By: Meagan Neville
Hemp clothing is one sustainable fabric that, for some reason, just cannot be GOTS certified. But why? Hemp always grows organically, utilizes zero pesticides or chemicals to grow, uses about half the water needed to grow organic cotton, and it’s biodegradable.
To carry the illustrious GOTS certification the product or material must be produced with fair labor, the dyes need to be biodegradable and free of harsh chemicals, and products must meet high standards for residue testing and must be processed separately from conventionally grown fibers. How products are packed and shipped are also looked at with a high degree of scope.
Let’s take a look at how producing hemp has been part of history, and after lots of communication with suppliers and brands, why it cannot be GOTS certified.
Hemp History in the US
For a crop that’s the most sustainable in comparison to its farm grown counterparts, and a fabric rich in antibacterial elements and superior in softness that cannot be compared, there is a long standing, very awkward relationship with Hemp in America.
Here’s a brief history:
- The Virginia Assembly in 1632 ordered “that every planter as soon as he may, provide seed of flax and hemp and sow the same.”
- John Adams wrote that “we shall by and by want a world of hemp more for our own consumption” during a time where hemp was an abundant and profitable crop.
- Virginians were permitted to pay taxes in hemp and every single ship in the Navy needed hemp rope and sails that were made from this agricultural phenomenon.
As time went on, the film Reefer Madness made its way into American society. Soon after, the cultivation of hemp was to be eliminated from the American forefront, making it illegal to grow in 1937 under the Marijuana Tax Act. Despite few efforts to bring industrial hemp back during World War II, it was yet again, abolished in 1970, where industrial hemp was classified as marijuana under the Controlled Substances Act, therefore, becoming illegal as the rise of synthetic fabrics and fibers skyrocketed.
Looking to China
So where do you get organic Hemp fabric if it can’t be grown here in America? Well, China has the longest continuous history of Hemp cultivation, dating back 6,000 years where you can find the perfect combination of climate and terrain for harvesting. Despite the deep history, hemp textiles are by no means mass-produced goods, but rather quality textiles with special properties. The majority of hemp fiber farming and production is done exclusively on small, family-run farms, while utilizing very traditional means of fabric development.
Maintaining production on small-family run farms has its ups and downs. For example, when producing fiber on a small farm, you can control the vertically-integrated process from start to finish, overseeing every detail of the development cycle and ensuring that the end product will be the highest of quality. That’s a plus.
One major downside to operating a small, family-run farm is the cost involved in not only operations but also in supplying certifications. It’s important for suppliers to provide certifications to ensure the buyer is fully aware of the organic fiber content, clean processing, and social compliance involved in the product. Let’s talk about the most popular certification in the sustainable fashion industry: The GOTS Certification.
In order to be GOTS Certified, a brand must meet the textile processing standard for organic fibers, including ecological and social criteria, backed up by an on-site inspection performed in order to provide a credible assurance for the integrity of GOTS certified textiles. The assessment is useful, but also very, very expensive.
When crops are mass produced they can afford the GOTS inspectors to come out to certify their farming. However, even the big hemp factory in Shanxi province of China that WAMA uses, they source their hemp fiber from many different small family-run farms. They don't source it all from one or two big farms. So, for this reason, 100% hemp clothing cannot be GOTS Certified.
Hemp is always grown organically so you don't actually need to look for the GOTS certification when buying hemp clothing. This can be done so because, as mentioned, hemp is not mass produced and is grown on many small family-run farms. GOTS certification is mainly used for cotton because cotton is such a mass-produced crop that without the certification it would be hard to know if the cotton clothing you are wearing is organic or not.
More on Hemp
After looking into big name hemp clothing brands such as Patagonia, Tentree and Onno, it’s clear that a brand can be GOTS certified but their hemp products specifically can not be. Niche crops like hemp will one day get the attention it deserves, and although not certified, is a fabric worth using, and it will continue to be used.
Currently, Wama Underwear is developed using 53% Hemp, 44% Organic Cotton and 3% Spandex. The hemp in our fabric blend cannot be GOTS Certified, but the organic cotton in our fabric is GOTS Certified. See, we cannot officially use the GOTS label because in order to do so, 70% of the fabric needs to be approved by GOTS and since over 50% is hemp we cannot get this.
It’s worth noting that the only hemp clothing pieces that are “Not Organic” is when it is a hemp viscose. I have seen some brands produce hemp viscose clothing, which is similar to the bamboo viscose process, and let’s become very aware that this is straight greenwashing. The viscose fabrics on the market today are manufactured cheaply using energy, water and chemically-intensive processes that have devastating impacts on workers, local communities and the environment. Hemp viscose, like Bamboo, should not be supported.
Now that President Trump has signed the 2108 Farm Bill, legalizing commercial production of hemp back into American farms once again, who knows - maybe you and I will see more production state side. Until then, we have a good resource for obtaining hemp, and we know that it’s good.
Until hemp becomes mass produced by big farms, here are some other certifications that Wama Underwear does have:
- PETA - People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals - We take pride in being a Vegan company and we are an official PETA Approved Vegan brand.
- Green America - As a Green America Certified Business, we show leadership in the green business field and are committed to a positive social and environmental change.
So you have all the scoop you need on Why Hemp Clothing cannot be GOTS certified. With the emergence of the Farm Bill, more uses for hemp, and the medicinal uses for CBD taking over the market, do you think Hemp will find its way into the mass-production market anytime soon?