All Blogs

Fabric Faceoff: Organic Cotton vs. Hemp

February 22, 2019
No items found.


The last quarterfinals of #fabricFaceoff is here! Where 8 of the top green fabrics battle head to head for the best green fabric. And now they are down to just 4. Recycled wool was the upset winner last time. What about the underdog hemp against industry favourite organic cotton?

These fabrics are up against each other on Green Story’s 5 criteria, a mix of eco-friendly qualities, manufacturer and customer needs, and specific fabric superiority.

Make sure to check the bottom of this blog for specifics on our criteria.

Introducing the competitors for round 3: organic cotton and hemp

Fabric Faceoff Round 4 - hemp vs. organic cotton

Organic cotton: The eco-friendly alternative to the most widely used natural fiber crop. Organic cotton is best known for its lack of toxic chemicals in cultivation and production. It’s stead availability have made it a goto fabric in the ecofashion space and is pretty much the first mainstream ecofabric.

Hemp: Not a new fabric as a lot of people think. Hemp’s been used for thousands of years and made from cannabis sativa fiber (otherwise known as industrial hemp). As times change and cannabis legalization gathers momentum, hemp is making a comeback. More countries loosening regulations and more information of its eco-friendly properties has helped its momentum.

Here’s how we scored them.


1. CO2 Emissions:

Both fibres do require some amount of upkeep. While hemp is the hardier plant, the fibre yield is signifcantly lower due to the degumming process that most hemp fibres must undergo. This is the production process of removing impurities like waxes before the fiber can be spun into yarn. This requires a lot of energy use and gives off more carbon than cotton production. Cotton does better in this category but still receives less than top scores due losses and energy use in its ginning process.

Our score: Organic cotton – 4 | Hemp – 3
Winner: Organic cotton


2. Water Consumption:

Compared to conventional cotton, organic cotton needs around 85% less water because of natural crop treatments. These treatments allow for soil to retain significantly more water and so crops need less irrigation. But cotton crops overall still require quite some water to grow. Hemp is an extremely durable and quick growing crop (faster than weeds). These sturdy plants need minimal water, about a third that of organic cotton, so is the clear winner in this category.

Our score: Organic cotton – 3 | Hemp – 4
Winner: Hemp


3. Cost:

Organic cotton is slightly more expensive than cotton since it has a lower yield —and should be third-party certified. In a clear case of supply restrictions, hemps is much pricier than organic cotton and is often even blended with (hopefully organic) cotton to reduce its price tag. Hopefully as hemp production ramps up worldwide, the costs will decrease.

Our score: Organic cotton – 4 | Hemp – 3
Winner: Organic cotton


4. Availability:

Hemp’s association with marijuana use has contributed to it nearly disappearing from the fashion scene. While it’s not exactly the same plant (no THC in industrial hemp crops), the two look identical, which makes our eco-friendly fabric very limited due to national regulations.
Canada is now in the clear for crop growth but lacks the expertise of the degumming processes for local production. Organic cotton wins this category as its grown in 35 countries and is comparatively easily available.

Our score: Organic cotton – 4 | Hemp – 3
Winner: Organic cotton


5. Other:

Both organic cotton and hemp are grown without the use of pesticides, insecticides, herbicides or generically-modified seeds.

Hemp is one of the strongest natural fibers. This means clothes last longer, stay in shape longer, and holds its strength when wet. Not to mention it’s breathable, great in hot climates, and it’s the best natural fiber for anti-bacterial properties. But it’s also not as colour-fast as cotton and it’s quick to wrinkle. Additionally, hemp yarn is very rough and so is often blended with softer fibers to give it a nicer feel.

Hemp does have other great eco-benefits, however. Growing this crop cleans toxins from soil and groundwater and is a natural CO2 sink. Each ton of hemp cultivated takes 1.63 tons of CO2 out of our atmosphere! While organic cotton is better than cotton, it is still demanding on land use as compared to hemp.

Our score: Organic cotton – 4 | Hemp – 4
Winner: Tie


4th round winner:

Fabric Faceoff Organic Cotton

Organic cotton

This was tough and slightly surprising. Hemp’s better winner on many levels but lack of availability, emissions due to losses and pricing made it difficult to pick hemp. In terms of versatility and usage, cotton also beat out hemp. Looks like it stays the heavy favourite for the faceoff and advances to the semi finals.

Final score: Organic cotton – 19 | Hemp – 17

What do you think of our decision? Do you think hemp should have made it to the next round? Instagram definitely thinks so.

It was not mostly even but more people are clearly intrigued by the many advantages of hemp.

And now it’s on to the semi-finals! Tencel vs. Bamboo. We’ll have it out on Monday the 25th. Let us know your thoughts on Instagram!

The rules of the competition

We broke it down into 5 categories, a mix of environmental issues, consumer and manufacturer needs and unique fabric qualities. Each category is scored on a 5 point scale with 5 being best.

  1. Carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions: Every fabric gives off CO2 from its production, but the best green materials strive to bring this to a minimum —some even to be CO2 negative (due to carbon sequestration).
  2. Water consumption: Fabrics can use up to 3,000 liters per 1 kg of material (!), so the less water needed, the higher green materials will score.
  3. Cost: Being green and buying green is the main goal. But we must also be realistic. You can’t spend all your budget on the material, and your customers will not spend their life savings on a t-shirt. So finding the right balance between being sustainable and affordable will make sure green materials are here to stay.
  4. Availability: Green materials are wonderful, but they must also be accessible. The possibility of local production, easy access to facilities offering these materials (and no long waiting lists), and brands offering these materials needs to be addressed.
  5. Other: Each material is unique and has different sustainable qualities. This category allows each material to bring its top additional assets to the table, to make for a fairer comparison.