Hemp clothing: a campaign for the environment

Rose Gerstner, owner of Sympatico Clothing in Jacksonville, discusses industrial hemp, clothing, and a campaign for the environment. (Felisha Le’Cher/News 10).

Growing up in the Washington D.C. area, Rose Gerstner thought she would be on the path to government. Instead, she studied business in college and now runs her company, Sympatico Clothing, out of Jacksonville.

Gerstner was not new to the clothing industry. Before Sympatico Clothing, she and her husband had a cotton clothing business that they sold in the 1990s.

After selling the business, Gerstner went on to learn and do various other projects, including working in the costume department at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.

“After that, I decided I really wanted to start my own business,” says Gerstner. “That’s where my heart is.”

Gerstner created Sympatico Clothing, an eco-friendly clothing line, in 2006.

“While I was looking at fabrics, I came across this hemp and Tencel blend,” she says.

Gerstner says the Tencel alone didn’t have enough shape to it and hemp along wasn’t soft enough, so she decided to use the blend of the two. “Hemp is a very strong, durable fabric,” she says. “But it’s nice to give it more softness.”

Gerstner says that not only was the hemp-Tencel blend a beautiful fabric, but it’s also an eco-friendly option.

“Hemp is a grass and Tencel is made from eucalyptus wood,” says Gerstner.

The fibers used are the fibers on the outside of the hemp plant. “It’s all natural fibers,” she says. “The fibers are then processed and used for fabric.”

Gerstner says the processing of hemp is different from that of cotton. “When the hemp fabric is [cleaned], hydrogen peroxide is used,” she says. “When hydrogen peroxide breaks down, it turns into water.”

She explains that the process for cleaning cotton utilizes a chlorine bleach. “It uses dioxins which are not healthy for the environment.”

“When synthetic clothes are laundered, they put off microfibers,” says Gerstner. “The microfibers then go into the water supply and drain out to the ocean.”

Gerstner says these microfibers attract solvents and are then eaten by fish.

“One of the things I love about my clothes is that there are no microfibers created by it,” says Gerstner. “It will rot right down into something natural.”

“If this is any kind of campaign at all, aside from looking good, feeling good, and having clothes that last, it’s a campaign for the environment,” says Gerstner.

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