Although demand for hemp apparel and other products remains small, a recently released policy report said there is potential for commercial growing of the plant in the U.S.

Hemp is being grown in pilot programs in California, Colorado, Kentucky, Maine, Montana, North Dakota, Oregon, Vermont, Washington and West Virginia. The research programs were authorized under a provision under the 2014 farm bill.

There would be challenges for U.S. hemp growers, according to the policy report from Congressional Research Service. Renée Johnson, specialist in agricultural policy at CRS and author of the report, said although the diverse uses of hemp — from clothing and accessories to vitamin supplements and beauty products — make commercial production attractive, the market “remains thin.”

However, Steven Jin, manager of Hangzhou Newhemp Industries Co., said the demand for “hemp apparel is increasing.”

Although he did not disclose company sales, Jin said “business is good this year.” Jin was showcasing hemp textiles during the International Texworld Trade Fair at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center on Tuesday. The company displayed finished products that included women’s tops, pants, sleepwear and suits made from hemp.

“There are many changes in hemp and its uses,” said Jin, adding that hemp apparel fabric was once stiff and abrasive, and is now softer and more pliable — yet maintains its durability. “All of the socks in the Chinese army are made from hemp.”

Johnson said in the report that although hemp is not commercially grown in the U.S., “both finished hemp products and raw material inputs are imported and sold for use in manufacturing for a wide range of product categories.”

This push comes at a time when hemp’s more controversial cousin in the cannabis family, marijuana, has been in the headlines and legalized in some areas of the country. Unlike marijuana, hemp is not typically used as a recreational drug. Its fibers are used in fabrics, yarns and spun fibers as well as paper, carpeting and home furnishings. China is the largest supplier of U.S. hemp imports, followed by Romania, Hungary and India, Johnson said. The Hemp Industries Association pegs the retail value of hemp products sold in the U.S. at about $600 million annually with $100 million in apparel sales alone.

Currently, only a handful of specialty retailers offer hemp apparel, including Patagonia and Orvis with about a dozen stockkeeping units of women’s wear sold at each. But the market could expand, Johnson said in the report, adding that detailed forecasting on jobs creation and retail sales generated from the hemp growing is not currently possible.

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