For many people, the word “hemp” conjures up one of two ideas: classic stoner ponchos or a $3 addition to a $15 smoothie.
Natalie Florence Hellyar, founder of The Arraei Collective (pronounced “array”), spoke to Daily Hive about how her clothing line challenges traditional ideas of hemp as a textile and her hopes for the industry.
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What would you say to someone who doesn’t know anything about hemp?
Hemp is non-psychoactive, as it contains 0.3% THC or less in the leaves and flowering heads.
What’s most interesting about the plant is how versatile it is. It acts somewhat like linen because it’s a natural fibre, and can be used as a textile, food source, and building material.
What prompted you to enter the hemp industry?
Some friends in South Africa built their whole house out of hemp in the early 2000s.
They even made their walls out of it, their rugs, the upholstery on the furniture. I saw how durable and multi-functional hemp was and became fascinated by it.
What are some challenges with using hemp?
Industrial hemp has been grown in Canada for a long time but mostly just for roll fibre, seeds, and oil.
I’m struggling to find any places processing hemp fabric in Canada, and haven’t been able to source good enough quality textiles to make garments with.
Commercial production of hemp has been around since 1998 but it’s been a slow industry, and there is not a lot of local opportunity to process it.
One of the reasons the China hemp industry is doing so well is that they grow a lot of hemp and they process it there. In Canada, we outsource it.
What are some challenges on the consumer side?
From the perspective of some consumers, hemp is associated with cannabis which can make it seem inaccessible.
There was also a ban on hemp for 20 years, so the general public isn’t that familiar with it, and therefore not all that interested.
Since there isn’t a large demand for it, it is also difficult for the industry to grow. More government subsidies and research grants would certainly be helpful.
There has actually already been a huge increase in production since 2005.
Hemp oil and hemp seed are a booming market but there is not much happening in terms of textiles.
What do you like about hemp as a textile?
I would love to see more hemp textiles.
It’s extremely versatile and also very durable.
Hemp shares a lot of the same properties as linen but it’s stronger and I feel like it’s easier to wear. It insulates and also absorbs water, so it keeps you cool in humid weather.
What do you like about hemp as a plant?
It cultivates a large amount of biomass in small space because it grows up to 4.5 metres high in 120 days, and it needs very little water, four times less water than cotton, making it very sustainable.
Because it grows so quickly, other plants don’t have a chance to leech nutrients from the ground or strangle the plant. It also has antifungal and antibacterial properties so it’s very easy to grow organically.
It doesn’t require too much attention to grow and has a high yield with a quick turnover.
Hemp is also carbon negative through its entire lifespan, even after it’s been processed. This means that if you built a house out of hempcrete, your walls would pull carbon dioxide from the air.
What are your hopes for the industry?
It would be amazing if more people invested in the processing of hemp.
If it was more accessible, there are more things we could see with it, like dining room sets. When you break down the fibre it feels like a wooden board.
My vision for The Arraei Collective is to facilitate a community for people who are in the hemp industry. I would love to connect with local farmers and be part of that process.
A lot of people are disconnected from that side of production. Given that hemp has such a short growing cycle, consumers can actually get involved, as opposed to waiting years for a tree to grow.
I do worry about big corporations taking over the hemp industry. It would need to be done ethically and responsibly.