Hemp it up: Meet the Indian start-ups that are making hemp cool again

Clothes, creams, a type of concrete — hemp can be used to make a whole range of products. Not only this, it is eco-friendly too. We examine why this wonder plant isn't a more integral part of our live
Hemp seeds and fibre can be used to make as many as 60,000 products | (Pic: Hemp Republic)
Hemp seeds and fibre can be used to make as many as 60,000 products | (Pic: Hemp Republic)

When we say hemp, what's the first thing you think of? It's okay, you don't have to tell us. But we bet that the way things are going, hemp will be associated with fabric, paper, cosmetics and a lot more very soon. How do we know for sure? Because of the success of Project H, an event that was conducted on April 20 in Hyderabad that showcased the power and potential of hemp. Now, for the uninitiated, yes, cannabis (also known as marijuana) and industrial hemp come from the same species, which is Cannabis sativa. And yet, certain compositions make industrial hemp very different from its more narcotic cousin. So minus the psychoactive effects of cannabis, industrial hemp, or simply, hemp, is capable of a lot more. 

And if you think this is some new discovery, here is some fun trivia. Not only was hemp used to build Egypt's Great Pyramids, it was also used to power the sails of the great explorer Christopher Columbus' ships. Surprised? So were we. Many such surprises came our way when we set about talking to a few entrepreneurs who exhibited examples of what hemp is capable of. Starting with Hyderabad-based Hemp Republic (courtesy of whom we found out about all the trivia), this is what happens when innovation and hemp come together. 

Hemp Republic 

Three Musketeers: Varun Gupta, Prashansa Shahani and Kartik Aysola from Hemp Republic (Pic: Hemp Republic)

"I think that people are more open to wearing something to try it out rather than eating it or applying it to their skin. So, in more ways then one, fabric made from hemp is our focus," says Prashansa Shahani Gupta, the Co-founder of Hemp Republic. She along with Co-founders Varun Gupta, who was the first one to stumble upon the scope of hemp, and Kartik Aysola researched for three-and-a-half years before quitting their jobs and putting all their faith in hemp to start Hemp Republic. There are various variants with regards to compositions that they offer when it comes to fabric, like hemp plus cotton or linen, and the qualities of the hemp fabric are that it is soft and durable. 

Hemp Republic has certifications from Global Organic Textile Standard, Worldwide Responsible Accredited Production and more

So, how would it fare when compared to, say, khadi, which our central government is promoting extensively? Kartik says, "Khadi is ultimately made out of cotton which requires lots of water and pesticides to grow, as opposed to hemp, which needs very little water and requires no pesticide. People will soon figure out that hemp outranks cotton in many ways, and then, the dichotomy might change." Adding to the conversation, Varun says, "Hemp is a conscious buy and for the segment of people who care about the environmental impact of their purchases, this is a great option."

Count on it: Fabric that is sold by Hemp Republic | (Pic: Hemp Republic)

This B2B company currently has clients from Pune and New Delhi and are sourcing their fabrics to a few designers as well. Talking about the future of hemp, Kartik aptly concludes by saying, "Hemp is a qualitative alternative to almost any product that is oil-based or any fabric and we want to ensure that people realise this."   

For more on them, click on hemprepublic.in

GreenJams Infrastructures

All smiles: Founders of GreenJams Infrastructures, Tarun and Varun Jami | (Pic: GreenJams Infrastructures)

Tarun Jami came up with hempcrete, also known as hemp concrete or lime hemp concrete, when he was pursuing his Master's in Environmental Science. Today, as he is pursuing his PhD at the Academy of Scientific and Innovative Research, he, along with his brother Varun Jami (22), want to make hempcrete a phenomenon via Visakhapatnam-based GreenJams Infrastructures. Why? Because not only does it have the power to reverse the climatic impact of the construction industry, it is also carbon negative, can absorb emissions (up to 250 kg of carbon-di-oxide per meter cube), it is light-weight too. "We have gotten in touch with several stalwarts from the construction field and they are very excited about our product. Now, we just need to start manufacturing it on a large scale," informs Tarun, who along with his brother, featured in the Forbes 30 Under 30 list this year.

Change is here: Hempcrete by GreenJams Infrastructures | (Pic: GreenJams Infrastructures)

Currently, they have collaborated with the Central Building Research Institute and are ironing out a few details. "The biggest disadvantage is that there is no supply chain, and because hempcrete is made with the stalk of hemp, which no one uses, it's hard to convince farmers to part with it. We are thinking of creating an ecosystem, similar to a bank, where farmers can deposit this waste material and we can give them fair prices in exchange. Every other challenge is surmountable," says the determined 28-year-old.   

For more on them, click on greenjamsinfra.com​


All together: Founders of Hempsters Rajarjun Reddy Gummi, Abhishek Sajjala and Rohan Gouda | (Pic: Hempsters)

After researching the uses of hemp seed oil, Rohan Gouda, Abhishek Sajjala and Rajarjun Reddy Gummi came up with Hempsters. This is India's first hemp body care brand and trust them when they say that because they hired a lawyer in 2015 to confirm this fact. Shower gels, oils, soaps, body butter and more — they have a whole range of products, which they keep adding and subtracting as per the feedback of customers. "Our hair oil and massage oils are a particular hit. Our soap gets good reviews too," says Rohan and adds, "There have been instances where within the first application of the product, the user has seen 90% benefit." Right now, they sell their products through e-commerce websites like Amazon and are in the process of setting up their own e-commerce portal. Up next, one can expect hemp protein powder, hemp seed oil and a lot more. They are also working on subscription models and kits like wellness kits and shower kits. The possibilities seem endless!

Use them now!: Hair oil and massage oil by Hempsters | (Pic: Hempsters)

But despite of this, what are a few challenges that Hyderabad-based Hempsters faces? "I think consumer education is the most challenging task because I've had people ask me, 'Will I get a high if I use this?'. And in spite of all of this, our orders are only increasing. This is the importance of events like Project H, it helps educate the consumer," says the alumnus of Manipal Academy of Higher Education.   

For more on them, click on hempsters.com

Uttarakhand is the first state in India to legalise the commercial cultivation of hemp hence, most of the hemp (whether stalks, fibre or seed oil) is sourced from this state

Going places

A few people or companies that have understood the advantages of hemp and are using it to the best of their ability:

The Body Shop 

The British cosmetics company, The Body Shop, has a whole range of products that has hemp as the main ingredient including body butter, foot cream and more 

Anita Dongre 

Indian fashion designer Anita Dongre, who has dressed celebrities like Priyanka Chopra and Deepika Padukone has decided to include hemp, and other sustainable materials, in her clothing lines

Other companies

Bombay Hemp Company (BOHECO), The Hemp Couture (THC) and Be Hemp India have already made huge strides and their products are quite popular too

Benefits of hemp, as pointed out by Hemp Republic -

- It is a carbon-absorbing plant and a pest-repeller
- It not only prepares the soil for the next harvest, but also absorbs and eradicates radioactivity in soil 
- It can thrive in almost any climatic condition
- Requires comparatively less water and zero pesticide  

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