Fields of cannabis could soon be carpeting the Borders countryside if ambitious new plans get off the ground.
But not because an international drugs cartel is expanding into Scotland – it’s down to a young entrepreneur and his green design and manufacturing business.
Sam Whitten grew up in the village of Broughton in Peeblesshire and studied product design at Glasgow Caledonian University.
The 25-year-old has recently started his own firm making handcrafted luxury sunglasses and fashion accessories. He plans to move into jewellery, clothing and even sustainable architecture in the next couple of years.
And it’s all made out of cannabis, or hemp – industrial-grade, which won’t get you high.
Hemp has been used as a fibre for more than 10,000 years. It is easy to grow, even in poor soil, needing no weedkillers and less water than other plants during cultivation.
The crop is considered to be one of the least environmentally damaging and can be made into everything from paper, food, textiles and ropes to green fuels, paints and bioplastics.
It was these qualities that inspired Whitten to create the world’s first hemp spectacles and launch his Hemp Eyewear brand.
His latest range has five styles, which can be fitted with prescription lenses.
The hemp frames are formed in a compression moulding process then coated in eco-friendly resin.
The resulting shades are strong, lightweight, waterproof – and trendy.
The success of a crowd-funding campaign that raised £13,000 means Whitten will shortly take delivery of machinery that will allow all stages of manufacturing to be carried out at the firm’s Edinburgh headquarters for the first time.
“It’s a leading-edge sustainable technology that turns organic plant fibre into solid material that is lighter and stronger than carbon fibre,” he said.
“The applications for this are almost limitless, but more importantly it is made from a renewable resource.”
The raw hemp is sourced from Eastern Europe, but that could soon change. A friend who runs an organic farm in Peeblesshire has agreed to carry out a small-scale trial, growing the crop to supply the raw ingredients, which would give the products a fully Scottish pedigree.
“He’s really interested in working with us to produce Scottish hemp,” Whitten said.
“Talks are at an early stage and we need to get proper licences to plant the crop, but I hope it will happen.
“One of the things we want to do is raise awareness of hemp as a renewable resource and get away from the stigma of association with recreational use of pot.
“Yes, it’s from the same genus – Cannabis sativa – but hemp is an industrial crop so it’s not the drug version. It has nothing to do with marijuana.”
His long-term vision looks far beyond designer sunglasses. He intends to continue making fashion accessories, but also move into other products created from hemp, including the building material hempcrete.
“We need to stop using fossil fuels and start using sustainable materials, renewable resources,” he said.
“Hempcrete lets us make carbon-negative housing, which is amazing. That’s one of the big things we want to do. It’s in the five-year plan.”
Although cannabis as a drug and industrial hemp both contain the psychoactive component tetrahydrocannabinol, they are distinct strains with unique biochemical compositions. Hemp has lower concentrations of THC and higher concentrations of cannabidiol, which decreases or eliminates its psychoactive effects. A licence is required to grow hemp in the UK.