From the Grave to the Cradle: The Eco-Design Case for the Re-Evaluation of Hemp

Conference: 

Discipline: 

Fashion, Jewellery & Textile Design

Keywords: 

  • sustainability, eco-sensitivity, cultural influence

This paper argues that the story of hemp is one of mistaken identity and focuses on the potential of hemp (Cannabis sativa L.) in a social and economic context and how it can help to develop with modern technology into ‘new’ materials on a national level with reference to examples from abroad.

The current state of raw material shortages means that designers have an obligation to seek out new ways to source and process materials for a sustainable future. Designers are the “future creators” and should prescribe materials that are not only healthy in the cycle of production but also ensure an afterlife (recycling). Designers should also embrace the task of guiding the consumers in a new way of thinking, mainly concerning our environment and consumer patterns. Hemp is a zero-waste material; the whole plant can be used when harvested which makes it an ideal material to base such an ecodesign
system on.

The hemp fibre made from the outer bast yields 250% more raw material than cotton per acre while using considerably less pesticides. Spun hemp yarn can be transformed into rope or a rugged fabric as well as blended with silk or cotton as it absorbs natural dyes with ease. These fabrics can be used as upholstery, canvas covers, sails, clothing and even super-absorbent nappies. Hemp fibre is an ideal replacement for glass filament in fibreglass resin and is used in surf- and snowboards.

In spite of Hemp’s impressive potential, it has been ignored for far too long. The main reason for the isolation of hemp is the mistaken assumption that Cannabis sativa L. is a drug whereas its vilified cousin, Cannabis indica carries the hallucinogenic properties thereby leading to a blanket ban on both.

This paper argues the eco-design case for the re-evaluation of the assumptions about hemp and poses a challenge for design education to take a more holistic and proactive stance with respect to eco-design and issues of sustainability. In so doing, design would aid in eliminating some of the misconceptions that have dogged useful products like hemp thereby promoting creative product development in a socially responsible manner.

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