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Can silk be sustainable?

Rare things are so profoundly captivating as the silk cloth. Silk has fascinated poets, artisans, and royals for centuries. The smoothness and the unmatched beauty of it have been translated into myths, legends, and silk has become an epitome of luxury in fashion. 

 

Silk might be the greatest example of nature’s ingenuity. Silk comes from threads, so thin and delicate, yet stronger than steel. When woven together, they create a fabric that is gentle for the skin but can last a lifetime. 

Silk is not just one of the most valuable fabrics in the world. It is also one of the oldest. 

The early evidence of silk-making dates back to ancient China 8 500 years ago. The technique was perfected and the silk was traded for centuries. One of the longest-lasting trade networks in history, which was in active use for over 1 400 years, was named after the most prized commodity: Silk Road

Sericulture or silk-making starts by harvesting the cocoons of silkworms (Bombyx mori). These worms live and feed on mulberry leaves, a tree that is resistant and easy to cultivate. The silk threads that are collected from the cocoons are then dyed, spun, and woven. Depending on how it is processed, there are different types of silk today. The processing of the threads is also where the biggest environmental and ethical impact comes from. 

Whether silk fabric is sustainable or not will depend on all stages of the process. Let us unpack this, thread by thread.

 

Ethics behind silk

Silk is a natural material, meaning that it is biodegradable and is coming from a renewable source. We love the fabric for its enchanting qualities and the endless possibilities it offers.

However, the way the silk is usually made is concerning.

The silkworm starts its life as a caterpillar on a mulberry tree, where it feeds until it grows a certain size. At this moment, the caterpillar starts to spin a cocoon around itself, composed of a natural protein, which later hardens into one single thread. The spinning usually takes 2-3 days. 

Eventually, the caterpillar inside would mature into a moth and break out of the cocoon by making a hole in it. But this breaks and damages the silk threads. For this reason, the silk-making industry collects the cocoons before this happens. The cocoons are then boiled, killing the caterpillars and leaving the thread intact.  

Since the cocoons are quite small in size, it takes 1700 to 2000 cocoons to make 1 silk dress

Unfortunately, these small animals are not the only ones that suffer.

 

Supply chain concerns

Because of the vast demand for silk, manufacturing today is highly unsustainable. To speed the process up, the industry often uses chemicals like formalin and bleach to clean the threads. The material is treated with synthetic dyes and requires a lot of fresh water to make it possible. While this allows us to get vivid colors, all these chemicals wash down during the manufacturing, leaving the factories as wastewater. Most factories are situated in areas with weak environmental regulations and the waste from the factories mixes with the local water sources. This leads to polluting the ecosystems and the communities depending on those waters.

Even though silk making is a skillful and labor-intensive profession, the workers are at high risk of poverty, child labor, and exploitation. They also face severe health risks, from using pesticides and herbicides in mulberry tree cultivation. They are also exposed to carcinogenic levels of toxic chemicals in the factories. Just like the rest of the fashion industry, the silk supply chain is not transparent, and most manufacturers and brands using silk today cannot guarantee the way their fabric and clothes were made. 

Is all this suffering worth the beauty of the silk?

We do not believe it is. When we started learning about silk and sericulture, we became invested in supporting the better ways of getting this luxurious fabric. Soon, we discovered peace silk.

 

What is peace silk?

We first used peace or ahimsa silk in our Resort ’21 collection and were amazed by the luxurious feel of it. As the name implies, ahimsa (meaning non-harmful in Hindu) silk is a form of cruelty-free process that is kinder to all the life forms on this planet. It has been invented in India and is based on the principles of respecting and honoring nature.

This method allows the silkworm to live its full lifecycle. The caterpillars inside the silk cocoons are left to fully grow into moths and leave the cocoons. The cocoons that are left behind are collected and further processed. While this does not harm the animal directly, it makes the silk-making harder, longer, and more expensive, as the silk threads are broken. 

Yet, we like to remind ourselves that every life, no matter how big or small, is valuable. 

Though not the only kind of cruelty-free silk, peace silk is just the first step. For us, ethics go beyond this, and we are making sure to respect people and nature throughout our silk-making process.

This is why we produce the fabric ethically, blending it with other natural materials like organic cotton and bamboo. We work closely with a family-owned business in India, helping to preserve the tradition and rural knowledge. You can read more about our weaving partners here. Moreover, we dye the fabric using only natural and plant-based dyes in a toxic and waste-free process. Finally, our in-house team in Los Angeles turns the fabric into beautiful, long-lasting garments.

 

Natural and conscious luxury

We are proud of our clothes because we closely work with people who put their time and skill into making them. After initially experimenting with peace silk in the earlier collection, we have once again returned to it in our newest Resort ’22 collection.

To enhance the power of silk without scarifying the lightness or the softness of it, we combined it with certified bamboo. The result is our most luxurious fabric so far. It folds gently around the body and has a subtle shine and unique texture to it. Inspired by the rich world of the Caribbean, Resort ‘22 is our way of celebrating the joys of life. 

We invite you to try it out yourself. Shop the Resort ’22 collection here.