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Romanian Designer Brings Old-World Styling to Hemp Fashion

Ionut Rus is passionate about producing elegant and sustainable 100% hemp clothing. The founder of De IONESCU

Hemp Business

Romanian Designer Brings Old-World Styling to Hemp Fashion

Ionut Rus is passionate about producing elegant and sustainable 100% hemp clothing. The founder of De IONESCU spoke to Let’s Talk Hemp from Sibiu, Transylvania, Romania.

How did your career lead you to hemp? 
In school I studied business and economics. But my main passion since I was a little boy was clothes. In high school and university I would buy things in vintage or secondhand shops and, with a good friend who was a tailor, adjust and sell them. After that I was bringing in clothes from China and selling them online from Bucharest. It was a side hustle for pocket money during school. 

After completing my master’s degree in international business and management at the University of Groningen in The Netherlands, I took a job in Prague in 2016. I was a recruiter and lasted a year and a half. That experience led to a solemn vow that I will never take an office job and I will always work for myself.

I took a sabbatical year in 2017 and went to India for spiritual exploration. I met an Australian couple who talked a lot about hemp and I became intrigued. I knew there was a special place in our village for growing hemp, and I learned Romania had a very long history of industrial hemp processing until all the communist parties fell in Eastern Europe in 1989. When capitalism came in, many of the mills were bought by foreign textile companies and sold for scrap.

I also met a Japanese man in India who had cultivated hemp for 30 years in Nepal, France and India. He told me that the best hemp fabric he ever touched was a piece of Romanian hemp in 1991. This was a eureka moment. I thought: “Of course! I can go back and work with hemp at home in Romania.” I went home and found a few remaining factories that worked with hemp. I decided on clothes because they were my first love. My company, De IONESCU, has the logo of a cuckoo bird with a hemp-leaf tail because, in our culture, the cuckoo is the symbol of eternal return. I want to revive Romanian hemp. 

What is your role in De IONESCU?
I am the founder and I direct the styles. I am doing something like they say in Zen about a wheel with an empty space in the center that has no form nor shape but holds the spokes together. I import the fiber from Belarus and Ukraine and bring it to Romania to comb. For each process there is another company: spin, weave, finish, dye, assemble, pattern, cut. Then we sew the finished hemp into our selected collection styles at De IONESCU. I don’t own any of these factories, but I bring them together. I decide on our two collections a year: spring/summer and autumn/winter. I keep the vision of the whole collection and the process together. 

My vision is 100% hemp. We do not do blends; I don’t believe a 20% product should be called a hemp collection. We process the hemp fiber using mechanical methods that preserve the integrity of the long and strong fibers. We are a small company and we distinguish ourselves by working with long hemp fibers for top quality, which is rare these days. This is different than the chemical process that the Chinese use to “cottonize” the hemp, which means make small pieces, use chemicals and then spin it using cotton technology that everyone already has. Otherwise, you need special technology, special machinery made just for hemp. We have stronger and more ecologically friendly hemp fabric because of our natural processing. The downside of this is we cannot make a lot.

How has De IONESCU evolved?
The ultimate vision of De IONESCU is to be able to cultivate hemp and do everything under one umbrella. In the U.S. they call this “dirt to shirt.” We started in 2019 by doing finished clothes first and we still outsource the steps. We are working toward an integrated supply chain that we will own.

Our first product was men’s suits because I don’t want hemp to be associated with only hippies or hipsters. You can wear hemp if you are the president or the head of a company or at court.

It was a bad choice. The suits were expensive and nobody knew us. I was on the verge of closing. Then the pandemic hit. From a personal perspective it was bad because I lost relatives. But it saved the business because we started doing masks. We sold the benefits of hemp — it’s antimicrobial and has UV protection. We included filters. I was recovering from the flop suit collection with the money from the masks. I had to pay people back. 

In 2021 we did a new collection of urban clothing. We did jackets – an urban style, a safari style, then the denim jacket style, which is always popular. This year we made 100% hemp shirts. I unfortunately learned people wear suits less and less. 

What do you think is important for people to know about working with hemp?
It’s important to know that the market is in diapers. We are just going to grow. There is no way that it’s going to go back for the next 100 years because we realized as humans that the plant is very important for us. So even though people want to live on Mars, we need to take care of our planet. Clothing is part of this. People are going to inquire more and more about sustainable and new ways to dress. Hemp is at the top. If you process it mechanically, you keep the benefits. It’s one of the most sustainable fibers in the world — more than cotton and wool. It grows fast, you can harvest twice a year, it’s fantastic for clothing. If you don’t want to wear it, throw it in the woods and it goes back to the ground. With polyester you can only make another polyester shirt. The hemp market is going to grow exponentially and we should invest more in fiber. 

What are your goals for 2023? 
In addition to our storefront in my hometown of Sibiu, Transylvania, Romania, I would like to open another brick-and-mortar store in a capital city in Western Europe, probably Berlin.

I also want to introduce some ladies’ clothing. Maybe some pants and an elegant jacket. We started with men because they need help! They are not as stylish. 

I would like to innovate and create a hemp fabric that is original, like a checkered pattern – something that is unique. Right now we only work with plain colors, no lines, dots or checks. I would like to create something that we can be proud of, to innovate and push ourselves to create something not yet available on the market.

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