Hemp Adds Value to the World of Fashion

Kathryn Hilderbrand, a designer, tailor, and entrepreneur with over 30 years of experience in the fashion industry, began Good Clothing Company to create “small runs of sustainable production for designers.” Beginning with a successful funding endeavor through Indiegogo, the company has received so much interest from designers, it is already looking for a bigger space.

In addition to her efforts to support small businesses, Hilderbrand is a force working to bring sustainable practices, and materials, to the world of fashion. She uses hemp to make ecologically sound, beautiful and lasting clothing. Her line GreenLinebyK, in a collaboration with Devinto, recently created a hemp-based clothing collection.

Currently, Hilderbrand sources hemp from Nature’s Fabrics in Pennsylvania and Pickering International, Inc., a company in California that gets its hemp from overseas. What are the implications of sourcing hemp fabric from local companies in Massachusetts? This is what Hilderbrand is working to find out.

Massachusetts state Rep. Chris Walsh approached Hilderbrand to speak at a hearing to help legalize the cultivation of industrial hemp in Massachusetts. As a designer, hemp is of particular interest to Hilderbrand because of its durability and its diverse applications. Hemp has seemingly endless positives, two of which are that it can be grown organically in all 50 states, as it is frost tolerant and only requires moderate amounts of water, and that 1 acre of hemp produces as much fiber as 2 to 3 acres of cotton. 

Hemp is guilty by association due to its visual similarities to the cannabis plant. By definition, industrial hemp is high in fiber and low in active tetrahydrocannabinol, the psychoactive ingredient in cannabis that makes some varieties a valued drug. Canada and the European Union maintain this distinction by strictly regulating the THC levels of industrial hemp, requiring it to be less than 0.3 percent, compared to THC levels averaging 3 to 30 percent in medical and recreational cannabis. 

Due to the myriad applications of industrial hemp, it is incredibly viable financially. According to the Hemp Industries Association, in 2013, the estimated retail value of North American hemp food and body care products was $184 million. To include clothing, auto parts, building materials and other non-food or body care products into the equation, the total retail value of U.S. hemp products is approximately $581 million.

Americans purchase nearly 20 billion items of clothing each year and 98 percent of that clothing is made overseas. Hilderbrand’s voice is important not only to the world of fashion and small businesses, but also the movement to make industrial hemp a legal crop. This is a step to start bringing the agency back to individuals through keeping products local. “Legalizing a crop for our nation that is a very big part of our history and was one of our strongest crops not that long ago makes a lot of sense. Bringing back jobs makes a lot of sense,” Hilderbrand said.

Growing industrial hemp in the United States would strengthen the economy by providing a significant crop for farmers, and fabric and clothing manufacturers, to name just a few. This, both literally and figuratively, works from the ground up, strengthening communities and their economies.

Reflecting on the change she has witnessed, Hilderbrand stated, “I am very encouraged by the change I am seeing. I’m very encouraged to see things passing in other states … to see people embracing this local movement … this sustainable movement—things that have goodness in them.” It is said real change begins locally—Hilderbrand and Good Clothing Company are doing just that.

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