, or the hairs found on seeds vs. stems of giant plants).

The benefits of hemp are mainly its strength. It’s not the strongest natural fiber in the world (that’s spider silk), but it’s definitely up there as one of the strongest. It has similar characteristics to jute, which is found in the foundational sole construction of Birkenstocks for strength and flexible foot support.


Jute being used in Birkenstock Construction


Since hemp is a bast fiber, the fiber length is longer than the fibers of seeds like cotton. This means the fibers are thicker, and therefore rougher, which is a drawback for a lot of people. In other words, with strength and fiber length comes an added thickness that comprises softness and comfort. Here are come examples of common fabric fiber lengths:

  • Cotton fibers = 0.2 - 2 inches long
  • Linen fibers = 4 - 40 inches long
  • Jute fibers = 3-13 feet long
  • Hemp fibers = 3-15 feet long


However, linen is also a bast fiber and people tend to really like wearing linen. So, what’s the difference? Well, mainly it’s the specifics of the fiber thickness.

Why fiber thickness matters.

As we’ve covered, the thicker the fiber, the stronger the material is. But, it also means it will be rougher on the skin. Generally, fabric starts to itch and get irritating when it's >20 microns thick. 


For reference, here is the fiber thickness of some of fashion’s favorite fabrics:

  • Cotton = 9-22 microns thick
  • Linen = 10-25 microns
  • Wool = 10-25 microns

Hemp tends to trend higher on average in terms of fiber thickness, ranging between 10-50 microns. The takeaway is that hemp fabric may not be as comfy as other shirts, but you can get used to it pretty quickly. 


Why is hemp not taking over the world?

Since hemp plants are often associated with cannabis plants, or even used synonymously, hemp as a material can be a very divisive thing, much like cannabis is. This is one of the major reasons why it’s not as popular as materials like cotton, for example. It’s virtually impossible to ONLY talk about hemp’s fiber properties without talking about its other uses... 

Did you hear about the guy who is building a hemp plane? Derek Kesek, CEO of Hempearth, had a wild idea: to build a plane out of hemp and fly the world with it. Sadly, it seems as if this project stalled out. He couldn't get all the funds he needed to get the plane off the ground (or finished). He is now looking into creating a hemp rocketship. We're rooting for you Derek!



So, why is Patagonia investing so much in hemp clothing?

Patagonia is a big deal. When Patagonia says something is the next best thing, it usually means it’s the next best thing, For example, organic cotton wasn’t nearly as widespread in clothing until Patagonia popularized it in the mid-90’s. Is the same thing happening with hemp?


Hemp: An Environmentally Friendly Crop

The first reason that Patagonia is all aboard the hemp train is because it’s an incredible crop for the environment, especially compared to cotton. Here are some reasons why:

  1. It doesn’t need insecticides
  2. It sequesters carbon like nobody’s business
  3. It restores soil and prevents erosion
  4. And on top of all of that…it uses less water than cotton. 

Help is really just a powerhouse of a crop AND believe it or not, there was a time in the USA where certain states required all farmers grow at least some hemp. This could be an entire article on its own so we highly suggest you do some research on this topic if it interests you! 


Hemp is Great for Fabric Blends

The second reason why Patagonia might be so interested in hemp fabric is, even though it’s not as comfortable as other fabrics, it doesn’t have to be used on its own – hemp is a GREAT fiber to use in fabric blends!

If you add hemp into your fabric, it makes it more durable and abrasion resistant, and also involves natural fibers in textile development. Some examples: 

  • If you mix hemp with polyester, it is a natural substance that reduces plastic consumption (which we all love)
  • If you add hemp to a base layer with merino wool, it makes it last longer and more durable
  • If you add hemp to socks, it’ll make the significantly stronger and you’ll be able to wear them for much longer

Basically, you can reduce the consumption of a lot of things that aren’t great for the environment or that might end up in landfills (e.g. plastic), while also encouraging the use and industrial growth of natural and sustainable materials.


The Takeaway

Over time, we predict there will be a refinement in hemp where it gets softer, easier to process, and will be used in a lot more products. And with Patagonia investing heavily in the agriculture and processing of hemp, it really could be the product of the future. What do you think?



The Iron Snail is a men’s fashion vlog starring a young man named Michael and featuring a snail no bigger than a quarter. The two are set on taking over the world of fashion by creating a clothing line to end all clothing lines. Until then, we’re here to tell you EVERYTHING you need to know about the best clothing out there, from the highest quality raw denim jeans to the warmest jacket to the sturdiest boots…the Iron Snail has got you covered.

Taylor Hale is your friendly neighborhood tea enthusiast, amateur knitter, skincare nerd, clothing thrifter, regular flosser, accidental teapot collector, vintage IKEA lamp hunter, overzealous plant owner, beeswax candle-lover, gal pal, and obviously, very serious academic. She writes for the Iron Snail, as you can see.

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