Silk has got to be the world’s most deluxe fibre. With the way the fashion industry utilises it both in Africa and abroad, I believe designers would concur. It’s been around for a minute (read as thousands of years) and has been used for royalty customers to haute couture. And to think we owe this beautiful lustre fibre to silkworms. Because it’s a natural fibre, it has very low environmental impact and is biodegradable. So what possibly could put it on the concern lists for animal activists, environmentalists and vegans alike? Albeit the fact that in the list of all things animal rights related, it doesn’t rank very high; especially with consumers. To be honest, we didn’t even know there were any alarm bells related to silk. And because animal rights in fashion covers the entire spectrum of animal fibres, silk harvesting IS a conservation issue.
Vlogger, Bite Size Vegan, does a pretty good job of doing the research on silk production
But if you’ve just skipped over the video above (watch it, you know you want to) here are some particular insightful facts:
- Silk is technically worm spit. WORM. SPIT.
- In conventional silk production, longer silk threads are more desirable. Thus to prevent the silk worm turning into a moth and gnawing its way out, shortening the threads, they take the cocoon and boil or steam it. Yes, the little critter is alive when this happens.
- You may argue that it’s a bug and they don’t have feelings. There are studies that would beg to differ. Insects do possess a nervous system and just because they don’t express emotion or distress the way other species do doesn’t immediately negate the possibility that they do feel pain.
- Being boiled to death isn’t the only suffering the silk worms go through. They lead a pretty unconventional life in a strictly controlled environment that creates defects in the moths that are able to escape the cocoon before boiling time. For one, they can’t fly because their bodies are too big for their wings and their mouths are underdeveloped; so they can’t eat either. That, and they’re cramped in close quarters unlike the natural habitat they’re meant to be frolicking in.
- A lot of silk worms are used to produce enough silk for something small items like a tie or scarf. It’s estimated that it takes 10,000 silk worms to make one sari. That’s quite a bit of boiling going on.
- There are silk alternatives but you’re going to have to watch the video to find out those (see what I did there?).
- Or designers could consider using Peace Silk and Ahimsa (non-violence) Silk which falls in between commercial processed and wild silk. This process allows the moth to leave the cocoon unharmed, which results in much shorter threads. With yields being lower, the price for wild silk inevitably goes way, way higher than the commercial kind.
- On a side note: some designers have chosen to opt for reclaimed silk for their designs; such as incorporating old wedding dresses as fabric for a new collections. There’s little environmental impact, no animals suffer and they get a collection. Win-win.
It’s evident that the issue animal rights activists have is the perspective that animal products receive in the media. Things like fur, leather and silk are marketed as glamour and status, which can make it pretty easy to forget that something living was using that before. While the need to protect is more evident with larger animals, can the same be attributed to insects too? Or does this become a scenario where the rights of human beings become a priority? (On a side note, there’s a debate on honey bees too). If you’re a designer that is working with silk we’d like to know how you feel about the issue. As for us consumers, are you still going to buy conventional silk?