Is Silk a sustainable fabric?

Image Source - Pixabay

After my last blog post on silk, a few thoughts reeled in my head. And it would be disservice to my readers if I didn’t complete the loop.

Silk is durable and strong. It is luxurious and also expensive. But is it sustainable?

If you are a sustainability champion and you wear what you believe in, then before choosing a silk fabric, arm yourself with this information:

Silk is a Natural fibre

It is a product of Bombyx Mori, most of the times. The silk moth larvae, which spin their cocoon through a wiggly movement and produce nearly a kilometre of silk yarn. Read more details here.

This images illustrates how a caterpillar feeds on mulberry leaves.

Silk is Renewable

China and India are world’s largest producers of silk. For commercial production, these silkworms, mainly Bombyx Mori, are retained for breeding so that more cocoons can be cultivated.

Silk comes from a renewable resource as compared to nylon or acrylic.  

Silk is Bio-degradable.

Which means that it will not remain on the planet for the next 500 years – like plastic.

It degrades in the soil forming mulch or compost, unlike the petroleum based fibres.

Tussar and Eri Silks are Free-range

Out of the four main types of silk (read my last post here), Tussar and Eri are what they say as “free range’’. This means that the cocoons are not cultivated in a silkworm farm. These silkworms attach themselves to oak trees unlike Bombyx Mori which host on mulberry trees. These cocoons are collected after the moth has emerged naturally in the field. The fibres are staple and short in length and several fibres are used to make the yarn making it strong, thick and dense.

And of course, durable.

This explains why most of my Mother’s Tussars and Kantha sarees are still going strong.

Fair Labour

The silk industry is a labour intensive one. Since the countries of India, China, Korea and Japan are the main manufacturers of silk, there is no data whether the policies of labour used in these countries for silk production are fair or not.

If barely 4-5 countries of the world are fulfilling the total global demand, I am sure there would be enormous pressure on production. And keeping up with this may not always tantamount to fair labour. There is bound to be overworking and underpayment. Unfortunately, I haven’t found any data to support whether the policies in the silk industry are fair or not.

I am also learning.

Chemical Additives

The protein which is spewed from the silkworm contains a gummy substance called Sericin. While steaming them, some alkaline salts are added to wash the fibres. This weakens the fabric a tad. However, in order to re-strengthen the fabric, some more chemicals are added. The more these chemicals, the lesser the natural quotient of the fabric.

So, if you see a silk that creases and wrinkles, it means that excessive chemicals are used to make it.

Silk is not Vegan

Since animals are used in production of pure silk, it cannot be termed as vegan. Although, Eri and Tussar can be termed as vegan as the silkworms are not killed in the process.

Animal Cruelty

Traditional production of silk required the silkworms to be steamed which kills the insects. The cocoons are then reeled or spooled out.

Ahimsa Silk (or Eri Silk) allow the moths to escape the cocoon, and they come out unharmed. This explains that the production of this silk is lower as compared to cultivated silk and consequently more expensive.

I hope you can now make a more informed decision about your silken purchases.

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