Hemp for Hanes? Crunchy Fiber Set For World Domination

Hanes shirt photo

Photo credit: Hanes

After toiling for nearly a decade to shake hemp's burlap-sack connotations—and prove that the fiber is a viable replacement for cotton—Naturally Advanced Technologies (née Hemptown) may finally have its day.

The Portland, Ore.-based company, according to Portfolio.com, has announced a series of deals primed to commercialize its Crailar Fiber Technology, an enzyme-based treatment for processing hemp and other organic fibers into pillowy smooth fabric. Among some of the bold-faced names being uttered? Hanes, one of the world's largest consumer brands, which posted $4.2 billion in sales in 2008.Under the joint development agreement, Naturally Advanced will retrofit Hanes' existing dyeing equipment with the company's enzyme process to study how its organic fibers can be integrated into mainstream production.

If successful, notes Portfolio.com, the companies will begin devising a marketing plan to determine how Crailar could be commercialized.

Dollars and sense
Because Carilar shrinks far less during production than cotton, its final cost is closer to regular cotton than organic cotton, which is 60 percent more expensive than its conventional counterpart.

If Crailar could be commercialized, says Matt Hall, vice president of external communications at Hanes, it would mean being able to produce organic fibers for everyday products at competitive prices. And considering that hemp grows faster and requires less water than cotton, the plusses keep adding up.

Hemp paper towels, anyone?
Meanwhile, Naturally Advanced may be pushing for the mainstreaming of hemp beyond the apparel market, with signed development deals with companies such as Georgia Pacific Consumer Products, which makes Brawny paper towels.

Besides licensing its Crailar technology for denim, home furnishings and carpet markets, the company is also tweaking the technology to make it applicable to forestry pulping and as diesel fuel.

So long, HTnaturals
Until recently, Naturally Advanced made its money from its sustainable-apparel arm, HTnaturals, but the clothing company is being shuttered so its founders can focus on Crailar—although the fact that HTnaturals' second-quarter sales amounted to $401,000, down from $580,000 last year, probably had something to do with that decision, as well.

[Via Portfolio.com]

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