Lightweight, strong and durable. Industrial hemp has a high tensile strength and is one of the most durable fibers on the planet.
At Salewa, we view training for climbing and maintaining a good level of core fitness as a natural part of life. It’s true what they say – you can never have enough power. However, training is not just about getting better and stronger. In today’s fast-paced, screen-based world, it’s easy to neglect what is important. Training provides us with an opportunity to be curious and generate energy and focus. Training is about playing, enjoyment and having fun, just like climbing itself. Training to climb is a mindset – and an exuberant approach to life.
For Spring Summer 2021, we are rolling out a new fabric for use specifically in our Alpine Climbing collection – Alpine Hemp. We know that climbers enjoy wearing natural, comfortable and sustainable clothing. We understand that they want breathability and thermoregulation for high levels of aerobic activity. We know that they want freedom of movement and stretch functionality for athletic moves. This is why we have chosen to make a new selection of Alpine Hemp apparel with hybrid blends and innovative constructions.
Why industrial hemp?
Hemp is a smart fabric with historic roots, outstanding sustainability credentials and a bright future. However, it’s not a new invention – hemp is the earliest woven fabric there is. It’s also one of the most undervalued and misunderstood plants around.
Until the start of the last century industrial hemp was commonplace, with a large percentage of the world’s textiles and fabrics made with hemp fibres. However, economic and political sanctions and restrictions effectively wiped out the industry. Hemp has not had the industrial support of its mainstream counterparts, like cotton, and its growth as an industry has been stunted. Now though, production of industrial hemp is legal, and it is grown in many parts of the world.
What are the benefits of Alpine Hemp?
We initially became interested in hemp for its natural comfort, breathable, thermoregulating functionality and its low impact on the environment. Hemp is more durable, insulating, breathable, heat-resistant, UV-resistant and antibacterial than cotton. In addition, it can absorb up to 30% moisture without feeling moist. Most important of all, hemp is the strongest and most durable natural fibre known to humankind – which makes it ideal for climbing apparel. It has a wonderful feel, comparable to linen. Furthermore, hemp cultivation requires no pesticides, synthetic fertilizers or GMO seeds. Unlike cotton, it requires little to no water and also improves soil health by replenishing vital nutrients and preventing erosion.
There is a certain amount of misinformation and confusion about hemp. Let’s get one thing straight. Industrial hemp is not marijuana. You can’t smoke it. Although it’s a member of the cannabis plant family, hemp is the non-psychoactive cousin and contains virtually no trace of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).
Salewa and the development of Alpine Hemp
Hemp is not new at Salewa, we’ve featured it in our climbing collections since 2016. We were quick to recognise the sustainable value of this fast-growing plant and saw how climbers really liked hemp’s soft feel and wearability for active use in hot weather and cooler conditions. Back in 2017, we launched a feasibility study and innovation project to consider the design and production implications and analyse the availability and quality of hemp fibre. The result is Alpine Hemp.
Hemp has a strong and authentic tradition in the Alps, and Italy used to be the number one producer of high-quality industrial hemp. However, much of the expertise, machinery and skills moved to China in the 1960s. This is why we source our industrial hemp from expert suppliers in Heilongjiang province in north-eastern China, an area dominated by mountain ranges. In addition, Salewa is also making a long-term commitment to a local circular economy aimed at reducing waste and using natural resources by investing 10 % of turnover from sales of Alpine Hemp apparel into local cultivation of hemp fibre and regional production and manufacturing of sustainable hemp products.
Alpine Hemp is an exclusive fabric developed by Salewa in cooperation with its textile suppliers. Modern developments in technology have made it possible to create a variety of new biocomposite blends. For our Alpine Climbing collection, we use complex knitting and weaving techniques to blend hemp with other fibres, such as recycled polyester, organic cotton and elastane to provide enhanced hybrid functionality. In particular, we have developed a new unique, ripstop, stretch hemp fabric that contains recycled polyester and elastane. This is the first time that hemp is being used to make alpine climbing apparel.
Naturally, Alpine Hemp is also OEKO-TEX® certified.
The new Alpine Hemp products are the result of this comprehensive research and development work and extensive testing with climbers, professional athletes and mountain guides. For Spring Summer 2021, we are launching eighteen distinctive Alpine Climbing styles.
I tested the Alpine Hemp pant while climbing sport routes and multi-pitch routes on very warm days. It’s super airy and breathable, so you don’t get too sweaty, even when it’s really hot. The material had no problem with abrasion under my harness or at the knees during high-stepping moves. It’s so pleasant to wear next to the skin that you forget that it’s there – and it’s much more comfortable than synthetic fabrics.
Alpine Hemp pant is really comfortable. I like the fact that even during intense, sweat-inducing sessions, it doesn’t start to stick or restrict freedom of movement. I actually wear it all day – before, during and after climbing.
Christine Ladstaetter, Innovation & Special Projects Manager, Salewa
Alpine Hemp is an innovative, natural smart fabric. If you think about what your skin is doing and then think of a fabric – it should be able to do the same. We see our development and application of Alpine Hemp not as a quick win, but rather as a long-term sustainable project.