How Levi’s and Outerknown Reclaimed Hemp from the Hippies


Rare is the San Francisco party where Paul Dillinger, head of global product innovation at Levi Strauss, isn’t accosted by “some hippie” extolling the wonders of industrial hemp and demanding to know why the denim giant isn’t doing more with it.

“The answer is always, ‘Well, just look at yourself hippie,’” Dillinger told Rivet with a sigh. “Hemp has traditionally shared many of the same tropes as burlap. It’s perceived as uncomfortable, it’s rough, and it’s not always a friendly fiber to wear.”

With its uneven hand and poor natural elongation, industrial hemp is often a mercurial fiber to work with. (It also should not be confused with its notoriously psychoactive cousin, which is a chemically different strain and far more fun at parties.) “If you took a denim loom, put conventional hemp on the warp and tried to turn that loom on, it would shake itself apart,” Dillinger said. “So in addition to it being an unpleasing fiber in subjective terms, it is also a destructive fiber if you try to move it through the conventional cotton supply chain.”

But the times, as they say, may be a-changing.

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