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New Hemp Fabric Weaves Its Way

Posted on April 20, 2000

Softer sell finds a market, Company’s hemp-cotton blend gains attention.

By JK Wall, The Lexington Herald-Leader

Paris, Kentucky — Paige Shumate Short sees a future in hemp.

Short, Kentucky Textiles–vice president of new product development, oversaw the creation of the company’s new hemp-cotton fabric, HempSpun.

“We can go nationwide with this,” she said.

Kentucky Textiles is now trademarking the blend of hemp, cotton and polyester in HempSpun. The Paris manufacturer employs 475 workers filling contracts for customers such as Lands–End, Speedo and Reebok.

HempSpun has appeared in Tommy Bahama robes and sweaters in hemp specialty stores. On Friday, Kentucky Textiles secured HempSpun contracts with The Gap and Abercrombie and Fitch.

Kentucky Textiles–chief executive officer, Wayne Shumate, who remembers from his boyhood farmers growing hemp, won over Ivey Henton with a HempSpun sweater.

“It took all the best characteristics of hemp and used them to their best advantage,” said Henton, owner of Hemp Universe on Upper Street. She said HempSpun retained the durability and water resistance of the fiber while making it soft like a sweatshirt.

The $79 garment was Henton’s best seller during Christmas: “I couldn’t keep them on the shelf.”

Kentucky Textiles fabric brokers will start pitching HempSpun to designers in the next few weeks, during the buying season for fall fashions.

“Hemp clothing has traditionally been associated with the counterculture,” said Shumate, who is Short’s father. “We are attempting to change that perception.”

Designers will pay $6 a yard for HempSpun, compared with less than $1 a yard for cotton, Short said. Kentucky Textiles imports its hemp from China because imports from Canada often get held up in drug seizures at the border. Shipping pushes the price of hemp to $6 per pound, Short said, compared with 98 cents a pound for domestically grown cotton.

Short thinks HempSpun’s comfort, durability and particularly its pesticide-and herbicide free production will sway designers in spite of the price. But she hopes costs ultimately will drop. That’s where her politics come in.

Short, a Democratic candidate for the Kentucky House of Representatives from the 72nd District, wants industrial hemp legalized for the benefit of the state’s farmers, and she supported House Bill 855, which would have allowed university research on hemp and its uses. The bill recently died in the Senate before a vote.

Economists differ on how beneficial hemp would be.

One University of Kentucky study concluded in 1997 that the worldwide market for hemp was shrinking every year. But another UK report in 1998, sponsored by the Kentucky Hemp Museum, said current demand could support about 82,000 acres nationwide and bring $220 to $605 profit per acre.

Short sides with the latter view. “As a business person,” she said.

Copyright © 2000, The Lexington Herald-Leader. All rights reserved.