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Why not grow hemp for natural fabrics

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18.AUG.06

EDITOR: I’ve noticed a trend developing among foreign visitors. More and more of them are wearing natural and eco-friendly fabrics. Of course some natural fabrics are not eco-friendly, but that’s another story.

Anyone reading Yahoo news this past week would have noticed an article about the Biotech Industry and a designer fashion show with the models wearing designs in fabrics made from Bio-engineered corn. {{more}}The fabric is called Ingeo. According to the media, more and more people are becoming environmentally aware and are switching over to eco-friendly fabrics, and with petroleum products escalating in price, the synthetic, petroleum-based fabrics we have always found cheap – polyester, viscose, acetate, nylon, rayon, spandex, and more – will increase in price, making the natural or eco-friendly fabrics more competitively priced.

That got me curious and thinking, so I did some research, and lo and behold, I found that the most environmentally friendly and natural fabric to create is Hemp. Hemp is naturally resistant to bugs so it doesn’t require pesticides, and it is hardy enough to grow without the use of irrigation. Hemp is one of the finest renewable pulp resources containing four times the pulp per acre than trees. Hemp is also known for its deep root system, which helps prevent soil erosion.

I often hear that marijuana is our underground economy so why not encourage ganja farmers to switch from the high THC content Hemp to Industrial Hemp. They would likely make as much per bale and it will be legal. There are a wide range of products that can be made from Industrial Hemp. The oil is high in Omega 3 fatty acids and is a very healthy edible oil. The fibre can be made into any type of fabric, but Adidas uses a canvas-like weight in running shoes, and they sold 30,000 pairs of them in 2005. Calvin Klein and Giorgio Armani are using it for linen-like sheets and jeans and other designer clothes. The fibre can also be used for paper, fiberboard and packing materials.

Estimates put the worldwide trade in hemp at $100 million in 2005, a figure that is expected to double or triple over the next few years as demand for the products increases. Currently, prices for hemp fabric and clothes made from it are high, due to the shortage of hemp fibre available. A pair of hemp shorts currently costs about US$80.

As the fibre becomes more available, prices will become more reasonable, but currently with not many countries allowing the growth of Industrial Hemp due to fear that farmers will grow their smoking weed alongside where it would be hard to be discovered, the fibre is scarce and therefore expensive. Right now there are only a few growers in China, Russia and Eastern Europe. Manufacturers in the United States can buy it, they just can’t grow it. St. Vincent could be growing it, manufacturing the fabrics, and exporting it to the US, Canada, and elsewhere.

There is no reason St. Vincent can’t jump on this bandwagon and make it our wonder crop to replace our depleted banana industry, and give us an industry with a solid base, not one as fickle as tourism. St. Vincent and the Grenadines could be the world leader in Hemp fabrics and Hemp oil.

Liz Thomas
Bequia

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