The recent sustainable fashion movement has cast a spotlight on hemp and bamboo. But the cultivation and use of these two plants actually date back thousands of years.
Their long history and widespread use in countries like China and Nepal attest to their superiority over other crops. But between the two of them, which comes out on top? Truthfully, the answer isn’t so clear-cut.
Let’s take a look at some major points of comparison.
Both hemp and bamboo are extremely easy to grow compared to other crops in that they aren’t at all resource-intensive.
Neither of the crops requires insecticides or pesticides, which means there will be no toxic run-off.
The cultivation of hemp, however, is much more labor-intensive. Unlike bamboo, which is a perennial grass, farmers have to replant hemp annually.
However, hemp can actually save contaminated and unusable soil. Researchers have found that the cultivation of hemp helped recover some of the contaminated soil of Chernobyl.
In terms of processing the crop into a workable fiber, bamboo falls short in several areas.
Even though bamboo cultivation is highly sustainable, processing bamboo is a different story. Raw bamboo stalks are extremely tough, and the manufacturing process must turn them into soft textiles.
This traditional viscose process requires heavy-duty chemical solvents, such as carbon disulfide and sodium hydroxide, which is just as harmful to human health as it is to the environment.
On the other hand, the processing stage of hemp is mainly manual and requires exposure to the natural environment. Although chemical solvents such as liquid carbon dioxide and ethanol are used, they are not detrimental to the environment.
Once again, hemp trumps over bamboo in terms of durability. Hemp has one of the strongest and longest plant fibers in the world.
To get an idea of just how durable hemp is, look no further than the US Declaration of Independence itself. This historical document was prescribed on hemp paper. Even without the extensive preservation methods, hemp materials last much longer than bamboo.
Similarly, ship equipment, such as ropes, sails, flags, and even uniforms, was mostly reliant on hemp pre-19th century. This is because hemp is naturally resistant to rot and abrasion, even under tough conditions.
Both hemp and bamboo are highly versatile. You’d be surprised by just how many products you can get from a single plant, including clothes, shoes, underwear, skin care, toiletries, household products, and so much more. The list is endless.
Of course, either bamboo or hemp is preferable for certain applications over others.
For instance, bamboo is more appropriate for things like sheets, towels, and socks because it is softer than hemp. But hemp is better applicable for jeans, backpacks, jackets, hats, and underwear.
Speaking of underwear, another winning property of hemp is its natural antibacterial properties. The fibers of hemp actively fight off bacteria and keep your garments clean for longer periods of time.
Interestingly, bamboo fibers also possess natural antibacterial properties. However, the traditional viscose process of manufacturing bamboo textile essentially strips away most, if not all, of these qualities.
By extension, this means that you can get way more wear time out of your hemp garments, and you won’t have to wash them as regularly. In addition, this translates to you minimizing your water consumption and potential contamination through the excessive use of suds and detergents.
When it comes down to it, hemp wins over bamboo in terms of sustainability. While bamboo was the first sustainable alternative to other textiles such as cotton, it has long lost that title.
The reason for this is simply that bamboo loses most of its sustainability factor when it comes to the processing stage.
Hemp, on the other hand, remains green-conscious throughout its life cycle and beyond.