The Time Is Right For Hemp Clothing
Weed. Pot. Reefer. Grass. Dope. Ganja. Mary Jane. Herb. Cheeba. Ganja. Sticky Icky. There’s certainly no shortage of aliases that marijuana goes by, and, while a rose by any other name may smell as sweet, what we call the cannabis plant has a lot to do with who can use it, where, and for what.
As a resident of California, I enjoy some of the most liberal marijuana use laws in the country, thanks to the passage of last year’s Prop 64, which OK’d recreational use, complementing already-permitted medical use. Additionally, the same proposition allowed for the production of hemp for industrial purposes.
Wait–isn’t hemp cannabis? Yes. Can you smoke it? Um…I guess, but the Doritos will be safe in your kitchen—there’s no psychoactive effect (you might as well pack a pipe with cotton balls). So, since it won’t get you high, you must be able to grow hemp in every state, right? Wrong. And down the rabbit hole we go…
I understand that this isn’t the place for a protracted exploration into the politics of marijuana legalization in America—there’s a lot of information on both sides of the argument just a few keystrokes away. And while I’m incredibly pro-legalization (especially in a country where often-lethal alcohol and tobacco are as readily accessible as a quart of milk and a newspaper), I’m even more manically pro-common sense, and the continued outlawing of hemp fiber cultivation across much of the Land of the Free is just (29 states worth of) silly.
Back to the name game. Dan Sutton of Tantulus Labs, a Canadian company that specializes in cannabis cultivation technology, puts it like this: “The core agricultural differences between medical cannabis and hemp are largely in their genetic parentage and cultivation environment.”
I’m no botanist, but here’s the basics: both hemp and Marijuana are technically the Cannabis Sativa plant, but one strain has been genetically engineered and cultivated to make Phish concerts bearable, while the other has been designed as an industrial crop that’s used to make a host of benign products, like oil, cosmetics, paper products, and textiles. (There’s no amount of hemp you can smoke to get through a night of Trey and company.) This is as shamefully a “baby with the bathwater” scenario as I can think of, forcing American companies and consumers to import an estimated $300 million in hemp products each year. Yes, I’m happy to be living in a global economy, but no, I would not support the import of hemp over the American jobs that could be created were this industry allowed to bud in its own homegrown fashion.
It’s up to you—get angry, support the status quo, see Phish on their spring tour…choose your own (mis)adventure. But I can tell you this: I’ve had the chance to spend some time in a variety of hemp clothing pieces (there’d be a whole lot more of them were the laws different) and I can say unequivocally that hemp fibers translate beautifully into our world, resulting in clothes that look and feel wonderfully unlike any you’ve worn before.
Hemp is a wildly versatile fiber and it plays well with others, thus clothing designers are limited solely by their ingenuity. As should come as no surprise, my main interest was exploring how hemp has been woven into the culture of denim.
While there have been options offered by a number of makers (hemp denim is usually done in limited runs…most of the usual suspects have dabbled in it), our friends at Nudie were nice enough to lend me a pair of their hard to find uber-desirable Grim Tim Dry Hemp Selvedge Jeans, all the way in Sweden. (Is it sad when the pants are more well traveled than the wearer?)
From the Nudie Website…
Grim Tim Dry Hemp Selvage
Slim regular fit
14 oz. Japanese selvage
58% cotton 42% hemp
Orange and yellow threads all over
Made in Italy
This selvage option is made with 42% hemp. The hemp fiber is rather long, which gives the fabric longer, visible crosshatch effects and neps on the surface. This redcast fabric is irregular in terms of dye, which ranges from deep black-blue to indigo. Two-tone stitching in yellow and classic Nudie Jeans orange give this 14 oz. selvage option an old-timey look.
For starters, these Nudies—my first pair—arrived in a numbered cardboard box that is nicer and sturdier than most of my luggage. Nudie’s own description couldn’t be more spot on—this hemp denim had wonderful tonal contrast and an uneven, moderately slubby hand. It may not be for everyone, but I dig the back pocket detailing and the orange/yellow thread treatment.
But more to the point, after wearing these jeans for half an hour, they began to feel like a pair of old favorites. If it’s the addition of hemp into the mix that lends to this comfo-wearability, then it should be in everything. How the hemp impacts the fading process remains to be seen, but I’m optimistic. The cut of these 36×36’s (that’s about a 2” cuff, and they’re a medium rise) guarantees inevitable stacks and honeycombs. I’m loving them and they’re seeing lots of wear. Not cheap—$375—but I say worth it, at their site.
Finding hemp in a denim jacket is one thing, but finding it in a style like JWJ Brand has created is another thing entirely. This isn’t your father’s Trucker Jacket. JWJ Brand is a small denim outfit based on the island of Mallorca (Balearic Islands, Spain), founded by José Luis Vives and his uncle José “Pepin” Vives. In case you’re curious, check out the video on their website to confirm that our life isn’t as cool as theirs, nor will we ever achieve the look and swagger of Uncle Pepin. But we can try. Just one of the drool-worthy items they offer (and will happily send you) is their El Patron Loomstate Jacket. From the JWJ Brand site…
“El Patrón” is a triple pleated jacket inspired by a worker denim jacket from the end of 19th century. With this idea in mind we have changed the cut (more biker, in V shape). Cuffs are also a biker reminder. Is made of a 15.5 Oz custom fabric from Nihon Menpu (65% cotton 35% hemp). Natural Indigo. Hank dyed. Green solid selvedge. The back collar is made from a blend of silk (warp) and cotton (weft) made on an early 19th century Majorcan shuttle loom. This jacket will shrink to fit. Vegtan leather washers for back rivets and buttons. Flat felled seams for great fade effects.
N.O.S Back collar fabric – 50% linen & 50%cotton
Vegtan leather washers
The pleats, cinch back, v-taper and large front pockets on this piece make for a truly signature look, and I know it’s not for everybody. (Workwear brands are notoriously anti-fashion, and this most certainly is not.) But I, for one, aspire to look as good in this jacket (size XL) as it looks minding its own business in my closet. (Were this jacket man, it would flirt with your girlfriend right in front of you…and take her home.)
Much like the Nudies, this jacket relaxed onto me after about 30 minutes and felt good enough to work out in—and to maintain a v-taper equal to the jacket, hitting the weights might not be a bad idea. It’s worth every penny of $315, available at their site.
The gateway drug for most hemp clothing is t-shirts, and there are a number of quality examples out there, but Jungmaven is the undeniable leader of the pack. Since 2005, Robert Jungmann has been making all manner of hemp clothing, with his brand rooted as much in environmentalism as it is in fashion. Here’s just a snippet from the Jungmaven site…
Our vision is to get everyone in a Hemp T-Shirt by 2020 to help mitigate climate change. The more farming of industrial hemp the better for the environment. Hemp cleans oxygen, water and nourishes the land. Hemp uses very little to no pesticides or insecticides and needs a fraction of the water that cotton takes to grow. To our calculation, by growing and working with hemp we’ve taken apx. 684 tons of CO2 out of the atmosphere, saved apx. 1 billion gallons of fresh water and prevented 500 thousand pounds of pesticides, insecticides and fertilizer that eventually would have ended up in our food and water supply if our production were 100% cotton.
While all of that is obviously great news, it would be less great if the clothing made from all that hemp wasn’t luxuriously comfortable. But it is. Much like the Nudie denim, there’s an irregularity to the hand of a lot of hemp clothing, which makes it all the more individual and, to me, valuable. (Going back to Hanes will be tough.)
Also, the fabric seems to take the dye in a profound way, as the colors of the Parakeet Green (6.8oz 100% hemp) and Goldenrod Yellow (60% hemp, 40% organic cotton) shirts I tried on were the most vibrant I’ve seen in a long time. The Jungmaven 60/40 is my new go-to shirt (I’m in an XL in both shirts), and I’ll be paying full retail for more to keep me company this summer…it’s the most comfortable blend I’ve ever worn. Both are available (for $68 and $38 respectively) at their site.
Lastly, my new friend (and fellow one-time Pennsylvanian) Christian McCann, founder of Left Field NYC, was kind enough to send me a pair of his new hemp tees, both 55% hemp and 45% organic cotton. My girlfriend has already claimed the navy/natural striped number, but the other I put up a fight for. These Left Fields are slubbier than the Jungmavens and felt vintage right out of the package. The drape is beautiful and the cut is slim, but not so slim that I have to cut back on burritos. At $48 each, they’re a bargain, and can be found on their site.
For years, hemp has had a reputation as a “hippie” fabric, and that was largely deserved when you saw what was being made from it (think of an outfit worn by someone who takes crystals very seriously). But those days are over, and the ecology, economic opportunity and sheer desirability embedded in today’s hemp makes it a smart choice, one that I believe American farmers and manufacturers should be able to make, and source from their own backyards.
The folks at Jungmaven remind us that, “Presidents Washington and Jefferson grew it, the Declaration of Independence was written on it and Betsy Ross sewed the first American Flag with it.” That’s some enviable provenance and reason enough to give hemp a chance.
Unlike a Phish concert (oh great, another 48 minute guitar solo…).