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A Market for Hemp

Posted on May 15, 2004

Raw material has use in many finished products, proponents say

As the owner of Hempdum, a store that sells products made of industrial hemp at Hanes Mall, Michael Norbury deals with people’s misconceptions about hemp every day.

The “M” word usually comes up in conversations. That’s “M” as in marijuana.

“The relationship between industrial hemp and marijuana is the same as potatoes to vodka,” Norbury said. “Vodka is not naturally occurring and neither is marijuana. You have to manipulate the growth process.”

According to the North American Industrial Hemp Council Inc., an advocacy group, industrial hemp and marijuana are both classified as Cannabis sativa L., a species with hundreds of varieties.

Industrial hemp is used for fiber and seed for such things as textiles, paper, food and fuel.

The hemp council considers industrial hemp, which is illegal to grow in the United States but can be imported, a dream crop for farmers.

“It grows any place you can grow corn and it’s grown with no herbicides and no pesticides, and its low labor,” said Gale Glenn, the council’s vice chairman and a retired tobacco farmer who lives in Durham. She said that it can be used to make various industrial products, such as composites and building-construction materials.

Norbury said that industrial hemp is one of the strongest natural fibers in the world and has over 25,000 uses.

“It’s just really interesting,” he said. “It can be made into plastic.”

Hempdum sells men’s and women’s clothing and accessories, including dresses, T-shirts, jeans, socks and purses (some of which are 100 percent hemp). The store has some CD trays that are 20 percent hemp and soap that contains some hemp. Norbury also provides information on hemp for customers.

For example, there’s a 1942 video by the U.S. Department of Agriculture promoting the “Hemp for Victory” campaign to grow hemp in the United States, and a picture of Henry Ford and his car made of industrial hemp and soy-bean-based material.

“Up until the 1820s in America, 80 percent of the textiles and fabrics, from clothing all the way to flags, were made either entirely or mostly out of hemp fibers,” Norbury said.

Norbury got the idea for his hemp store, which he believes to be the first hemp store based in a mall in the United States, during a cross-country trip in Canada in summer 2002, when he happened on a store operated by Hemptown, a manufacturer of hemp clothing.

He bought a hemp shirt and because he typically sleeps in his car on cross-country trips, he wore it the entire time. “So I did my own little wear and tear test, and it held up great,” he said.

After his trip, Norbury moved from his home in San Jose, Calif., to Greensboro to live with his parents. He initially started selling hemp clothing in a kiosk at Four Seasons Town Centre in Greensboro in June 2003 but closed less than a month later. Then he opened in a cart last July in Oak Hollow Mall in High Point and later upgraded to a store called Dum Inc. in September.

“It was like a little boot camp,” Norbury said.

Norbury said it wasn’t until he moved his store to Hanes Mall in February and renamed it Hempdum that he started seeing movement in sales and getting more repeat customers.

“People are starting to bring friends with them,” said Matthew Gildner, the store’s assistant manager. “It’s great.”

Copyright © 2004, Winston-Salem Journal. All rights reserved.