Hemp fiber processing factory in France seen as weapon in fight against ‘fast fashion’

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A French cooperative has opened a hemp fiber processing center in the Occitanie region, turning out “ecological and ethical” fibers for the textile and construction industries.

Virgocoop, at Caylus, Tarn-et-Garonne in the south-central region of France, aims to be the catalyst for expanding the local hemp production chain, according to the co-op’s leadership.

The cooperative is working on a traceability scheme and labeling standards for hemp fibers, and encourages farmers to use organic agriculture methods. Virgocoop recorded 200 hectares of hemp cultivated in 2023, when 1,500 tons of straw were processed – accounting for 10% of the total produced in France last year.

Textiles with ‘meaning’

The initiative is intended as pushback against “fast fashion,” high-volume production that results in low-price clothing but is marked by wastefulness, exploitation of workers, low quality and negative environmental impact. Manufacturing of such products has been blamed for as much as 10% of global greenhouse gas emissions.

Virgocoop, which was started in 2018, has 270 members and hopes to attract an additional 100, said General Director Johann Vacandare. It is open to producers, fiber processors, construction professionals, fashion brands and consumers. Clothing makers Atelier Tuffery and Baserange, designer Héloïse Levieux and German brand Wildling Shoes are already in the cooperative

The hemp initiative has a goal of “giving meaning back to the textile sector by involving citizens, farmers, businesses and communities around the same mission: developing an ecological textile sector, ethics and source of dynamism for the territories.”

25 production lines

Virgocoop received €75,000 in funding for the new decortication factory from the Occitanie regional government last year. Technical fibers turned out by the facility go into hemp yarn production and insulation for the construction industry. The Caylus facility has 25 production lines with different size outputs that can be combined with other materials such as wool or linen.

Virgocoop is also studying nettle for the production of sails and rope, as well as cotton production.

The co-op had €300,000 in turnover in 2023, and hopes to reach €1 million this year.

With reporting from La Gazette du Midi

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