Fashion High On Hemp

Fashion High On Hemp
Posted by CN Staff on August 19, 2003 at 07:44:06 PT
By Hattie Klotz, CanWest News Service 
Source: Ottawa Citizen 
Ottawa -- "Warning: Don't Smoke it! Wear it!," reads the label inside a neat poor-boy cap made from a fabric that feels like soft cotton moleskin. A grey baseball cap sports the same mantra. These are clothes made from hemp and, with the proposals to decriminalize marijuana, retailers and designers hope they can finally overcome the stigma that has stuck to hemp clothing because of its close, but erroneous, link to the popular drug.
While both hemp and marijuana come from the cannabis plant, they are not the same. For one thing, hemp has radically different levels of THC, the chemical substance that gives marijuana its psychoactive properties. And while marijuana can make you high, hemp can't, so that longstanding joke that you can smoke your shirt is a fallacy.But it's a fallacy that has proved long-lived, despite the best efforts of hemp proponents to dispel it, and has tainted the hemp industry because consumers associate hemp with the drug culture. But with the decriminalization of marijuana for personal use, that may change."It can't do anything but good for the hemp industry," says Greg Brayford, a partner in the Hemp Solution, an Ottawa store that sells a wide selection of hemp clothing. "I know there's lots of confusion between the two," says Jeannine Richard, who works at Ottawa's Arbour Environmental Shoppe, which stocks hemp shirts. "But I think that the changes in legislation may make people more open to using hemp as an everyday article."Hemp's association with marijuana and its traditional appeal to the rainbow-and-granola crowd has also frightened off many fashion followers. But that too is changing slowly. Jonathan Jean Pierre is a Montreal-based fashion designer who makes clothing from hemp-fibre blends. He finds consumers are reluctant to buy pricey, classic hemp clothing, and hopes that attitude will change along with the law."The high-end market was not ready to pay that little bit more for their jackets or pants just because they were made of hemp," he explains from his studio in Montreal. "I started out making classic pieces with an edge ... but customers were not willing to pay the higher prices, (which are) necessary because hemp fabric is expensive since it has to be imported."During the past year, Jean Pierre has started to see demand for his hemp clothes grow. Before that, the former Ottawa resident sold his clothes only through the Hemp Solution. Now he's shipping to 15 stores across the country. "But I've had to focus on a smaller collection and design what customers want."The beauty of hemp is that it can be mixed with more than 20 other fabrics to create interesting blends. In its raw state, hemp is rough and scratchy, like a sack. But blended with silk, it takes on a lustrous sheen. It can become soft with cotton, "and the best thing about it is that it gets better with age," says Bruce Langer, co-owner of the Hemp Solution. "It is extremely hard-wearing and gets softer the more you wash it."Langer and Brayford report a growing interest in hemp from all age groups. "Everyone is looking for a natural fabric now," says Langer, "and they're moving away from manmade to something hypoallergenic. Also, there's an edginess to it for youth, while the older generation remembers it from their youth. They tell us that they remember seeing it growing in the fields."But increasing interest in hemp is also just the beginning, Brayford adds. "Until the government gets behind the hemp industry and subsidizes it to help it get a start, it will never really take off." Most hemp-blend fabric is imported from China, because, while hemp is grown in Canada and used as an end product here, there are no facilities to process it into fabric. However, that could soon change.A Vancouver company, Hemptown, is poised to become the first publicly traded hemp company in North America. Hemptown's plan is to raise cash to build a hemp-processing plant in Canada. And there can be no greater endorsement for hemp than the fact that Italian uber-designer Giorgio Armani has invested in a hemp-growing operation. The day Armani releases hemp suits to the market, marijuana's cousin will be redeemed as serious fashion.Note: Fledgling industry sees hope with new marijuana laws. Source: Ottawa Citizen (CN ON) Author: Hattie Klotz, CanWest News Service Published: Tuesday, August 19, 2003Copyright: 2003 The Ottawa CitizenContact: letters thecitizen.southam.caWebsite: Related Article & Web Sites:Hemptown News Hemp Links Poised To Become 1st Traded Hemp Co. -- Hemp Archives 
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