Fashion charity suggests wool producers reduce stock size and grow hemp to decrease methane emissions

Hemp Farms Australia > NEWS > Media > Fashion charity suggests wool producers reduce stock size and grow hemp to decrease methane emissions

Australian hemp producers say legal and bureaucratic hurdles are stopping the crop’s widespread expansion, despite a growing push for it as a sustainable alternative to wool and cotton.

With the rise of fast fashion putting the industry’s sustainability in the global spotlight, hemp has been put forward as a potential alternative crop for farmers.

A submission from campaign group Collective Fashion Justice to last year’s Victorian parliamentary inquiry into industrial hemp suggested wool producers be supported to switch to the fibre, with the goal of reducing the overall number of livestock.

Director Emma Hakansson said while biodegradable fibres had benefits over synthetics, the industry needed to consider adopting more sustainable practices in farming and manufacturing.

Emma, a fair-skinned young brunette woman, wears a blazer and gesticulates in a chair at a conference.

Emma Hakansson has been pushing governments to reduce red tape on the hemp industry. (Supplied: Emma Hakansson)

“If the wool industry wants to be a part of the future of fashion it’s got to change much more radically,” Ms Hakansson said.

“The most important thing we could do is to support farmers in the wool industry to reduce the size of their herd and, when its appropriate for their land, start growing hemp for fibre production so that we can have a smaller methane footprint in this country.

“This requires government intervention and support and they’re not doing enough to address it.”

Hemp hurdles

Gary Rogers runs several hemp businesses in Western Australia’s Margaret River region, including a commercially-viable facility to process raw hemp into other products.

A man leaning against hemp bales.

Gary Rogers is the owner and director of Margaret River Hemp Co, Hemp Homes Australia, and Margaret River Processing. (ABC South West: Kate Forrester)

Since joining the industry in the early 2000s he has seen major growth.

But he said bureaucratic procedures were holding back further expansion.

“I really struggle with not being able to advertise the product. On social media we are not allowed to market it,” Mr Rogers said.

“We are growing something with no THC, but still we are only allowed to use the stem and seed, and they expect you to have a thriving business.”

Low levels of THC mean that industrial hemp plants do not have the psychoactive effects associated with prohibited cannabis strains.

Mr Rogers said exporting the product had proven difficult despite a growing number of overseas companies wanting to use Australian-grown hemp.

“The rigmarole we are up against to just export it, it has to go through the office of drug control. It is being classed as a narcotic,” he said.

“Overseas clients like India and China are looking at us going ‘what are you doing over there?’

“We have to lose the stigma that it is marijuana.”

Close-up shot of bright green hemp plants
                         The hemp plant is the same species as cannabis but has less than 0.3 per cent THC.(ABC News: Erin Cooper-Douglas)

Fast fashion’s ‘got to stop’

Mr Rogers said wearing the natural, plant-based fibre had a range of benefits, but perceptions of its cost remained an issue.

He agreed the fashion industry needed to be proactive in coming up with solutions to fast fashion, with more of his customers starting to ask questions.

Bales of hemp.
                      Gary Rogers wanted to start processing hemp because he was “gobsmacked” clothes were not made here in Australia.

 “The fashion industry has stuffed it up, we’ve got a lot of repairing to do. We can replace a lot of plastics with hemp,” Mr Rogers said.

“There is no end game for fast fashion, it’s got to stop.”

Handfulls of hemp fibre.
                                   Hemp is a highly durable fibre with industry saying it “wears in, not out”.(ABC South West: Kate Forrester)

Sustainable wool

Verity Slee co-owns Nomad Farms at Finniss on South Australia’s Fleurieu Peninsula where they grow and manufacture wool differently.

She and her husband use regenerative farming principles like rotational grazing, which allows paddocks to rest and regrow before being eaten.

The couple also have a short supply chain with their wool milled in Victoria instead of overseas.

A fair-skinned female farmer, Verity, stands smiling next to a large bale of wool in a tin shearing shed.
                                       Verity Slee uses regenerative farming principles to produce wool products.(Suppplied: Nomad Farms)

“It’s an expensive process to get your wool milled in Australia because there are very few mills still [operating],” Ms Slee said.

“I would love to see more mills available as that would make it more accessible to growers.”

A close up of avocado seeds next to brown wool.
                                    Verity and Tom Slee use plant products like avocado seed to dye their wool. (Supplied: Nomad Farms)

Ms Slee said they also used natural eco dyes like eucalyptus leaves, avocado seeds, and indigo plant to colour their wool, which was less toxic than synthetic dyeing.

“There’s a lot of people doing less chemical dyes, so that’s great,” she said.

“We run workshops teaching people how to make their own natural dyes and how to use them.”