When the dreads do fashion, what material do they turn to? Hemp is it, of course! Why, you may ask? “The beauty of the fabric speaks for itself,” says Diana Gordon, Uhane Knits Designer & President. “It is a fabulous fabric, one of the best-kept fashion industry secrets. It is a good old-fashioned renewable natural resource with so many great uses but carries such an unwarranted stigma.” So why would a Brooklyn born, homegrown company now based in Long Beach, New York consisting of a married duo, Diana & Mannix Gordon choose hemp as the best choice in handbag design? Though cannabis is front and center in the ongoing culture and legal drug wars, they would like to break with the stereotype and talk about their own hand knit fashion sense based on ecological sustainability. Here is their take on it.
As legislative battles to legalize the herb wages in statehouses around the country bring new awareness to the medicinal effects of a controlled substance such as cannabis, another aspect has been oft overlooked. Much less controversial and still widely unknown is the industrial and commercial uses of the non-narcotic form of the plant called hemp. The Uhane Knits 2011 collection puts the fabric front and center in clutches and handbags.
‘Hemp sources for our clothing is legally grown, in countries like Canada, France, and China requires no pesticides to aid growth. Hemp is one of the most environmentally friendly products we could find.” says Mannix. “Uhane Knits would like to focus on the knitting uses and fabric derivatives from the herb. We asked why we cannot get hemp yarn grown in the United States.” As stated in their 2011 catalogue, they see the benefits of hemp line as economical, fashion forward, and eco-friendly. (see the full press release at uhaneknits.com). Download the new catalogue at www.uhaneknits.com/UhaneKnitsCatalogueSeasons2011.pdf
Contrary to urban myth and even conventional wisdom, industrial hemp is actually legal for industrial uses in the United States. Though policies against the cultivation of this wondrous eco-friendly fiber have been tantamount to a near shutdown of the industry in America, it was not always reviled and stigmatized this way.
Hemp agriculture used to thrive in the U.S. until the industrial revolution. The dominance of “King Cotton” then and the 20th century proliferation of petroleum-based synthetics saw to it that hemp as an industrial fabric faded into obscurity. Fear of marijuana proliferation  and ubiquity of cheaper synthetic fabrics pushed the cultivation of industrial hemp aside. Panic of spreading drug use and hippie culture in the sixties led to federal legislation to ban all cannabis plant cultivation, including hemp. However, hemp is not marijuana, though they both derive from the same Cannabis Sativa family of plants. Hemp is known for its strong fiber, oil, and its many industrial uses. Industrial Hemp has little THC (less than 1.0%, norm: 0.5%), than the mind-altering affect that recreational/ medicinal marijuana (range of 3% to 20%) is known for and no one could get high from smoking it.
Did you know the first American flags and the first denim jeans by Levi Strauss were made from hemp? Our founding fathers grew hemp and saw it as a duty to the nation in the early years of this country to expand its production. If it was good then, it should be great now as many eco-conscious consumers turn to more natural and environmental friendly solutions to the age-old question of what to wear.
Thomas Jefferson once said, “Hemp is of first necessity to the wealth & protection of the country”. George Washington said, “”Make the most of the Indian hemp seed, and sow it everywhere!” The decision was clear from early on that pound for pound, acre for acre, hemp was a winner crop to help build and develop a new nation. The amount of industrial uses is amazing. During World War II, the American government even encouraged farmers  to grow it to help aid the war effort.
From oils /bio-fuel to food, from medicine to cosmetics, from paper to building blocks and ultimately to clothing, hemp is a pollution-eating crop with a wide variety of domestic uses. It is a wonder plant. Fast growing and sewage eating, hemp has very little need for chemical fertilization. Hemp is naturally disease resistant, can be grown almost anywhere and improves the soil for the next crop. Growing hemp fiber can save many trees from being clear-cut. So Grow hemp and use its fibers instead for paper products. Save the trees and let them grow.
Thirty nations on the planet currently grow industrial hemp. These include Canada, Australia, England, France, Germany, Austria, Spain, Russia, and China. The Biggest producer of hemp is China. The Chinese, Europeans and Canadians, have cornered the world market on hemp. This hemp is then imported to the U.S. with a huge mark up in price. This is lost revenue for American farmers and for the government’s tax coffers alike due to outdated Cannabis policies and a misunderstanding of the difference between marijuana and hemp. It is about time U.S. farmers are allowed to get in on the industrial hemp action again without fear of any stigma or sanctions. We have the farm acreage here and internal consumer demand for it in the U.S. is growing.
With global climate change, more than ever there is a need for farmers to diversify their crops. They can do so frugally with low maintenance soil enriching hemp, it’s especially beneficial in drought stricken areas throughout the southwest. The environmental problems associated with lower annual rainfall conditions, persistent use of artificial fertilizers and pesticides are well documented  . Since hemp does not need much rainfall, fertilizer or pesticides, it might well be time to rethink hemp cultivation here. These reasons among others is why the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) recently adopted a resolution strongly urging the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) to collaboratively develop and adopt an official definition of industrial hemp. The Arizona Industrial Hemp council and other grassroots organizations are making a strong nationwide push to relieve the restrictions on the cultivation so beneficial to their state and to the U.S. economy as a whole.
Consumers too can have a huge role in boosting the industry back to prominence by boosting personal demand. When shopping, demand Fair Trade, demand organic, and demand hemp products! Simply choosing and wearing hemp is an easy “go green” fashion statement which can have a huge impact on the industry. Even with importation, the prices are still competitive and the fiber itself is durable and softens nicely with wear. “Ladies are going to buy cute handbags & its time again to look at the eco-friendly hemp as a viable alternative?” Gordon asks, “Who will take the lead in this area of the fashion debate? Uhane Knits has already gone all in with hemp in their new collection of handbags this year. We call on others in the fashion industry to join us and do the same.”
Gordon boasts, “We base high value on originality and simple elegance, from supporting those who plow the earth organically to us carefully knitting and stitching with our own hands. We feel these qualities and the personal touch sets Uhane Knits apart from companies who rely on machine made & mass production techniques. Each of our bags, belts, and clutches are unique and lovingly handknit here in the U.S.A.” When buying a new handbag, try Uhane Knits for innate artistry, eco-friendly materials, and colorful energy for a bold refreshing change.
Sources / Endnotes
 States Hemp Legislation: To date, twenty-nine states have introduced hemp legislation and seventeen have passed legislation; nine (Hawaii, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Montana, North Dakota, Oregon, Vermont and West Virginia) have removed barriers to its production or research. eight states have passed hemp resolutions: California, Colorado, Montana, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oregon, Vermont and Virginia. In 2002, Hawaii became the first state to reopen licensing for research production of hemp under strict regulatory oversight.
 EarthEasy.com “The value of this versatile, easy to grow, eco-friendly crop is becoming more and more apparent. For example, Canadian hemp farmers make $80 per hectare while American grain farmers make $8. This represents a promising option for farmers whose current crops experience reduced demand. Tobacco farmers take note!” – Greg Seaman founder of Earth Easy
 Hemp Industry Association, USA It is currently illegal to grow industrial hemp for food, oil, paper or fabric in the USA, but it is perfectly legal to export hemp to the U.S. and to process, consume and wear it there.
 HempFarm.org “Marijuana and Hemp: The Untold Story” Thomas Bouril, 1997; For the first 162 years of America’s existence, marijuana was totally legal and hemp was a common crop. But during the 1930s, the U.S. government and the media began spreading outrageous distortions and untruths about marijuana, which led to its prohibition. (“Marijuana: The devil’s weed with roots in hell”, “Marijuana makes fiends of boys in 30 days”, “Reefer Madness”, etc.) It was banned in the USA under the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937. In a blatant case of mistaken identity, industrial hemp was banned along with it
 The Controlled Substance Act of 1970 – Two federal agencies, the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Food and Drug Administration, determine which substances are added to or removed from the various schedules
 Industrial Hemp in the United States: Status and Market Potential USDA Paper, 2000 – delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (“THC”), the active psychotropic ingredient found in the leaves and flowers of the female plant
 Founding Father Quotes: George Washington, The Writings of George Washington Volume 33, page 270 (Library of Congress), 1794
 Archive.org US government propaganda film made during WWII touting the virtues of hemp. The film was aimed at farmers at a time when the miltary was facing a shortage of hemp, it shows how hemp is grown and processed into rope and other products.
 Agricultural Marketing Research Center Worldwide research and development has sparked an increase in new, innovative uses for hemp. In contrast to the United States, over 30 countries have continued to grow and process industrial hemp. World leaders of hemp production include Canada, Germany, England and France. The European Industrial Hemp Association (EIHA) says between 15 to 20 companies in the European Union (EU) and between 5 to 10 companies in Eastern Europe process hemp. In 2001, the seven largest companies had a total of about 25,000 acres under contracted cultivation, producing an estimated 20,000 to 25,000 metric tons of fiber, about one-third of global production.
 Agricultural Marketing Research Center A conservative estimate of the total retail value of hemp products sold in the United States in 2007 is $350 million. The current annual U.S. market for hemp yarn and fabric is estimated to be in the $15 million range. The Hemp Industries Association estimates that the North American retail market for hemp textiles and fabrics exceeded $100 million in 2007 and is growing around 10 percent per year. The retail health care market, including lotions and oils, is estimated to sell over $30 million worth of hemp products in the United States annually.
 Industrial Hemp in the United States: Status and Market Potential USDA Paper, 2000: In 1998, imports of hemp seed into North America were estimated at 1,300 tons. Given yields in Germany of about 1,000 pounds per acre, it would take 2,600 acres to satisfy the demand for hemp seed. As with fiber imports, it would take only a few average sized farms to meet this demand. According to the Canadian Hemp Trade Alliance (CHTA), the trade association representing the Canadian hemp industry, Canadian farmers planted over 48,000 acres of hemp in 2006, a new record. This is twice the 2005 acreage and six times the 2004 acreage of about 4,000 acres. Canadian farmers are reporting net profits of $200 to $250 per acre.
 Industrial hemp’s double dividend: a study for the USA, by Dave M. Alden, John L. R. Proopsand Philip W. Gay – excerpt from abstract: The impacts on domestic industries and the quality of the environment of permitting industrial hemp production in the United States are explored. These impacts are modeled in three States of the World that reflect alternative assumptions about technology. A linear programming model of domestic textile fiber, oil seed, pulp logs, pulp and paper industries is employed. The objective of the model is total land use minimization. The impact on domestic industries of permitting industrial hemp production are substantial in each State of the World. Economic efficiency is measured in terms of total direct land use required to produce a desired level of physical output.
 Economic Impacts of reduced pesticide use in the United States: Measurement of Costs and Benefits by the Agricultural & Food Policy Center (AFPC) Policy Issues Paper 99-2 August 1999.
 HempUSA.org Hemp has few natural predators and it grows well without herbicides, fungicides, or pesticides. The production of cotton, on the other hand, consumes about 25% of all pesticides used on American crops. Some of these chemicals are among the most toxic classified by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Industrial hemp is also a very land efficient crop. On a per acre basis, hemp yields 250% more fiber than cotton and 600% more fiber than flax without the need for toxic chemical pesticides and fertilizers. Hemp has a deep root system that helps to prevent soil erosion, removes toxins, provides a disease break, and aerates the soil to the benefit of future crops. Hemp grows well in a variety of climates and soil types. Hemp builds and replenishes topsoil and subsoil structures. Hemp plants shed their leaves throughout the growing season, adding rich organic matter to the topsoil and helping it retain moisture which allows hemp to be more drought-resistant. Hemp leaves the soil in excellent condition for any succeeding crop, especially when weeds may otherwise be troublesome.