EnviroTextiles, a pioneering company in the hemp and natural fiber industry, is based in Glenwood Springs, Colorado, but operates internationally, shipping hemp fabrics to clients in more than 74 countries from production facilities in Eastern Europe and China.
Company owners Barbara Filippone and her daughter, Summer Star Haeske, say EnviroTextiles’ database has over 15,000 active clients who produce hemp products. The company is building out an online hemp mall so customers can see “all these amazing hemp products and join our mission,” said Haeske, international sales and marketing director for EnviroTextiles, which she and Filippone founded in 2001.
“We have fabrics that could become any type of soft product,” Haeske said.
Filippone, the company’s CEO, said EnviroTextiles’ mission is to work with clients to develop natural fiber products that are consistently produced thanks to supply chain standardization. A trained textile and fabric engineer who has spent decades working on hemp textile production overseas, Filippone describes herself as a product developer – and no newbie.
“It was not abracadabra and all of a sudden there were hemp fabrics,” she said. “It’s a career.”
Filippone’s hemp career began in Romania in the 1990s. Political turmoil and neglect had left the nation’s textile factories idle, so she put together a program to repair them and began creating and exporting hemp fabric. It was a ground-up project.
“We had to bring equipment from the USA, standardize the fabrics, get farmers to grow hemp and start producing fiber,” Filippone said. Working with hemp industry pioneer Steve DeAngelo, Filippone produced Ecolution, a streetwear-style hemp brand. The experience hooked her on hemp and she set out to make sure clothing designers knew about the material.
Today, many do, Filippone said, including designers at Versace and Ralph Lauren. EnviroTextiles also works with Hollywood. Haeske said the company supplies fabric to Paramount Pictures and provided material for “Pirates of the Caribbean,” “The Last Airbender” and, most recently, “The Woman King.” Actors report that the natural fabric breathes and wicks perspiration and is a help under hot lights, Haeske said.
Haeske added that EnviroTextiles has also worked with car component manufacturers and participated in the 2022 SEMA Show in Las Vegas, providing four kinds of hemp fabrics for the upholstery, panels and roof of a concept car.
To best serve EnviroTextiles’ clients, Filippone starts at the beginning: The hemp plants must come from standardized seed.
“I want specifications from the time that seed goes into the ground through the entire supply chain so I can direct it for my clients’ needs,” she said.
According to Filippone, it’s a problem that, unlike seeds for other fiber crops, hemp seeds are not conditioned. She sees conditioning – the process of sorting and removing debris from seeds to yield robust and uniform crops – as a crucial step in standardizing hemp growing for fiber.
“If the seed is three different qualities that germinate six days apart you will never have a standard raw material,” she said.
Filippone has completed a U.S. hemp proof of concept from fiber to finishing to labs and then on to completed materials. The proof of concept includes seven grades of hurd and three standardized grades of fiber. The company’s goal, Filippone said, is not just to create a product, but “to make sure it will comply with the market you are going into.”
Haeske points out that decorticating hemp is only the first step in creating hemp fiber. Next, the fibers need to be degummed from plant cellulose and lignin to make it spinnable and blendable with other fibers, she explained.
She also noted that not all natural fabrics are equal, saying chemical processes used to create many fabrics deplete the quality and value of the fabrics, including hemp.
“There is synthetic hemp, hemp viscose and bamboo viscose,” Haeske said, noting that all are made using chemical processes. Fabric companies are not required to note the fact and consumers are generally uninformed about the dangers of such processing, she said.
Haeske said viscose is one of the most chemically processed fabrics derived from natural fiber raw materials. Nevertheless, it is used to process hemp’s closest natural fiber competitor, bamboo, she said, adding that FTC labeling does not clarify if the bamboo is true bamboo or viscose bamboo.
Filippone and Haeske are bullish on the future of hemp but believe the U.S. hemp fiber industry needs to take a more stringent approach.
“As far as I’m concerned, the hemp industry needs a restart,” Filippone said. “That’s why we are working on standards, starting from planting seed throughout the conversion line to a standard raw material for applications in various products.”