Silk is a widely used material in the high-end apparel industry. Considered a luxury fabric for its softness, drape, and sheen, silk also has breathable and thermal properties (keeping you cool in the summer and warm in the winter) making it a great choice for a variety of apparel items.
Sustainable and ethical brands use silk in their clothing lines regularly instead of synthetic materials so we decided to take a deeper dive into how silk is produced.
Commercial Silk Production vs. Peace Silk
The traditional process of silk production involves boiling the intact cocoons of silkworms and unwinding the silk strand. This is done so that the silk fibers do not break. However, that means that the silkworm dies in the process. This type of silk is produced from Bombyx mori silkworms that eat exclusively mulberry leaves. Researchers are working on finding other methods to extract silk from cocoons without harming the worm. Peace silk, also known as ‘Eri’ or ‘Ahimsa’ silk is a process that allows the silkworm to emerge from their cocoon and complete their natural life cycle. The empty cocoons are then used to produce silk. Eri silk-worms or Samia Cynthia worms feed off castor leaves.
How Sustainable Is Silk?
Both types of silk production are considered to have very low water footprint and produce almost zero percent waste. Silk is biodegradable within a couple of years compared to hundreds of years for synthetic materials and doesn’t emit toxins while it biodegrades like synthetic materials do. Silk also has naturally healthy and hypoallergenic qualities.
By bringing silk production back to local regions of the world experiencing drought and poverty like Meghalaya, a country in the north-eastern region of India, we can help create a new livelihood for women and their children while generating a larger market for natural peace silk.
Women in Meghalaya have practiced silk rearing for centuries for their own needs, but need to be empowered through training in efficient working processes and newer technology so that they are able to consistently produce silk textiles that meet the highest fashion industry standards.
The Myth: Silk is Only for Special Occasions (or Dry Clean Only)
Silk is extremely strong and durable despite the common belief that it is a fancier material that must be dry-cleaned. There are different types of silk and different quality levels. Many department stores will carry thinner silk, while high-end designers typically carry a heavier weight.
Look for designers who sell pre-washed silk pieces. Silk can be easily machine or hand-washed, however, the designer or manufacturer should account for some shrinkage in the design. After washing, the silk will appear to be crinkled or wrinkled, which you can easily steam or iron out.
Silk Is A Very Wearable, Versatile Material
When it comes to silk production, there are some complicated issues at play from how it is produced to how it is designed and sold. Yet, silk has some outstanding properties that make it a very sustainable, eco-friendly natural fiber.
Silk has massive potential (if produced in an ethical way) to provide many regions of the world and women in those countries with a source of sustainable income. With the only by-product being a wonderful, rich material that could easily be used for day-to-day wear. Silk is also a wonderful material for babies which keeps the baby warm, safe and comfortable.
Have you ever thought about the cruelty vs cruelty-free silk process? Which type of silk do you wear? Do you know brands producing peace silk garments? Please let us know in the comments below.
Amanda is a writer and marketer, based in Los Angeles, CA. Amanda enjoys treasure hunting for great vintage finds and recently launched Jean Franklin, a sustainable, ethical and vintage online store carrying clothing and home goods. You can find Amanda walking her rescue pups, Noodle and Nellie or whipping up some tasty home-cooked meals.