Clothes made from cannabis? We swear we haven’t been smoking up. Hemp fabric, popular in Neolithic times, with 13th century Chinese and even Cleopatra, is having a fashion moment all over again. And not just with modern-day Rastafarians or the poorer characters on Game Of Thrones. You can now buy comfy T-shirts, flouncy skirts, kurtas and even shoes made from a plant otherwise associated with psychoactive signing out of reality, dude!
Think of hemp as the sober cousin of marijuana. It’s grown without pesticides, GMO seeds or synthetic fertilisers. The textile it yields is durable, insulating and, when processed well, has a linen-like drape. It is bio-degradeble too. No wonder it’s caught the fancy of three Indian start-ups.
The wonder fabric
Yash P Kotak of Bombay Hemp Company (Boheco) was the first of them. They started off in 2013, as an industrial and medicinal cannabis company, hoping to use the crop as a means to boost traditional agricultural practices in India. “As we researched, we realised the vast potential of the crop,” says Kotak. “It is almost like finding kryptonite on this planet. There are over 25,000 proven uses of hemp.” Fashion, it seems was only one of the happy side projects.
Hemp, it turns out, is perfect for an Indian summer. It is much more comfortable and breathable than cotton. It is often blended with cotton to produce lightweight fabrics. “The most important bit about hemp clothing is that it is 98 per cent UV resistant and becomes softer and better with age,” Kotak points out. It lasts much longer too. So if you’re the kind of person who keeps revamping their wardrobe, you may find that there’s little reason to throw them out.
Two-year-old HempCann Solutions, is based in Bhubaneshwar and raises awareness about medical cannabis, while selling hemp lifestyle products on the side. The company has just launched, CannaBeings, 55 per cent hemp and 45 per cent organic cotton clothing, and managing director Sourab Agarwal is already on a high. “Hemp is a natural insulator,” he says. “When you wear it in summer, your body will stay cool, in winter your body will be warm.” The company hopes to rope in designers to do capsule collections for them.
According to a 1976 study published by the International Association of Plant Taxonomy hemp and marijuana come from the same genus, cannabis, and the same species, Cannabis Sativa. “However, hemp is distinguished by its use and chemical makeup, as well as by cultivation practices,” says Kotak. Agarwal adds that the term ‘cannabis’ is usually used when describing the Cannabis Indica plant that is bred as a psychoactive drug. Hemp, on the other hand comes from the Cannabis Sativa plant, which contains less of the substance that has the mind-altering effect.
High on hemp
Another start-up gearing up to give these two some competition is BE HempIndia. The Bangalore-based company makes accessories, has conducted researched on hemp seeds, and is stepping into the hemp clothing market as well. “We used to sell hemp T-shirts and clothing, but stopped because of the high price involved in its manufacturing them.” says Elston Menezes, the company’s co-founder. “We want hemp to be an affordable and sustainable option.”
For Boheco, the aim was to come up with hemp-based clothes that looked gorgeous, were artistically-crafted, and handwoven. “We gradually moved into expanding our range with new fabrics that could be turned into bags, shoes, apparel – denim, shirts, T-shirts, suits and traditional Indian wear,” says Kotak. The company has come up with a premium fashion range under the label The Hemp Couture (THC) that incorporates handloom and powerloom fabrics.
Over the years, hemp has been called the God Herb because of its many uses in health and life. Now, it may also hold the key to the future of sustainable fashion. But a smoke cloud hangs over its future. “The geographic and climatic conditions of India are more suitable for the production of medicial cannabis than industrial hemp” says Agarwal. It means that for now, your hemp fix (the sartorial kind) is more likely to come from a small-batch niche brand than a mass-market label at the mall.
Still, it’s one more eco-friendly, weather-friendly, fashionable fabric that you can proudly wear as an Indian. You won’t get mellow on its smell or its smoke, but hemp clothes will definitely make you high on fashion.
Is it even legal?
The special provision relating to cannabis of Section 14 of the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (NDPS) Act 1985, says that the government at its own discretion, subject to certain conditions, may allow cultivation of the cannabis plant for industrial purposes for obtaining fibre or seed or for horticultural purposes.
From HT Brunch, July 17, 2016
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