Can Hemp Fabric Be Sun Protective?
Hemp is increasingly used in the textile industry with lack of widespread use likely linked to other uses for hemp outside of clothing, namely recreational drug use. he texture of hemp varies based on the environment in which it is grown and can range for coarse to soft. One of the advantages to using Hemp fabric is that it is naturally antimicrobial.
The potential for hemp to be naturally sun protective is based on the stitch density of the fabric. Studies evaluating the natural UPF of 100% hemp varies from 5.8 to 50+ depending on the stitch density. There are natural pigmented within the hemp textile that add to its ability to protect from the sun.
Hemp is considered eco-friendly given the small amounts of water needed, natural tendency to resist pests requiring little pesticide use, and little fertilizer use.
In terms of texture and feel, cotton most often has a much better feel. In terms of cost, hemp is more expensive to work with.
From an eco-friendly perspective, studies have shown that it can take over 250 gallons of water needed to grow the cotton required to produce just one cotton T shirt. (CCGGA, 2019), The Guardian reported that in 2013 India’s cotton exports would have been enough to supply 85% of the their 1.24 billion people with 100 liters of water every day for a year. This was at a time when 100 million of their people did not have access to safe water. (Guardian, 2015) Organic cotton has gained in popularity owing to the fact that it is grown without the use of toxic synthetic pesticides and fertilizers. However, to be labelled as organic, the only criteria to meet is to utilize USDA certified organic crops in production. The word organic can still be ascribed to cotton that utilizes certified organic crops even if it has been chemically modified with finishes or dyes. (USDA, 2019)
I have tried to integrate hemp into our collection of sun protective textiles that do not use UV chemical finishes. From a manufacturing point of view, hemp is a coarser and stronger fiber and more expensive to work with. We will continue to determine if we can increase the stitch density to gain natural sun protection while still have an affordable look and a textile that feels soft against the skin. This is very much a work in progress however.