Ask Our Experts: American Hemp Textiles
Q: I want to start my own business selling hemp bracelets, but am at a loss trying to source U.S.-grown textiles. Have any suggestion?
By New Frontier Data
A: For now, American grown hemp fiber is in short supply. Though the U.S. licensed a record 500,000 acres of hemp in 2019, more than 90% was dedicated to producing CBD. Beyond that, there is a huge shortage of processing capacity in the North American market, with several states lacking any such processing infrastructure. The fiber being produced and processed in the U.S. is dedicated almost exclusively to industrial applications like plastics and construction materials.
While textile processing in general represents a major industry in states like North Carolina, hemp’s characteristic as the world’s strongest natural fiber makes its use in manufacturing difficult. Hemp fiber is too strong for common textile-manufacturing machines, which means that companies aiming to process it must either purchase expensive, specialized machines, or extensively treat the fiber with chemicals until it is sufficiently weakened to use in their standard machines. Either way, such tooling costs are expensive.
Hemp’s use in consumer textile applications has been increasing since the 2018 Farm Bill legalized the crop, with the Hemp Industries Association estimating 2016 retail sales of $96 million. Nevertheless, virtually all the hemp sold as apparel in the U.S. comes from China, where cheap labor costs and lax environmental regulations represent enormous production advantages in the labor-intensive textile industry.
Ultimately, for hemp textile manufacturing to take root in the U.S. would require a stable and standardized supply chain, available processing capacity, and materials that are competitive on a cost basis with foreign markets’ supplies.