I think Piro and I are fairly eco-friendly in business and our private lives. We have high efficiency appliances, rain barrels, a solar and wind powered clothes dryer (a clothesline), and solar lighting outdoors. We recycle, reuse, reduce consumption, compost, avoid lawn chemicals, garden organically, use shade grown coffee, and carpool and were redoubling our efforts on that now. Imagine my dismay when I discovered cotton, when grown conventionally, is detrimental to the environment. Cotton is a resource hog that requires vast amounts of water and chemical pesticides and fertilizers. Due to insect pests it is one of the most polluting and chemically intensive agricultural crops grown.
I can only feel so bad about purchasing cotton apparel for my personal use or selling cotton Megatokyo t-shirts to our customers because the fate of our modern day textile industry was determined over 200 hundred years ago when Eli Whitney invented the cotton gin in 1793 and cotton won out. We are now inundated with the look, the feel and cotton but that doesn't mean we couldn't try do a little something. After months of sampling products we are ready to add hemp paper products and bring back the baseball caps on new hemp styles.
I spent most of the year researching industrial hemp. Piro freaked when I suggested including hemp products in the store. He didn't know what it was at the time but he knew it was bad. Piro and I both know there is a lot of confusion and common misconceptions about the nature of industrial hemp. Hemp is not marijuana or an illicit drug. Industrial hemp is a non-drug, agricultural fiber crop that requires minimal use of pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers if any at all and is an eco-friendly choice to cotton and linen. The growing season for hemp is between 100 and 120 days and is an easy crop for farmers to grow with high returns per acre. Hemp can yield 3-8 dry tons of fiber per acre. This is four times what an average forest can yield per acre.
Hemp has historically been cultivated through the centuries for use in paper, clothing, sails, ropes, paints, and as a food source. Currently it is being used around the world for construction materials, insulation, clothing, food, and fuel. Hemp fiber is longer, stronger, more absorbent and high insulation value than cotton fiber and has the added properties of being antibacterial and mildew resistant (those last two features would come in really handy at conventions). Hemp fiber paper resists decomposition, and does not yellow with age when an acid-free process is used making the paper archival quality. Presidents George Washington and Thomas Jefferson were both hemp farmers.
Currently industrial hemp is grown in approximately 30 nations such as Canada and the UK. Unfortunately, while industrial hemp is grown freely throughout the world, it is a restricted crop in the United States. It is placed under the jurisdiction of the DEA who refuses to distinguish it from marijuana despite clear chemical and physical differences between the plants. Industrial hemp should be placed under the auspices of the Department of Agriculture. There is currently a bill in Congress, House Resolution 3037 (H.R. 3037) also known as the "Industrial Hemp Farming Act of 2005", that proposes to amend the Controlled Substances Act to exclude industrial hemp - the non-drug fiber crop - from the definition of marijuana - a drug crop. You can follow the progress of the Industrial Hemp Farming Act of 2005 at the Thomas website. The bill is currently in committee. Write your Representatives and tell them to support H.R. 3037 and American farmers. Interestingly, the Lakota Nation on Pine Ridge Reservation has asserted their tribal rights to grow hemp on tribal lands. It failed at the time with the feds plowing the field under.
I'm sure there are a lot of questions about why not organic cotton or t-shirt choices. When I decided to look into this we determined that the product quality, style, price and all the factors had to be comparable to what we currently carry. Unfortunately, except for a single girls tee, nothing really matched up except the hats. The men's hemp shirts ran a full size larger, the ladies' shirts had poor fit, organic is too expensive and the one company that everyone THINKS is organic actually isn't and the shirts run small to boot. In general they lacked color selection and style. I can't make what won't sell.
Currently the manufactures are aiming at a different market. The clothes are either hippie mama or yoga fanatic. I don't need a yoga bra - how about just a normal standard sized tee?? I want products without all the stereotypes. Another big minus was the inclusion of manufacture labels on the front of shirts (we're selling our brand not yours) and the use of the hemp leaf labels on the outside of the clothing. That really isn't going to appeal to the majority of consumers. I want to sell hemp - not advertise it. I think the hemp industry has a long way to go before it is mainstream. They are never going to subvert the dominant culture by selling drawstring pants that look like pajama bottoms.
I'm not even sure they want to go there. I met several people in the hemp supply world. They are all talk about how the world (possibly the universe) needs to take up hemp and other eco fibers but then they insist the consumers conform to the lifestyle. They aren't trying to appeal to the masses and thus can't affect a real change. We do want to expand the apparel offerings when comparable items become available. I'm always looking around.
Overall, I'm amazed by how poorly the environmental/hemp message is conveyed in general. Woody Harrelson was arrested in 1996 for planting hemp seeds in an effort to change the laws which mistakenly place hemp under the jurisdiction of the DEA instead of the Dept. of Agriculture. He was eventually acquitted but the law still stands. I remember this occurring but the message was completely lost on me at the time.
And for the truly curious, we work with Canadian companies who import from privately owned and/or free trade factories in China because they are allowed to grow hemp there. There are many of your fellow MT fans from the Gulf Coast area. We don't know the status of any but there is a strong likelihood that they are one of the many who need aid at this very moment. Please donate what you can to a charity offering assistance to the victims - even if it is only spare change at a grocery store Coinstar machine. Piro and I did it and it is so easy. You get a receipt for your records and even the small amount will help someone. The Red Cross states that if half of those Americans living within 2 miles of a Coinstar machine donated just $1 in spare change to the Red Cross, it would raise more than $65 million to support American Red Cross lifesaving services in communities nationwide! We hope all of the MT community is safe and our thoughts are with everyone who has been affected by this catastrophe.