Hemp fibre was used by our ancestors around the world before it was widely replaced by cotton and paper and outlawed as a commercial crop in many countries. The reasons suggested for its demise as a popular industrial material are numerous, but more recently hemp’s reputation as a sustainable and eco-friendly fabric is (re)gaining ground the world over.
Besides being used in fabric production, hemp can be used as fuel, food (hemp seeds are heralded as a “superfood”), stock feed and medicine. Hemp (Cannabis Sativa) grows wild naturally in most parts of Nepal and with so much sun and a monsoon rainfall pattern, climatic conditions in Nepal allow for three hemp crops per year compared to just two in most places.
Where We Source Our Hemp
The majority of Nepali hemp grows around 3000 metres above sea level, often in remote areas. We source our hemp primarily from Darchula in West Nepal, where hemp collection has a rich tradition within the rural communities.
The bark of the hemp plant is hand harvested from the forested hillsides and processed following age old techniques including washing, and beating many times. After this, the hemp producing sheep herders then spin what now resembles sheep’s wool, into thread using a drop spindle, while wandering the hillsides, grazing their animals. This thread is then woven on hand looms to make fabric for clothes, ropes and mats. These products would last a family for generations thanks to the durable nature of the hemp and the long, attention-demanding techniques used to produce it.
It is this woven fabric that we use in our products, purchased from cooperatives and individuals.
Hemp Tradition in Nepal
While in the global west and many cities of the world the love of hemp fabric is slowly being rekindled and growing, in its traditional heartlands like rural Nepal, it is slowly disappearing as a commodity.
Such traditions are slowly being replaced as more people move to cities and modern, cheap clothes are replacing traditional fabrics and styles. As we heard throughout Nepal (with regards to many of the materials we use at Khali Khutta):
“Knowledge and skills that were essential are no more, as people can buy clothes, ropes. The youth are not interested. Our traditional way of life is under threat”.
We use Nepali hemp to create a way for Nepali shepherds to keep their traditions and local knowledge alive. Passing on their traditional skills and culture to the next generation.
Hemp in Our Products
We use hemp in our products because of its incredible durability, ability to take natural dyes and characteristic texture and look. For us, sustainability is not just about low (negative) impact, but also about the longevity of the things we buy.