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Why Is Hemp Clothing Expensive?

5 reasons why fashion made from hemp costs more

So you’ve been looking for some hemp clothes but noticed they can be a bit expensive?

Trust me when I say that you’ll be able to find hemp clothes for any budget – high or low – using our handy hemp clothing & homewares directory.

Still, it’s true that hemp clothing is typically more expensive than cotton. Currently, there’s just not much demand. But there are a few more reasons, too:

1. There is a small global supply

There’s really not a lot of hemp to go around, and so its scarcity can be capitalised. Each year, globally, more than 26 million tonnes of cotton fibre is produced and sold, whereas hemp fibre totals around 60,000 tonnes.

To give you some perspective: the amount of gin trash from Australian cotton production alone comes to 100,000 tonnes – that’s more than the whole world’s supply of hemp fibre. The difference in volume is crazy.

The good news is that hemp has seen good growth in recent years, namely because demand for cannabidiol (CBD) has increased dramatically (notably since hemp production was federally legalized in the US in 2018). The global industrial hemp industry is now expected to grow at a rapid compound annual growth rate of 25.2% over the next 5 years, to reach a value of almost USD$19 billion by 2025.

To yield high-quality fibres for textiles, industrial hemp needs to be grown for that specific purpose. Despite the fact that crops grown for seed and oil don’t yield textile-grade fibres, they are likely to still have a positive impact on the clothing industry. The general awareness of hemp that will follow this trend, and a larger agricultural industry (wanting to maximise profits), may encourage the industry to find a use for these fibres.

2. There is limited competition

There are not many suppliers of hemp textiles, which means they hold more power and control over its price.

As a species of cannabis, hemp has long been regarded as a prohibited substance all over the world – even though it effectively isn’t psychoactive. In the US, The Controlled Substances Act (1970) prohibited industrial hemp, whilst it was outlawed even earlier in Australia in 1937.

This meant that the countries that continued to grow hemp were able to develop technologies capable of creating high quality textiles and other products. China is now the largest exporter, supplying around 70% of the hemp textiles in the world. Other major suppliers include North Korea, Chile and France.

In the 1950s, synthetic fibres like polyester and nylon were introduced into the global textile industry as a byproduct of Big Oil. These fibres were cheap to produce – and to scale. They attracted consumers as they’re less prone to wrinkling and easier to care for. This is another reason why hemp lost its foothold in the textile market.

Fortunately, hemp continued to flourish in countries where it’s growth wasn’t restricted. Not all hemp is equal, however and the strain, how it is grown and how it is treated, greatly affects is suitability for clothing.

There is also a fair amount of hemp grown in Europe. However, in Europe, fibre from industrial hemp has mostly been cultivated for use in non-woven, industrial textiles such as insulation. In contrast, Chinese hemp has been grown for use in woven textiles, and has had research and innovation put behind it in order to produce more appealing fabrications. In China, the military supported the production of hemp as it is durable, and well suited to uniforms.

3. Hemp textiles cost more to make

As hemp has been left out of the conversation for so long, modern textile machinery and infrastructure has been designed with other fibres in mind.

Hemp fibre in its natural state is not actually compatible with the machinery that spins yarns. The best way to overcome this is to ‘cottonise’ the hemp fibres – a modern process that uses machines, enzymes or chemicals to alter the fibre and make it soft, like cotton.

The difficulty is that the hemp needs to be cottonised without having its unique and desirable properties – such as its durability – destroyed. This is a new field of innovation, and requires technology and expertise that is limited and still cstly.

4. Hemp doesn’t achieve economies of scale

Economies of Scale refers to the cost advantages that manufacturers gain as the scale of production is increased, and costs are spread over more goods.

One of the reasons why hemp clothing is expensive is because it doesn’t achieve the economies of scale that popular fibres produced in larger quantities do.

As mentioned, hemp requires some additional steps to turn it into a beautiful textile, which adds more costs to its production. If there is little hemp fabric and textiles being made, there is a larger average cost against what is.

Industrial hemp has also faced diseconomies of scale, meaning that there is not only a lack of major efficiencies, but inefficiencies in its production. This has existed on an industry level, where farmers are so sparse and few that expensive machinery such as decorticators, and sorting facilities for all the byproducts could not be afforded individually, or even shared collectively.

5. Fashion brands add margins to their prices

On top of the cost price, a fashion brand will add a markup to make their products profitable. The retail price of their products also helps position them in relation to competing businesses and contributes to their ‘brand image’.

This is standard practice, but it does add another expense to the cost of what you buy.

More demand for clothing made from hemp will lead to it being more affordable. The more we ask for it, the more will be produced and manufacturers will achieve better economies of scale.

In the mean time, see if you can find something within your budget using our hemp clothing and homewares directory. Each brand’s individual page includes an easy-to-read summary that roughly indicates their price range.

A final note

Clothing made from hemp is incredibly durable, and will last you a lifetime. Whilst it may seem like more money, if you can afford the upfront investment, you’ll get an incredible cost per wear out of your hemp clothes, and you’ll love them forever!


Kelly is passionate about supporting the growing hemp textile industry and sustainable fashion at large. She holds a Bachelor of Fashion (Merchandise Management) from RMIT University and is a digital marketer within the Australian fashion industry. Her work and studies have given her an appreciation of the complexities behind-the-scenes, and a unique standpoint from which she critiques and advocates.

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