In partnership with Skarabis.
Have you ever wondered what’s the difference between organic silk, peace silk, and conventional silk? For starters, there are many different types of silk. In this article, we talk about mulberry silk which represents 90% of all silk production. It is one of the world’s most popular fabrics. To explain the differences between organic silk, peace silk, and conventional silk, we talked to silk expert and designer Silke Skarabis who founded her own organic silk label Skarabis in Berlin.
What Is Silk?
When we talk about silk, we usually mean mulberry silk. Mulberry silk features a particularly fine, almost pure white thread. Ancient Chinese cultures have already used this luxurious fabric over 5000 years ago. Why? Because silk is beautiful, durable, soft, hypoallergenic, temperature-regulating and doesn’t irritate the skin. Therefore, silk is perfect for people with sensitive skin. But, and here comes the bad news: silk is not vegan. The caterpillars who produce the silk usually get killed during the production process. Furthermore, even though silk is 100% natural, conventional silk uses pesticides and other chemicals that are bad for animals, our health and the environment. However, silk can be produced in many ways. Each way affects animals, our body and the environment differently.
1. Animal Welfare
Conventional silk is not cruelty-free. Before the caterpillar turns into a butterfly, it spins itself with an up to 3000 m long silk thread and then pupates inside the cocoon. In nature, the butterfly destroys the cocoon & the silk thread during hatching. To prevent this from happening, conventional silk manufacturers kill the silkworms by boiling the cocoons in hot water. The boiled water also loosens the glue which the caterpillar used to fixate the silk thread. This way, the raw silk can easily be processed into threads and then woven into fabrics.
Also for organic silk the animals get killed. The process is basically the same as with conventional silk. With the only difference that the silkworms are fed with mulberry tree leaves from organic agriculture. “This may seem insignificant but if you look at the figures, it becomes clear that it actually plays an important role”, explains Silke Skarabis. “Before the caterpillars start spinning the cocoon, they eat large quantities of mulberry leaves.” To illustrate this, Silke provides us with a calculation example. “It takes about 1,500 to 2,000 cocoons (= silkworms) to produce a silk dress. 5000 caterpillars eat around 180 kg mulberry tree leaves. As 1 mulberry tree supplies around 7 kg leaves per year, we need around 25 trees to feed 5000 silkworms.” Which means that huge mulberry tree plantations are subject to silk production. But unlike conventional silk, organic silk doesn’t use pesticides or artificial fertilizers that make animals & people sick.
Peace silk, also known as Ahimsa Silk, is produced without harming the silkworms. Silke elaborates: “No animals are killed in the production of peace silk. The silkworms hatch from the cocoons and become butterflies before the thread is unwound from the cocoon.” This cruelty-free method was inspired by religions like Jainism, Hinduism, and Buddhism in India where also Silke sources her peace silk from.
2. Quality & Price
Since silk is paid according to weight on the world market, every gram makes a big price difference in the trade. For this reason, conventional silk producers treat the silk with heavy metal salts and synthetic resins to make the silk heavier and sell it at higher prices. Conventional silk is still cheaper than organic silk or peace silk.
“We use a very high-quality, heavy silk”, says Silke. Each of her dresses requires about 280 g of silk fabric, which corresponds to about 1,400 cocoons. “We don’t use any chemical products to make our silk heavier. This is why organic silk, in general, is more expensive but also of higher quality and more robust than conventional silk.” She continues: “But finding the right producers for ecological production with the highest quality standards was quite a challenge because it is still quite new in the field of silk clothing.”
In order for the caterpillars to grow inside the cocoon and then hatch out of it, the production of peace silk takes about 2 weeks longer than conventional or organic silk. Since the caterpillars destroy the silk thread during hatching, the fibers must also be completely woven together by hand. This means that the threads are not continuous, resulting in a less delicate texture and a duller shine than conventional or organic silk. Because of this complex process, peace silk is about twice as expensive as conventional or organic silk, making it even more difficult for designers in the global marketplace.
To ensure crease-resistance, dirt repellency, and better ink adhesion, conventional silk is treated with additional chemicals. We often forget how bad these toxins are for our health. They irritate the skin, eyes, mucous membranes, and respiratory tract. Workers in conventional silk production are often exposed to these substances without any protection.
Organic silk is 100% free of chemical substances. And thus preserves all positive health properties. “We work with two types of silk. Organic silk and peace silk from organic cultivation”, says Silke, “we only dye and print with ecological dyes”, she adds. In addition, all Skarabis garments have the shiny silk satin on the inside so that the healthiest, softest part of the silk is in direct contact with our skin.
Peace silk might be a non-violent alternative to conventional and organic silk but that doesn’t mean that it’s organically produced. So in order to be sure that the silk you buy has not been treated with toxins, you should look out for organic certifications.
Worldwide, about 70 million pounds of raw silk are produced annually, which requires almost 10 billion pounds of mulberry leaves. As already mentioned, the production of conventional silk uses large quantities of toxic substances. In view of this, you can only imagine the enormous impact that all these pesticides, fertilizers and chemical treatments have on our environment.
In contrast to the conventional silk industry, organic silk farms do not grow their mulberry trees in monocultures, but in mixed cultures. This has a positive effect on the trees and the environment (and leads to a higher quality of the end product). Furthermore, no pesticides or artificial fertilizers are used in the production of organic silk. Organic silk is also free of heavy metals and chemical treatments. This makes it 100% natural and fully biodegradable and by far the most environmentally-friendly option of the three.
Peace Silk & Wild Peace Silk:
Peace silk does not guarantee organic production. So if you want to be sure you are wearing environmentally-friendly silk, you should pay attention to organic certifications. Wild silk, however, if harvested after the silkworm has safely emerged from its cocoon, is not only cruelty-free but also 100% natural and hence eco-friendly. In this case, it will be specifically labeled as wild peace silk.
Organic Silk Label Skarabis From Berlin
When you have a look at Skarabis’ luxurious organic silk collection, you will find beautiful scarves and floating dresses with artistic prints and geometric shapes. Founder Silke and her small team guarantee ethical and organic high-quality silk.”Our organic silk comes from France and Italy and our organic peace silk from India,” tells us Silke. In the future, however, she might stop offering organic peace silk as it is very cost-effective and not as delicate as organic silk. When asked why Silke only boasts silk pieces in her collections, she responds: “We want women to feel beautiful, comfortable and special in our clothes. Silk is the ideal material for that. We love silk. It’s one of the most sensual and beautiful fabrics! It gives me this wonderful feeling. I feel pampered when wearing silk.” She laughs. “The fabric falls well and traces female forms. We call this ‘discreet sexiness’. Also, silk is suitable for all seasons because it cools in summer and warms in winter. It is very durable and lasts for many years.” Silke also finds silk (isn’t it hilarious that a silk enthusiast is named Silke?) super easy to wear. “Depending on your mood, you can wear our silk dresses and blouses with a waistbelt to emphasize your figure. I wear them from morning to night. Just “flow” them on and you’re ready to go!” Silke is just about to develop her 2nd collection and we are super excited to see it next year!
Mia is a Paris-based freelance writer from Vienna. When she was a little girl, she dreamed of living in the Amazon jungle, where she would protect the rain forest and animal life. Now living in the city jungle of the French capital (things sometimes turn out differently than expected), she found her calling in raising awareness about pretty much everything sustainable, vegan, organic and ethical. The trained copywriter received her MA in Global Communications in Fashion at the American University of Paris. miawindischgraetz.com