Author: Ana Gabriela Duque ’20

Industrial and Systems Engineering, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

Fashion is one of the highest polluting industries in the world. Without a more sustainable way to produce garments, we will be hindering future generations. Therefore, it is imperative to rethink the current industry. Now is the time. As a systems engineer, I am interested in understanding, and engaging people in, green fashion design.

There are many opportunities for research and innovation when it comes to identifying and quantifying human and corporate drivers for sustainable supply chain management. My faculty advisers, Dr. Jennifer Pazour and Dr. Sérgio Pequito, and I have focused on research concerning the important decision of material selection. A wide range of fibers – from natural to synthetic – exist, each with varying ecological footprints (e.g., water consumption and land use). Through the lenses of industrial ecology, we propose material selection decisions that establish a fashion supply chain that promotes sustainable design and product development [1].

Clothing is most commonly made from cotton or polyester. Recent research has explored the introduction of innovative economic and environmental textiles. One such innovative textile is industrial hemp fiber. The plant’s ban has been recently removed from many countries, having a potential to be reinvested and reinserted into the economy. With my passion for the fashion industry, the need for a more sustainable alternative, and the promising characteristics of the newly reinvested plant, our research takes a systems engineering perspective, focusing on how to design and manage the life cycle of complex systems. I am currently determining if industrial hemp fiber is a promising outlet that can be produced in a competitive manner with decreased footprint.

Why is hemp eco-friendly? Hemp production has many environmentally friendly qualities like its high yield and low input characteristics. The process of producing one tonne of spun fiber for hemp has a lower ecological footprint than polyester and cotton, from organic to traditional cultivation [2][4]. Industrial hemp yields at least 8 times more tonnes of fiber per hectare cultivated, allowing hemp to take the lead in environmentally friendly fibers [3]. Industrial hemp requires no registered pesticides during cultivation, which reduces soil contamination and chemical use [3]. With a demand for eco-friendly products, this textile could take the lead.

Our research proposes to determine the viability of industrial hemp fiber within an industry that needs a more sustainable alternative. The research compiles the work of many people into a large overview that can be used for further research on a plant that has the potential to surpass many products that are currently dominating the market. From its high yield to its ecological footprint, hemp fiber is in the beginning stages of becoming a staple in many different products within the fashion industry.

Our research will provide a milestone reference that researchers can build upon to implement hemp solutions for a more circular economy. Enabling researchers to reach the main industry, and decision makers to rethink the policy around hemp, have the potential to encourage a new marketplace in the U.S. that will create new jobs and a new economic market. I plan to continue my research career into other directions as well. I want to explore potential improvements that can be made within the established supply chain and the ways that consumers have a role in the fashion industry and its relationship with hemp. Ultimately, I want to help build a responsible and green fashion industry from a systems engineering perspective toward a better and sustainable world.



  • [1] Armstrong, Cosette & Lehew, Melody. (2011). Sustainable Apparel Product Development: In Search of a New Dominant Social Paradigm for the Field Using Sustainable Approaches. Fashion Practice: The Journal of Design, Creative Process & the Fashion. 3. 29-62. 10.2752/175693811X12925927157018.
  • [2] Cherrett, N., Barrett, J., Clemett, A., Chadwick,M., and Chadwick, M.J. (2005). Ecological Footprint and Water Analysis of Cotton, Hemp and Polyester. Report prepared for and reviewed by BioRegional Development Group and World Wide Fund for Nature – Cymru. SEI Publication. ISBN 91 975238 2 8.
  • [3] Liu, Ming & Fernando, Dinesh & Daniel, Geoffrey & Madsen, Bo & Meyer, Anne & Ale, Marcel & Thygesen, Anders. (2015). Effect of harvest time and field retting duration on the chemical composition, morphology and mechanical properties of hemp fibers. Industrial Crops and Products. 69. 29-39. 10.1016/j.indcrop.2015.02.010.
  • [4] 1 t= 1,000 kg