Volume 3, Issue 18, Fall 2001, ISSN 1498-8135
Fibre Front: Textile Roundup
Preamble: Is the textile sector heading for new growth?
(Hemp Field, picture courtesy of Geof Kime)
Though hemp has a mythological number of uses, the plant is best known globally for its tough and strong fibre. Hemp clothing, imported hemp fabric and yarns drove the bulk of the trade in hemp during the 1990's. To date Canada has yet to establish a from-the-ground-up industry in textiles for a number of reasons.
Hemp's recent history in the textile trade is dotted with stories of small, valiant businesses that made a go of it, and for one reason or another failed. Mighty, useful, necessary hemp isn't invulnerable to the pressures that cause most small businesses to wrap up operations within 5 years of startup. But like the plant, the sector is resilient, and is always ready for new growth.
Tread Softly on Mother Earth! Tree-Free Paper, Recycled Pop Bottle Fleece, Hemp and Organic Cotton Clothing, Natural Body Care. Four BC Retail locations at: Whistler, Village, 604-905-3181 Tofino, Main St., 250-725-2192 Victoria 642 Yates St., 250-721-3263 Salt Spring Island, Fulford Dock, 250-653-4345
Fiber Options is always looking for Canadian products. Canadian Manufacturers please contact email@example.com or call 604-905-3181.
I) Lights on again in Hemptown
Hemptown Clothing Company is a Vancouver-based operation that has recently been reborn. The company's first incarnation (as Hemptown) was back in 1994; the startup was promising -- within a few years the company could claim sales of half a million a year.
At that time, Hemptown was one of many new companies in the USA and Canada who were making a stab at popularising hemp clothing. It was an exciting, heady time; hemp stores were opening up across the land, and the hemp media vehicles HempWorld magazine, Hemp Times and Hemp Magazine paced the growth. Canada's drive to legalise hemp in 1998 added to the hype.
"A lot of people, I was one, walked into the industry with wide eyes and ideas about clothing," says Jason Finnis, President HTC, of his work with Hemptown.
As an industry full of rookies, less than astute decisions were made.
"We spent a lot of money on marketing and this worked, " says Finnis. " We had a loud voice, but as a result, we had a bigger presence than we had."
Sector-wide, manufacturing wasn't consistent --problems with stitching to shrinking were widespread. This was indicative of the startup nature of many of the firms. "It forced a lot of retailers not to order again," says Finnis.
As well, many of the specialty hemp retailers were new and under-funded ventures as well. Bills were not always paid on time.
In Finnis' case, dealing with clothing also led to a lot of inventory. Having capital tied up this way without good financing in place put the company in a tough spot.
"We didn't have the capital to support the growth," says Finnis. " We were very debt-focussed in startup, so serious investors weren't interested in Hemptown."
Eventually the company was put down.
"My master's degree in business," says Finnis, laughing at his diploma from the school of hard knocks.
Hemptown's demise was not atypical. Looking at the roster of a Canadian hemp trade show from 1998, half of the 30 textile exhibitors are either not in business or are in extreme hibernation today. As well, the publishers of all three US-based hemp media are no longer publishing. The hemp textile advertising dollar simply dried up.
Still, long time hemp clothing companies such as Two Star Dog and Of The Earth (and many, many others) have survived and thrived. Today, Finnis hopes to rejoin their ranks, and has resurrected Hemptown as the Hemptown Clothing Company.
This time, instead of selling hemp fashion to retail and to chain stores, the company has refined its focus towards corporate clients. Hemptown now sells logoed apparel: T-shirts, sweatshirts, golfwear, oxford shirts and caps.
The customer list is wide ranging. HTC has sold logoed hemp apparel to such companies as Loomis Couriers, Nature's Path, Happy Planet Juice Company, the City of Edmonton and even a Hooter's franchise.
So what's the appeal for corporate customers? "It's a premium product, " says Finnis. " The strength of the fibre and the environment are the selling factors --there is also a little bit of novelty involved. "
He says there is very good awareness about hemp among customers." People really like hemp, they really like the strength and the softness. Our shirts are good for wearability and workability."
"But it does take a lot more work to sell our T-shirts than a Fruit-of-the-Loom," he admits. Hemp and organic cotton tees only make a stitch of the estimated 1 Billion T-shirt market in North America.
In hemp's favour, Finnis says there's a greening of business afoot: "Either it is legitimate or they just want to put a green foot forward. So they turn to us, or to organic cotton. "
Like many other companies making hemp clothing in North America, the company sources its fabric in China. There is no domestic supply.
HTC does all of its manufacturing in Vancouver: the company also handles the screenprinting, dying & embroidering. (The company is headquartered in a 6,000 sq. foot warehouse location in a gritty industrial area in East Vancouver.)
"We could manufacture offshore, but our customers appreciate the 'made-in-Canada'. There are also tariffs and duty barriers to consider on (imported clothing)," add Finnis (Tariffs on imported hemp fabric were dropped by Canada in late 1997). " We would like to do this all in Canada."
For more abut Hemptown, see http://www.hemptownclothing.com
Larry Duprey, Hemp Consultant & Hemp Impressario. Fibre Consultant. Phone: 416-242-9452 (Msg.), Fax: 416-242-2635, email: firstname.lastname@example.org
II) Patagonia: a necessary part of the mix
Outdoor clothing manufacturer Patagonia introduced hemp into its line in 1997. Use by the company and customer demand has increased since then.
Patagonia currently uses hemp in its men and women's spring line. Items include men and women's shirts and shorts, and also pants and a dress for women. The company uses 100% hemp, with no blending with cotton as is sometimes done by other companies in the apparel trade.
Noteworthy for a strong commitment to organic cotton, the California-based company has had to make special considerations in using hemp.
"Trying to incorporate hemp with our organic cotton hemp is logistically difficult so we are using hemp alone, " says Jill Vlahos, Director of Fibre Development at Patagonia. " All our hemp comes from China,. Our (certified) organic cotton isn't from there, and so to blend it we would have to ship our cotton to China."
No organic certification exists in China for production of hemp fibre. Lacking third party certification, buyers are forced to take someone's word for it, or go take a look themselves (as Vlahos has done). Lacking a clear audit trail laid out for their visit, the observer has to have a good idea of what they are looking for.
Vlahos also adds hemp is hard for the textile industry to use, as North America hasn't worked with hemp on a large scale for decades. She says the spinning side is most successful when it's linked up to linen production as in China. "You don't want to chop up the hemp fibre (to shorten for use on cotton spinners)," she says.
From a textile artist's standpoint, Vlahos finds it similar to linen, but its not as refined, making it a good fit for Patagonia's outdoorsy line. She likes the drape and its durability. " We like using the hemp a lot. Patagonia will continue using hemp. It's doing very well for us."
100% Hemp Clothes are a good fit for Patagonia's line
Alan Slade is responsible for Patagonia's regional sales in western Canada. He agrees with Vlahos' assessment. As a point man for the product, he stands behind Patagonia's hemp, but says it can take a little more work to get the clothing into stores.
"Its soft fabric, with high quality sewing -- what we are bringing to the dealers is something that's a price point ahead of what they commonly sell," says Slade.
According to Slade, traditional dealers in the outdoor sport markets like the hemp product but find that the price is a little bit higher than what they are used to.
" We are more successful in selling Patagonia's hemp products to ecostores, rather than outdoor-oriented stores, " he says. " This is an important point. The traditional outdoor customer isn't buying hemp. Organic cotton will do for them."
80 % of the hemp product he sells goes to the ecostores (about 10% of Slade's 75 store strong distribution network). He names "green" retailers like BC's Fiber Options and Winnipeg's Humboldt's Legacy as good examples of stores of this ilk, among others.
He eschews distribution to "traditional" hemp stores. "I am very careful about the deletion of stores. Hemp's stores are often here today, gone tomorrow, " says Slade. He is insistent that stores he services have no pipes or paraphernalia. "It tends to remove some of the legitimacy about the fibre."
He says that hemp is a very necessary part of Patagonia's mix: " The hemp products are selling very strong, it's been very successful. "
See Patagonia on the web at www.patagonia.com
North America's top producer of premium quality hemp fibre. Producers of high quality animal bedding and garden mulch and suppliers of bast fibre to composite manufacturers.
Hempline, 11157 Longwoods Road, R.R.#1, Delaware, Ontario, Canada N0L 1E0, Tel(519) 652-0440, Fax (519) 652-3063, email@example.com, www.hempline.com.
III) Challenges and Opportunities for Canadian Hemp Fibre
by Arthur Hanks
(A version of this story first ran in Canadian Textile Journal, June 2001 issue; see www.ctt.ca)
Industrial hemp has been grown in Canada since 1998. It has a big reputation, claimed as a source of food, biomass fuel, and of course fibre. As a fibre crop, hemp provides the potential for a grown, processed and made-in-Canada textile industry from the ground up. But those who have tangled with hemp to date, recognise that there are technical and market challenges out there to make such a dream a reality.
Part of the hemp challenge is that since cultivation was prohibited in Canada for decades, farmers and processors have been playing catch up to other fibres --natural and synthetic -- available in the marketplace. Production to date is limited while the industry builds infrastructure and develops markets. This process takes time and has been the source of some disappointment and frustration, but on the whole, the hemp industry is optimistic about the potential and future of this useful crop.
First Hand Experience
(Hand Holding Hemp Stocks, photo courtesy of Geof Kime)
Jane Wheeler, a small Québec-based manufacturer, has first hand experience working with Canadian hemp fibre. Through her two companies Rose Textiles --who handled the weaving -- and Iguana Designs, the design arm -- Wheeler wove a short run of upholstery fabrics, including blankets and hammocks, over 1999-2000.
Featuring a rough look, and woven into jacquard and dobby weaves these items were well received in the marketplace. Larry Duprey of Montreal's The Hemp Club/Chanvre en Ville says "I took 40 pieces to (2000's) Santa Cruz Hemp Expo and sold them in less then 10 hours."
Despite this promising introduction, production has been stalled for now. "We used the fibre because it was Canadian hemp," says Wheeler. "It's not refined enough. Perhaps another combing step is needed for the yarn --hemp is not a crimp fibre, it's too smooth so the weaver had to blend it." Hence, Wheeler and her associates tried a variety of mixes: a hemp/polyester blend was woven, as was hemp /polyester/wool which worked better.
However, they were unable to overcome other problems at the spinning stage. The spinner, working with equipment and a factory geared towards wool, could not overcome the challenges of hemp spinning. Says Wheeler: "The spinner found that half of it fell on the ground and the rest into the air."
Because of air contamination from dust and small fibres the spinner's workers found the environment uncomfortable to work in. Lacking an air filtration system, the spinner did not want to continue, and so the project was put on hold.
Wheeler is now looking for an alternative spinner, but says that there are no new small mills in Québec and air ventilation systems are rare, because of a reliance on dust free polyester. "For 100% hemp you need a wetspun system," she says. While some wetspun systems are set up in Europe no such system exists in Canada. As a solution to shortcomings in the facility side, Wheeler is now looking to import finer yarns from overseas.
Kime: Economics and Equipment are Challenges
Currently, there are three Canadian hemp fibre processors: Kenex in Chatham, Ontario, Hempline in Delaware, Ontario and Fibrex Québec, based in Salaberry-de-Valleyfield, southwest of Montreal. These processors have all taken different routes to markets with their fibres.
Hempline, the first company to grow hemp in Canada, had targeted the textile --both fashion and household -- sectors initially, but has since moved on to more promising fields.
Hemp fibre harvest; photo courtesy of Geof Kime
"The situation with hemp textiles has as much to do with the economics of the textile industry as it does with the issue of available spinning equipment," says Hempline's President Geof Kime.
As to equipment, Kime says "There is a need for more fibre refining equipment to make the fibre fine enough to spin (on existing equipment suited to cotton or wool)." He adds that using hemp fibres in equipment related to other fibres tends to lower the efficiency of the spinning process. And in the tight margins of the textile business, mill managers may not be able to afford this loss of productivity.
Kime believes, that an economic level, many mills in North America already have thin margins and do not have the will or the money to invest in a new processing line. As evidence, he points to mills he has worked with in the past have closed their doors over the past few years. He believes that these technical problems can be overcome, but the mainstream demand is not there to justify the investment. "Wal-Mart doesn't want hemp, " he notes wryly.
Currently, his company is looking to the biocomposite, nonwoven and specialty paper applications for its fibre. Kime says that Canadian hemp fibre can more readily be processed for these markets than for the more traditional textile side.
And demand is growing. Kline and Co., a New Jersey based consulting company, estimates that the North American demand for natural fibres in plastic composites is at 100 million lbs. a year and increasing.
"Unlike paper or woven textiles made with hemp, in the composites market we can offer cost reduction, along with other product improvements," Kime says, noting that hemp fibres compete economically with fibreglass on a cost basis and on a strength/weight ratio. Other benefits of using hemp include reduced weight, ease of recycling, good strength and sound absorbent properties.
Much of this demand in composites is currently filled by wood fibre, but given large-scale demand for wood, alternative fibres such as hemp are positioned to take some of the growth. However to do so, hemp will have to compete with other fibre crops, including kenaf, flax and hemp
Fibrex: Hemp on the Line
Hemp Bale on Forklift, photo courtesy Geof Kime)
Fibrex Québec Inc is a textile flax scutching mill located in Salaberry-de-Valleyfield, Québec, southwest of Montréal, near the Ontario border. The mill processes long flax and tow fibre for European markets. Outfitted with European equipment, it is the only fibre flax facility in North America. Currently, the operation has one production line, which can process 500 hectares/yr. of flax at maximum capacity. There is space in the mill to add a second production line that would double the mill's capacity, but more investment is needed to make this happen.
Fibrex grew and worked with hemp for in 1999-2000, but despite hemp's similarities as a fibre to flax, they have found that their line cannot process it effectively. According to Fibrex's Theirry Vives, they can process about 50 bales (500 lbs. a bale) of flax a day; with hemp the capacity of the line drops down to 3-6 bales a day. It's a slow go. The hemp fibres would have to be shortened at 39" to fit their scutching line, and they have no way of cutting it at present. To be used, hemp fibres would have to be cut in the field before they are baled.
Tim Niedermann, general manger of the mill between 1999-2000, thinks that there is a niche ready to be exploited -- a small spinning facility that could turn hemp fibres into a useful, high quality yarn for use by Canadian manufacturers. But he says that Canadian textile manufacturers are uncomfortable with the level of risk needed with the installation of a hemp spinning line. "They are wanting something that will improve efficiency-- no one wants to speculate at this point. " He believes that to some degree, the issue is as much a matter of will as well as a technical one.
Fibrex is not currently expected to enter the spinning and weaving game soon (As of web/press time -- November 2001, the mill is no longer operating in a regular capacity.)
Close up of Hemp nonwoven; picture courtesy of Hempline
Canada's third fibre processor, Kenex works with seed and fibre -- the seed is destined for the birdseed and to the natural products market; their fibre is manufactured as matting used in making moulded forms for automobile interiors.
The advantage of hemp fibres to this industry is that they are a cheaper and competitive, property-wise to fibreglass. The fibres are also natural and biodegradable, and help create more lightweight (and hence more fuel-efficient) vehicles -- important for a resource intensive industry is under a mandate to "green" itself.
Kenex, Hempline and Fibrex have all contracted hemp with farmers in the past. The cost of shipping raw fibre is expensive, forcing companies to have regionally based fibre production. Out of the area farmers will have no luck selling them their fibre.
Opportunities: too small to chase?
To date, other hemp growers across the country have concentrated on hemp grain production for selling into the health food, bodycare and feed markets. Unfortunately, their fibre is baled and unused. These groups and others recognise the potential for fibre and are investigating fibre applications that make sense. They are looking to Europe and elsewhere for technology transfer. Of course, capital is an issue, and only a limited amount of investment is available for agriculture. A few projects to date that have been announced have not materialised (Note see www.erosioncontrolblankets.com for one industrial fibre project that has). But the sense is that there are many opportunities, and one day, the right project will happen.
Hemp textiles may be one of them. Critics say the market is too small to chase.
The January 2000 report on hemp authored by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) notes that imports of raw hemp fiber rose from "less then 500 pounds in 1994 to over 1.5 million pounds in the first nine months of 1999." While the report estimates that 2000 acres of hemp production could account for this amount of fibre, this is healthy growth. The lack of a secure supply (because its Cannabis, hemp is illegal to grow in the US, but legal to sell and manufacture) only serves to hide the true market potential of the crop.
In the meantime, hemp textiles are a niche growing and faltering according to the fickleness of Fashion. Small manufacturers --cottage industries and small business -- are filling and growing the market -- with a variety of clothes, hats, blankets and other items. These companies -- among them Hemptown Clothing Co. of BC, and Ontario's Spiritstream and The Great Canadian Hemp Company -- are importing textiles from such sources as China or Eastern Europe. A company based out of Bellingham, WA, Hemp Textiles International, has also produced its own hemp blend yarn using fibres from China.
Back in Quebec, Wheeler says that other spinners are willing to try working with hemp and she would like to resume small-scale production in the future. She thinks that hemp fibres are natural for household uses. "People want biodegradable, natural fibres," she says, even if the big shops don't want to touch it.
There is interest, and someone, somewhere will eventually do it.
IV) An Overview of the Present Bast Fibre Production and Processing Industry in China
By Gordon Scheifele, College Professor, Kemptville College/University of Guelph Professional Associate, Lakehead University
The author was privileged to attend the "Bast Fibrous Plants on the Turn of Second and Third Millennium" International Conference held in Shenyang City, China, September 18-22, 2001. During this conference and visit to China the author was able to travel the northeast Chinese provinces of Liaoing, Jilin and Heilongjiang (42 to the 46th northern latitude) and tour industrial hemp and fibre flax production, research and processing industries producing paper and textile which included: the tour of a new industrial hemp paper production initiative in Shenyang City, an industrial hemp production field, the world's largest linen fabric manufacturing plant (The Harbin Linen Group Co., Ltd.) in Harbin, a fibre flax production, retting and processing plant in Hulan, Institute of Industrial Crops in Heilongjiang north of Hulan and the Northeastern Agricultural University, Harbin.
For full document, download here
Gordon Scheifele can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org
V) World First Patents: Spinning Hemp in Cotton Mills
(Left: "Cottonised" Fibre and the $20 bill; Right: Old and New Fibre - Click here to see a 1600 by 1072 version of this picture.)
In August 2001, Australian company Fibrenova patented an innovative hemp degumming system. This breakthrough will allow separated hemp fibres to be spun as if they were cotton.
"This is a major breakthrough, not only for the hemp industry and Fibrenova but also for the textile industry as a whole, " says Adrian Clarke, Managing Director of Fibrenova.
Fibrenova is based in the state of Victoria, one of the few states in Australia where industrial hemp is allowed to be grown commercially.
The patents cover processes and machinery that makes hemp fibre an ideal feedstock to existing cotton and wool machines for spinning.
Textile engineers at Victoria's Deakin University are now conducting trials in both ring and rotor cotton spinning systems to refine the system. The University's involvement was kick started by a $500,000 (AU) AusIndustry R&D grant.
Deakin University Associate Professor Xungai Wang during Trials)
"Fibrenova's patented degumming system completes the work of our patented green decorticator process," says Clarke. " Our patents now cover a fully integrated system which will harvest and decorticate in one operation."
Clarke announced his green decortication system in Canada in October 1998. Based on a process of enzyme retting, green decortication can take hemp from field to hackler with 2-3 days, dispensing with time consuming field retting or polluting water retting. As well, enzyme-retting capability allows hemp fibre production to be planned in dryer climates such as Australia and Western Canada. Since then, research has continued in Australia and to a limited extent with Nova Scotia's Annapolis Valley Hemp.
Ring Spun yarn
By using the company's new degumming system, Fibrenova's new hemp fibre falls into the same micron range as quality cotton and wool. Cotton generally ranges from 14-24 microns while the bulk of Australian merino wool falls into the 20-24 micron range.
Fibrenova says that the new process creates a lighter and finer fibre without sacrificing hemp's durability and other qualities. They believe this product will expands the markets for hemp fibre a thousand fold.
Says Clarke: "Instead of having only a small and limited market for special "long line" fibre, we now have the opportunity to add value to our fibre ourselves and to market fine high quality textile products and "grey cloth" to the fashion industry, "
Rotor Spun Yarn
Currently, the company says that hemp fibre is sold for about $3,000 AU a t. but the "fine grey cloth" being sold to the fashion industry could command prices up to $40,000 AU .Fibrenova's' first goals are to market sheets and towels, based on qualities of durability. A second goal is to target "surfie" gear and trendy Generation X segments. The company is also actively pursuing building materials, as for every 3 tonnes of hemp fibre harvested, up to 7 tonnes of core fibres are produced.
The company is proceeding with commercialisation of the prototypes and is conducting field trials of the first fully integrated system of harvesting and decorticating during Australia's 2001-2001 growing season.
Fibrenova plans to grow about 200 in Victoria this year; the company was also looking at cultivating hemp in Tasmania. In 2001, small research crops were grown in grown in the Northern Hemisphere (with Hemcore in the UK, as well as Hungary and Poland). The company is looking to place its feet in both hemispheres so that hemp production and value adding can occur 2 seasons a year
(For more information, contact Adrian Clarke of Fibrenova at email@example.com)
To go back to the Table of Contents, click here.
To go to Part 1, Canada, click here.
To go to Part 3, Regulatory Update, click here.
To go to Part 4, Primordial & Timeless Forms, click here.
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