By Heather Collins
Madison Sexton, CEO, and Founder of North Carolina-based Hem Mills, a hemp-focused textile manufacturer, doesn’t mind that she has been burning the midnight oil at her new business venture for the past eighteen months. Sexton admits she has been putting in extra late-night hours because of her passion for hemp and its potential to revitalize the industrial textile industry. As a result, she has created various breakthrough products utilizing hemp, one of which centers on her other passion – the sport of boxing.
The 28-year-old entrepreneur has been busy this past year learning the ropes (literally) to weave tough hemp into something soft and elegant. “I had zero clues when I first started this business on how to weave and work with hemp. I jumped in and learned yarn and textiles, and if it took all night – it took all night to get it right,” says Sexton.
Madison quickly realized the challenges she was up against, “Few in the textile industry knew how to work with hemp because it was too tough, and it was illegal for such a long time. I saw this is as an opportunity and immediately started learning the hemp textile trade.”
In 1937, Cannabis (hemp and marijuana) was outlawed all together, causing dozens of hemp textile mills to shut down nationwide. Thankfully, the passing of the 2018 Farm Bill made hemp legal again, and the industry started to see interest, traction, and movement.
From the Boxing Ring to the Textile Mill
Just as the Farm Bill was in the middle of government negotiations in 2018, Madison was working at a non-profit boxing gym in southern Oregon, which was devoted to helping at-risk youth and adults stay sober. While working with various athletes, Madison noticed more and more boxers were reporting staph infections from the athletic tape they were applying to their hands inside the boxing gloves.
“I saw a pattern, which is why I did a fiber analysis test on the torn boxing tape. The tests revealed cotton and polyester. I did more research on plants and looked for the strongest natural fabric that would prevent the boxing tape from tearing,” explained Madison.
This discovery prompted a search for the right fabric to help athletes, specifically a material that was not synthetic like polyester and one that was environmentally friendly. “Hemp kept showing up over and over in my search as a strong and viable fabric. I discovered that cotton acted like a sponge for bacteria and was a breeding ground for the staph in boxing gyms, where hemp has antimicrobial properties and is four times as strong than cotton.”
It became clear that hemp was the solution, and there was an opportunity to make a difference in the textile industry. That’s why Madison packed up her car and left Southern Oregon for North Carolina, where she set out to create hemp-based boxing tapes for athletes. An entrepreneur at heart and driven to change the industry with hemp, Hem Mills soon opened a one thousand square foot facility that housed the company’s first production facility.
The late nights spent in front of the loom must have paid off for Madison and Hem Mills. Today they create broad-woven, narrow-woven, and jersey knit fabrics and have manufacturing and R&D services available for companies looking to expand or incorporate hemp textiles.
Hem Mills works closely with textile professionals, distributors, producers, and farmers located worldwide who are committed to transforming hemp into something everyone, everywhere, would be proud to wear or use. On a local level, Hem Mills supports the community where the company’s headquarters is based – the heart of the textile industry in Concord, North Carolina. The company has created more than a dozen new jobs and has hired a team of retired textile professionals to young adults in recovery from addiction.
Madison is proud of the work that she has accomplished in a short amount of time. “Hem Mills is more than just pumping dollars into the local economy; we’re taking a stand in rebuilding this community and providing young adults with a path to hope.”
Appropriately blended with cotton or silk, hemp creates an elegant sheer that is a far cry from the hairy, fibrous raw material Hem Mills started with when making their products – from athletic boxing tape belts, dog leashes, and more.
Madison adds, “It’s exciting to be a part of the hemp textile revolution right now. High-end fashion designers and global clothing brands are starting to take note on the power of hemp. They want to be a part of the positive switch to sustainable fabrics in their fashion collections.”
Paving the Path for What’s Next
Hem Mills mission is to create high-quality hemp knit blends in an innovative and sustainable way. In June, Hem Mills moved from the one thousand square foot production facility to a 15,000 square-foot facility, and the company has plans to open a spinning mill in Spring 2021. “We were the first to successfully weave 100% hemp in the U.S., ever since the 30s when there was a ban on hemp. We’re paving a path with hemp spinning, which will be a linchpin for domestic hemp textiles,” says Madison.
Combine Madison’s high energy, drive, and ambition – it seems as if nothing can stop Hem Mills right now. Madison adds, “We’re excited to work with the community of textile experts and young adults who are interested in hemp. Most importantly, we’re ready to take the hemp textile industry to the next level.”
For more information on Hem Mills, visit hemhemp.com/.
Heather Collins is an Account Manager for Compass Natural Marketing and has been working in communications and marketing in the natural products industry for the past twenty years. Compass Natural serves in PR and programming for NoCo Hemp Expo and Southern Hemp Expo. Collins serves as a Contributing Writer of the weekly Let’s Talk Hemp Newsletter, published by We are for Better Alternatives. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.