Eco-conscious meets fashion

Sustainable hemp offers seductive options for Kaua‘i-based designer

By Pam Woolway – The Garden Island

“Hemp doesn’t have to be hippy,” said Kaua‘i clothing designer Angie Ell. “It can be stylish.”

Hemp’s sustainable attributes may be what initially drew Ell to the fabric, but what seduced her senses were its luxurious textures and versatility.

Ell’s shop, Atelier, literally translates to “designer workspace.” This tiny shop has all the appeal of a chic venue tucked in a fashion district alley — in fact, it is in an alley — one of the few that exists on Kaua‘i. Ell’s Atelier is right behind the Hemp Store in the heart of old Kapa‘a town.

After attending vocational school for design in Seattle, Ell knew she wasn’t cut from the same cloth as many of her peers. “Fashion can be so superficial,” she said.

When she discovered hemp she thought, “Now here is something I can use and feel good about.”

Having grown up in a household where her mother made all of her clothes, Ell came to a career choice earlier than most. “I remember being at recess in the third grade and realizing my mother dressed me like Laura Ingalls from ‘Little House on the Prairie.’”

“That’s when I took over,” she said. “If I wanted a different look, I had to make clothes myself.”

Before taking on the ambitious task of designing her own clothes, though, she tested her talent on a more diminutive client. “I made a little jacket for my hamster.”

By junior high she was making nearly her entire wardrobe. “Except maybe one new pair of pants a year,“ she said.

There are a dozen reasons Ell chose hemp blends as her primary palette. “For one, it’s easy to work with and comes in amazing silk, Tencel and bamboo blends,” she said.

“Hemp is a pesticide and fungicide — it’s a natural disease and bug repellent — so they don’t even have to call it organic because of what comes naturally to the plant. In essence it is organic.”

Cotton crops in the United States occupy 1 percent of the country’s farmland but use 50 percent of all pesticides according to

“Hemp’s considered sustainable because it doesn’t zap the soil of nutrients,” said Ell. “It actually feeds the soil.”

Another tantalizing feature is not only hemp’s luxurious texture, but the fact that it also is four times stronger than cotton. And according to, the fabric softens with each washing, without fiber degradation. In other words, hemp doesn’t wear out, it wears in.

The Web site also states that hemp is the number one biomass producer on Earth producing 10 tons per acre in approximately four months. Not only that, hemp out-produces cotton three to one.

Ell’s favorite hemp blend to work with is hemp and silk. “I make a lot of wedding dresses from hemp-silk,” she said.

She touts the wrinkle resistance of the hemp-Tencel. Tencel is made from wood pulp cellulose, and like hemp is also an efficient insulator that keeps you warm in winter and cool in summer.

“Natural fibers typically breathe really well,” Ell said.

Most of the dresses Ell designs are of a connubial bent. “Wedding dresses are my favorite. They’re the most creative,” she said.

Ultimately Ell sees her work as art. “I’m not a seamstress,” she said. “The seamstress work is a small part of what I do.” Her line of men’s shirts are something she always keeps on hand in the shop. “Men are so easy — they want a short sleeve shirt in five different colors.”

To see Ell’s full line of women’s clothing visit For more information call 635-4964.

Hemp Facts

Hawai‘i was granted the first permit in over 40 years to

experimentally grow hemp.

• In 1853, the first pair of Levi’s jeans was made. And they were made of hemp

• The “Columbia History of the World” states that the oldest relic of human industry is a piece of Mesopotamian hemp fabric dating back to approximately 8,000 B.C.

• Industrial usage of hemp dates back 12,000 years.

• Presidents Washington and Jefferson grew hemp for industrial use

• The Declaration of Independence released on July 4, 1776. was written on hemp paper.

• Van Gogh and Rembrandt painted on hemp canvases

• It is rot-, mold-, drought- and pest-resistant.

• Hemp is an excellent rotation crop, as it places nutrients back in the soil.

• Hemp fiber board is twice as strong as wood fiber board.

• There are more than 25,000 different products made from hemp.

The facts above are from and from a fact sheet provided by Angie Ell.

• Pam Woolway, lifestyle writer, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 257) or


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