‘We’d like to see a decorticator next to every cotton gin’

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Guy Carpenter is President and CEO of Bear Fiber, Inc., and President at Cape Fear Apparel Consulting, both of North Carolina. He also serves as a commissioner in the North Carolina Industrial Hemp Commission pilot program, and is a consultant to Panda Biotech of Texas. Carpenter has more than 30 years experience in global textile and apparel manufacturing, sourcing, distribution and sales, and has consulted on the subject of natural fibers in both the public and private sectors. 

HempToday: You’re now working with ~30% hemp in the finished product. Do you see that percentage rising? 

Guy Carpenter: Our current yarn hemp blend for knits is 30% hemp and 70% organic pima cotton, which is used in our socks. In other yarn constructions for different fabrics, it will certainly vary. Yarn construction varies depending upon the product. The goal is to utilize hemp fiber in the most effective manner to construct a yarn, not just to create a perception of a more “sustainable” textile but more importantly, a better textile to make a better garment.

So the answer is yes, the percentage of hemp fiber to yarn, textile and product will increase when it can add value and not when it cannot. We embrace hemp fiber as a natural technical fiber first and foremost.

HT: How are organic raw materials (cotton & hemp) certified and traced in the USA? 

GC: For your readers who are interested in understanding the full process we recommend visiting G.O.T.S. (Global Organic Textile Standard) to learn about organic certification and also the Textile Exchange to learn more about their preferred materials platform.

We think the best answer to your question though is for each consumer to take responsibility and look for transparency and traceability provided by the brand or the manufacturer of the garment that you choose to buy. It’s your dollar, spend it responsibly to support your ideals. A good example of a company in our industry that promotes sustainability, natural fibers, transparency and traceability is tsdesigns

HT: What are the key target markets? 

GC: Our hope is that conscious consumers of any gender, age, lifestyle, etc. will recognize and appreciate the value of hemp in the apparel products in which it is incorporated, and purchase those items.

HT: The pricing would seem to be premium, so what distribution and sales channels do you envision beyond direct online sales? 

GC: Honestly, we don’t exactly know and we’re still very busy developing optimal blends and yarn types that, once determined, will benefit certain standard textiles (denim, canvas, poplin, broadcloth, jersey, pique, etc.) and their associated apparel categories. If the benefit is obvious, product construction is straightforward and available to us such as in the case of our socks, and no brand steps forward, we’re going for it ourselves, direct to consumer.

HT: What’s the potential in traditional retail? 

GC: Traditional retail is in freefall right now; it would be presumptuous for us to predict anything about that. But there are a number of brands that have expressed interest to work with us and have been funding and guiding specific R&D as they figure their way through these changing times. The most interesting to us is in the category of outdoor lifestyle, but we also speak with lifestyle brands known for casual wear, travel, fashion, streetwear, lingerie, workwear and many other categories. They are all evolving to the new “now” and Ouija-boarding for tomorrow.  

HT: What can a thriving hemp textile sector mean to North Carolina farmers and the state’s textile sector? 

GC: Here in the Carolinas we are in the center of American textile manufacturing. We hope that hemp grown for textile grade fiber will be attractive to small and medium size farmers as an alternative row crop that they can make a fair profit on. We want to help make that happen.

For the cotton belt from Virginia to California the key is leveraging an existing value chain. We’d like to see a decorticator next to every cotton gin so that basic raw material processing could be accessible to small farmers that are already familiar with a fiber crop. Modular transport, trucking, storage and credit facilities are already in place for cotton.

HT: How do you expect the industry to eventually be organized?

GC: Moderate sized processors tend to be trending towards wisely managing their own agricultural options by farming themselves and/or facilitating entry for other farmers in various ways by supplying seed, farming expertise and sometimes even contracting for the fiber hemp to be grown.

Large processing operations will be key to establishing the industry. There are a few startups geared towards being the fast movers in this space. Their regional pull will have a significant effect on local 200+ mile agricultural economics within their area of operations and certainly have their place if we’re going to build a true viable fiber addition to our industry and not just in small tight innovatiive networks. 

HT: Is there special technology required in the processing of hemp fibers for your socks? 

GC: Yes, and it’s proprietary.

HT: What scale, volume of production do you envision going forward? 

GC: We see the industry continuing to grow, but predicting the exact path and timing is difficult. For the last 12-18 months we have been working with the various stakeholders to develop a fiber upgrading process, yarn, and ultimately textiles and finished goods. We have been lucky enough that almost everything we need is in the Carolinas.

HT: You’re taking pre-orders with spring delivery. If I order today, when can I expect my socks? 

GC: We believe we will ship the first run in April.

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