Sometimes we're asked why there's no GOTS certified hemp. Does it exist? And why don't we have it? Short answer: it doesn't exist. Yet. In this short article we try to explain why this is so.
We expect that in the near future there will be hemp fabrics, made from 100% hemp and GOTS certified in the near future. But at present this is not the case. At least... we haven't been able to find them. We even tried to organise a production with organic hemp ourselves. For this we contacted ALL the GOTS-certified spinning- and weaving mills in Europe and Turkey, and had many conversations with our hemp suppliers in China. Our conclusion: it's not there. Not yet. But who knows how things will develop in the next years?
What is needed for certification is 1) that the hemp is grown organically and is certified as such, 2) that this hemp is fit for textile processing and 3) that it is processed (spun, woven, knitted and finished) by GOTS certified companies.
One reason why GOTS certified hemp doesn't exist may be that there is no big demand for certified hemp. Although hemp cultivation has increased considerably in the last decade, it is still a fibre of little importance when compared to synthetic fibres or cotton. In 2019, about 69% of the global fibre production was estimated to be synthetic, only about 31% of the produced fibres were natural. From these, cotton (24%) is by far the most important. Only about 1% of the world production of cotton is organic. Other natural fibres (wool, flax, hemp, abaca, jute) together represent only 7% of the global fibre production.
These figures show that hemp textiles, although slowly increasing in volume, are still relatively rare and unique. Because of the relation between prices and the scale of production, they also explain why hemp is still not very cheap. An organic certification would only make the hemp even more expensive.
That hemp is rarely certified may also be because a certification isn't considered to be necessary. There seems to be no urgency, consumers don't ask for it and farmers don't feel the need to have their crops certified. This may have to do with the exceptional properties of hemp. The crop is known to have only few natural enemies, and doesn't need treatment with insecticides. Further, the plant grows very fast (up to four meters in just a couple of months) so that weeds (at the bottom and in the shadow of the hemp stems) don't stand a chance. Neither is hemp a 'thirsty' crop that needs much water. "To my knowledge, hemp is grown everywhere in a way that can be seen as organic," a Dutch hemp grower once told us. "A certification would not change that. It would not lead to fundamentally different agricultural practices, but would surely drive up the prices."
Our hemp suppliers in China say that Chinese hemp is mostly grown by small farmers, often intercropping the hemp with maize. The crops are by no means mass produced, a big difference with cotton, making an organic certification too expensive for these small family-run farms.
To be sure: organic hemp DOES exist, although only in small quantities. This organic hemp is mainly used for human consumption (e.g. in oils) but also for making nonwovens. The latter has to do with the fact that the production chain for nonwovens is a lot shorter than that for a fabric.
So far we have mentioned that hemp is a relatively rare crop, and that there is almost no certified organic hemp on the fields. It should also be considered that not all hemp varieties on the field are equally fit for making textiles, some are better for e.g. CBD products. Hemp for textiles has specific requirements. For example, for obtaining the best (long) hemp fibers, farmers would have to invest in special hemp mowers that don't chop the plants but mowe them at the bottom and then lay them to one side. After being retted the wooden parts of the plants have to be removed in a process that is called scutching and that also requires special machines. A farmer who is willing to grow hemp may ask himself if it would be wise to grow hemp for textiles and to have it certified on top of that. Growing hemp for CBD-products or other applications may be more profitable for him.
An additional and final problem is that only few mills are specialised in spinning hemp yarns or weaving hemp fabrics. Spinning and weaving hemp and linen requires other spinning and weaving machines than e.g. the processing of wool or cotton. Only a few of these are GOTS certified... a condition for making certified fabrics.