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Marta Vinhas: “It is our responsibility to rethink the way clothes are designed, made and consumed. Hemp is a solution.”

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The fashion industry is one of the most polluting on the planet and Marta Vinhas is focused on finding alternatives for greater sustainability in the textile sector, where she has worked for over 18 years. For several centuries, hemp has been used to make clothes and other types of fibers and fabrics, and Marta is now bringing it back to Portugal, with a touch of design and innovation. She created the clothing and accessories brand Sensihemp and has even won an international award with the 'Onion Plus' T-Shirt, dyed with onion skins.

Marta Vinhas was born in Santo Tirso and completed the Professional Technical Course in Arts and Crafts. She dreamed of studying architecture, but at the age of 18 she ended up starting her professional career in the automotive sector, as a factory operator, later moving to the textile industry, where she worked for 18 years. Passionate about Nature, animals and the arts, she discovered the fiber and the flax cycle in a volunteer project, which encouraged her to develop hemp knits and make clothes in Portugal.

The dream came true and Marta created Sensihemp, to take advantage of the vast applications of hemp and offer a wide range of products based on these fibers, from textiles, such as clothing and footwear, to cosmetics. “I wanted to create an ecological and sustainable clothing line with hemp, giving the opportunity to do white label production or partnership with other brands”, he told us.

Marta also says that she sought “a comprehensive view of all the benefits of hemp for society, not only in terms of health but in ecological terms”. On the market for about two years, the Sensihemp is taking on a leading and pioneering role as a brand of hemp clothing produced in Portugal, from the yarn to the fabric and the making of the garments, not forgetting the dyeing. Last year, it was distinguished with the prize for best innovative product at the international fair CBD Hemp Business Fair, which took place in Barcelona between 7 and 9 October 2022. The awarded product? A t-shirt made with hemp knit and dyed with onion skins. This year, it also won the WORTH Partnership Project of the European Commission, in partnership with Annette Lennerup, from Spain, having been selected as Worth Exhibition for Milan Design Week, in Italy. And she was even invited to exhibit at Spannabis, as the famous Barcelona fair has a waiting list for years.

We spoke with Marta Vinhas and learned that, more than a sustainable fashion brand based on hemp, Sensihemp aims to build an innovative ecosystem in the textile industry.

With almost two decades of experience, how would you characterize the state of the fashion industry in the world?
The fashion industry is one of the largest and most resource-intensive human industries, accounting for 4% of greenhouse gas emissions and 20% of industrial water pollution worldwide. Many workers face social inequality, dangerous environments, putting their health and even their lives at risk on a daily basis. People still die regularly in factory fires, accidents or poisoning. While wages have risen in some countries where apparel is produced, many people in the supply chain still earn very little and struggle to pay for life's most basic necessities. Women in the textile sector suffer from wage inequality, often facing sexual harassment and violence in the workplace. All of these problems underscore the need to drastically rethink how the entire system works. I believe that, with systemic and structural changes, the global fashion industry can lift millions of people out of poverty and provide them with decent livelihoods.

What is “greenwashing” and how does Sensi Hemp really intend to go against the productive logic of the textile industry?
The theme of sustainability has gained popularity in recent years and with the new European Union strategy for the textile industry, “greenwashing” has skyrocketed. In textiles, it is often difficult to discern brands that are truly committed to sustainability and those that only use it as a marketing strategy without really embracing these values, which is why more transparency is needed. Sustainability is based on three fundamental pillars: environmental, social and economic factors. Brands claim to follow environmental and labor laws, but use subcontractors, thus reducing transparency and making it difficult to be held accountable for any violations, or claim to use sustainable materials. However, they move production to faraway countries where labor and environmental laws are almost non-existent, thereby increasing their profits without really thinking about people and the planet. Others advertise that they are sustainable and ethical, that they pay a minimum wage to their employees and do not use child labor, but, in fact, they are only complying with the law in force because they are obliged to. At Sensi Hemp awe believe it is our responsibility to rethink the way clothes are designed, made and consumed. That is why our mission is to create products with ethics and conscience and to develop innovative and regenerative solutions, which allow us to overcome the current challenges of the textile industry. We truly believe that hemp is a solution.

One of Sensi Hemp's mottos is to work as locally as possible. How do they do it?
We rely on the collaboration of Portuguese craftsmen and seamstresses to fulfill the objective of preserving Portuguese “know-how” and traditional techniques. We work so that all production is carried out in Portugal, in a close geographical area, in order to, on the one hand, reduce the carbon footprint, and on the other hand, allow the different elements of the manufacturing chain to work with each other, thus obtaining important synergies and promoting a true circular economy. We also resort to methods with low environmental impact, such as natural dyeing, developed from plants, roots and minerals,  chemical-free and require less water.

What might be the role of hemp in the context of climate change?
The use of hemp brings many benefits to the industry and the environment. Its cultivation regenerates the soil and is CO2 negative, does not require herbicides or pesticides and generates a higher production of fiber per hectare when compared to other natural fibers. It is necessary to have a systemic view of fiber production, the main challenges for its large-scale implementation in the textile industry, invest in technological development and analyze environmental gains and losses when compared to cotton production, for example. It is also necessary to shed light on the existing alternatives, especially when it comes to alternatives whose capacity to contribute to the reduction of greenhouse gases is significant, as is the case of hemp.

The story of Rana Plaza and the 'Fashion Revolution' movement
O Fashion Revolution is the largest fashion activist movement in the world, mobilizing citizens and brands that fight for a safer, fairer, more transparent and responsible fashion industry, through continuous research, education, collaboration, mobilization and political pressure. This movement was founded by Carry Somers and Orsola de Castro after the Rana Plaza disaster in Bangladesh in 2013.

The collapse of the Rana Plaza occurred following a structural failure of an eight-story commercial building, where thousands of people worked. The building contained clothing factories, a bank, apartments and several shops. The shops and bank on the lower floors were immediately closed after the discovery of cracks in the building, caused by the excess weight of textile machinery on the upper floors. The building's owners ignored notices to close the entire building and textile workers were forced to return to their jobs the next day. The building would eventually collapse during the morning rush hour.

In the accident, 1.134 people died and approximately 2.500 were injured. It was considered the deadliest accident derived from structural failure, not deliberate, in modern human history and the deadliest industrial accident in the history of Bangladesh. The building housed several garment factories employing around 5.000 people, which manufactured clothes for brands such as Benetton, Bonmarché, Prada, Gucci, Versace, Moncler, Children's Place, El Corte Inglés, Joe Fresh, Mango, Matalan, Primark and Walmart . In the aftermath of this disaster, the movement Fashion Revolution, which aims to influence policy and force governments to regulate and enforce labor and environmental practices in the textile industry.
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This article was originally published on Cannadouro Magazine.

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