As a yoga instructor looking to support a local yoga clothing line, I was immediately intrigued by Hegaard’s passion for alternative textiles and her devotion to hemp as an ecological resource. I was also eager to practice in the malleable, insulated, anti-microbial fabric. After purchasing a pair of hemp yoga pants, I had firsthand experience with the material: it was stretchy, breathable and fuss free when it came time to wash and dry.
“As a kid I wanted to be a clothing designer, but when I realized early on how wasteful it is; I was discouraged,” stated Hegaard.That was until she discovered hemp in 1998. It was an awakening of sorts for her, as she found a way to pursue her interest in fashion with her passion for environmentally friendly cropping and harvesting with minimal manufacturing waste. “At the time, there were a few large companies dabbling in organic cotton like Nike, and Adidas had a pair of hemp shoes that helped raise awareness and validate the importance of the movement,” Hegaard informed. Patagonia is one of the largest certified B Corporations to commit to using more sustainable materials and supporting fair trade, but there is still a long way to go in the U.S.
Kentucky has been on the radar as an agricultural hub for harvesting Cannabis sativa to boost the agriculture economy that has plummeted with the diminishing demand of tobacco. Harvesting hemp will replenish these fields, and Senator Rand Paul is backing the efforts which have created nearly 500 jobs since the beginning of the year. The farmers and advocates leading this movement in Kentucky are predominantly women. Kirstin Bohnert and Alyssa Faith Erickson are both advocates with Kentucky Hempsters. Erickson stated, “To us, hemp means hope for the future. The potential it has to supplement existing industries that are currently devastating our earth is astounding. Hemp is sustainable, renewable and can be used to create eco-friendly products that are healthy for us and better for our planet.” There is currently a bill in U.S. Congress that would reclassify hemp from a narcotic to an agricultural crop. If the law were to pass, it would minimize the red tape for established hemp farming programs. The annual hemp sales in the U.S. is 620 million, all of which is imported.
Most industrial hemp is grown in China, since it has been outlawed in the U.S. since 1937. Now that it is legal, there is a lot of catching up to be done. “With the tobacco and coal industries in decline, many Kentuckians are seeking new opportunities. Hemp has the potential to improve Kentucky’s economy greatly, as it did in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In fact, it was Kentucky's leading cash crop until 1915,” stated Bohnert. Katie Moyer, a Kentucky resident appointed to the Industrial Hemp Commission sees a bright future for hemp. “Historically, the Commonwealth was the leader in U.S. Hemp production, and I believe we can set that standard again. In addition to providing a great financial resource for U.S. and Kentucky farmers, I hope that by getting hemp foods into the diet of the average American, we can improve our quality of life.”
Hemp and marijuana are not interchangeable. Hemp comes from the Cannabis sativa plant and in order for cannabis to be considered industrial hemp, it must contain THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) levels less than 0.3 percent. Higher than 0.3 percent, the plant can cause a “high” effect. Hemp is also a nutritious food source and is packed with fiber, antioxidants and omega-3. It has a mild nutty taste and, according to Dr. Oz, hemp milk is a hearty alternative for people who have soy or dairy allergies. Cannabis oil is used in a number of cosmetic and beauty products and is derived from cold-pressing hemp seeds to create the oil extract. It is a safe, non-toxic oil used to combat wrinkles, eczema and psoriasis. Cannabidiol (CBD), a chemical compound in the plant, can be extracted from the leaves, blossoms and stems and used for medicinal purposes.
Hegaard has seen progress and is not giving up. She hopes to be one of the companies on the forefront of sustainable clothing and textiles with hemp her solution. “I’ve been doing this for 17 years so that one day the hemp that I use (to make my clothing) can be grown in the United States. I do this because I’m an activist, because I love to educate. It is fulfilling to see this is starting to happen here in the U.S.” Only through education and correct labeling can the taboo of hemp be eliminated—and then eventually grown as a versatile crop not only in Kentucky, but all over the country.