Bast Fibre Technologies might be the most stereotypical Victoria business of all time. Run out of the University of Victoria’s Vancouver Island Technology Park, the company manufactures hemp fibre on an industrial scale in an attempt to replace plastic and other nonrenewable materials in many household items.
But while it might be easy to write the company off as a “hemp weaver on the Island,” BFT’s accomplishments and future goals are about as lofty as they come. The last couple of years in particular have been a whirlwind. In May 2021, the manufacturer secured an $8.5-million Series A funding round supported in part by well-known American cannabis investment firm Merida Capital Holdings.
A year later, it had acquired both a North Carolina manufacturing facility and a German textile processing facility. Then, in October 2022, the crown jewel: a “major strategic investment” from Finnish investment giant Ahlström Capital that took a 20-percent ownership stake. The financing will reportedly enable BFT to produce over 10,000 metric tons of hemp fibre per year by the end of 2023, and up to 50,000 metric tons per year by 2026.
Bast Fibre Techologies
That has effectively eliminated the company’s biggest problem. “That was our challenge, the processing capacity and getting it finished at scale for big industry,” says BFT brand and design manager Caleb Beyers. “We’re trying to keep up with demand; there are a lot of people who want the fibre.”
The renewable material can be used to help produce items like diapers, cosmetics and cleaning products. It can also play a role in building construction. After the upscale in production, BFT—which has some 50 employees—had to shift its technical head office to Greenville, South Carolina, where the company has repurposed an old cotton facility. That city is something of a mecca for the very industry that BFT wants to change. “Everybody who’s making fabric and packaging stuff up is doing it in the American South because it’s all made out of cotton,” says Beyers.
The Ahlström investment promises to open some previously closed doors for the company. “It’s exciting to me—it means we’re actually going to be able to start making enough fibre to see our projects out there in the world and land major supply contracts,” says Beyers, who notes that the company is in discussion with “everybody from Nike for technical fabrics to Loblaws for household wipes.”
Those agreements usually revolve around specific projects and have terms to set standards for sustainability profiles and carbon ratings. An agreement that BFT recently made with Texas-based feminine hygiene brand Hempress Hygienics took about a year to finalize. It has another on the go with American multinational Procter & Gamble. “I just love that we’re doing industrial-scale fibre out of hemp,” says Beyers. “It’s one of the most fascinating crops, and it’s ripe for a proper comeback."