Business Insider Reports
Why’s that significant? Hemp, a cannabis plant with a negligible amount of the psychoactive chemical THC, uses significantly less water and chemicals than cotton. Unlike cotton, though, the material is difficult to work with. The cotton fibres in your shirt are derived from a puffy bud on top of a plant, while hemp fibres come from a tall, sturdy trunk.
“It’s a longer, stiffer, coarser fibre,” Levi’s head of global product innovation, Paul Dillinger, told Business Insider. “It doesn’t want to be turned into something soft. It wants to be turned into rope.” Levi’s has found a way to make hemp fibres soft and able to blend with cotton, but in a way that uses significantly less water than the process used to turn hemp plants into a rough material. “It’s great that it’s resonating with the consumer, but it’s more important that it’s helping to future-proof our supply chain,” he said.
Dillinger explained that this is a significant research project that will continue for years, rather than a project that only results in a couple of high-end, niche products. “Our intention is to take this to the core of the line, to blend it into the line, to make this a part of the Levi’s portfolio,” he said.
Dillinger said Levi’s is continuing to work on improving the quality of its cottonized-hemp, to the point where it can be nearly half of a cotton-blend for most apparel, as well as fully hemp for certain products. And in five years, he said, he expects “a 100% cottonized-hemp garment that is all hemp and feels all cotton.”
Dillinger said that the need for cotton alternatives became apparent when looking at the growth trajectory of cotton demand compared to access to fresh water required for its cultivation and processing. Since he was familiar with the nature of hemp, he did not expect to find a solution there… until Levi’s discovered cutting-edge research in Europe, where industrial hemp was already legal in many countries. Levi’s would not reveal its partners or details of its breakthroughs, except to say that it had a market-ready material after three years.