Marijuana has never been more acceptable in modern society than it is today. Countries including Canada, Uruguay, South Africa have wholly decriminalised weed, and many more countries have legalised medicinal cannabis. Yet there remains a potent stigma against the stuff, even in countries where it is decriminalised or legal. But what’s more pertinent to the fashion industry is how this stigma has also affected the cultivation of hemp.
There’s a lot of misinformation around the difference between hemp and marijuana, but at its core, they’re simply two different products that come from the same plant: Cannabis sativa. Hemp describes varieties of Cannabis that contain 0.3% or less THC content by dry weight, whereas marijuana describes products with more than 0.3% – that is, the stuff that’ll get you high.
Hemp is one of the fastest-growing plants in the world, and has a wide variety of uses, from food to fuel and even as a bioplastic: for example, in the automotive industry (a new Mercedes-Benz C-Class contains up to 20kg of hemp, as way of an example).
But one of the best uses for hemp is as a textile. Hardy, breathable, crease-resistant and versatile with a texture similar to linen, hemp makes great clothes. However, hemp clothes have often been associated with hippies – another side effect of the marijuana connection. That association has also seen wide-spread cultivation of the plant stigmatised or restricted too.
Since the 1990s Australian states and territories have slowly been permitting the cultivation of hemp – under strict licenses. Australia has the perfect climate to cultivate the plant, but it remains a niche and tightly controlled industry. However, things are changing – and with it could come an opportunity for the Australian fashion industry.
The Australian Capital Territory passed a bill which came into effect this year that allows for the possession and growth of small amounts of cannabis for personal use, evidence that Australians are becoming more and more tolerant of the plant. How is this relevant to fashion? Tolerance for weed also paves the way for the broader cultivation of hemp, which could be a huge boon for the fashion industry.
If hemp became a more common, competitive crop here in Australia, it could stimulate local innovation and expertise in using hemp in fashion. Indeed, local brands such as Afends and Good Studios are ahead of the curve, already offering hemp-based clothing items.
Not only does Australia have the perfect climate to grow hemp, but because hemp fabric is so light and breathable, it also suits the Australian climate perfectly. It’s like a match made in heaven… All we need is for the production of hemp to open up, which will come when weed becomes more normal. The fates of hemp and marijuana are entwined and as the medical, nutritional and cultural benefits of cannabis become more and more widespread, the Australian fashion industry could benefit enormously – among myriad other industries.
Until then, we’ll be booking flights to Amsterdam Fashion Week. Whenever international travel opens back up, that is.