Levi’s found a way to make hemp feel like cotton, and it could have big implications for your wardrobe

Richard Feloni May 8, 2019, 1:05 PM

hemp plantation
Hemp fibers are naturally stiff and ropy, but Levi’s has discovered a way to make it feel like cotton.

aid Levi’s is continuing to work on improving the quality of its cottonized-hemp, to the point where it can be nearly half of a cotton-blend for most apparel, as well as fully hemp for certain products. And in five years, he said, he expects “a 100% cottonized-hemp garment that is all hemp and feels all cotton.”

Dillinger said that the need for cotton alternatives became apparent when looking at the growth trajectory of cotton demand compared to access to fresh water required for its cultivation and processing. Since he was familiar with the nature of hemp, he did not expect to find a solution there… until Levi’s discovered cutting-edge research in Europe, where industrial hemp was already legal in many countries. Levi’s would not reveal its partners or details of its breakthroughs, except to say that it had a market-ready material after three years.

When Levi’s finds a way to make 100% cottonized-hemp clothing, “We’re going to go from a garment that goes from 3,781 L of fresh water, 2,655 of that in just the fiber cultivation,” Dillinger said, drawing from data collected by the Stockholm Environmental Institute. “We take out more than 2/3 of the total water impact to the garment. That’s saving a lot.”

Despite his optimism, Dillinger was quick to point out that he doesn’t want hype around the hemp industry to make it seem like Levi’s and its competitors are going to fully replace cotton or revolutionize the industry overnight. To do it properly, there remains many years of research and development. Plus, it’s likely hemp will be just one of several natural cotton alternatives.

The idea is that hemp clothing, whether in a cotton blend or by itself, isn’t going to be a fad. Dillinger said that while he can’t speak for the company on this point, he personally isn’t too concerned about the marketing of cottonized-hemp clothing, because the ideal down the line is that customers won’t even notice a difference.

“So often there’s the assumption that to purchase a sustainably-made product is going to involve a sacrifice, and that the choice is between something ethically made or something that’s cute,” he said. “You don’t have to sacrifice to buy sustainably.”

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