Updated: Apr 27, 2021
The argument that silk is a sustainable material is divisive. In this post we're going to explore the extent of this fibre's environmental impact and look into how sustainable it really is...
What is silk?
The production of silk originated in China during the Neolithic period and has been a symbol of luxury and wealth ever since. Silk is a natural protein fibre and, whilst there are a variety of different silks created by insects such as caterpillars, crickets and spiders, the silk that is best known comes from the mulberry silkworm.
How is silk produced?
Extracting raw silk starts by cultivating the silkworms on mulberry leaves. Before the worms start to emerge from their cocoons, they are dissolved in boiling water in order for individual long fibres to be extracted and fed into the spinning reel.
As a natural fibre it is biodegradable unlike many materials offered as silk alternatives
Mulberry trees require very few pesticides or fertilisers and can be grown organically and require less water than cotton
Animal cruelty - the fact that larvae are boiled in the production of commercial silk cannot be overlooked
Silk has a low fabric yield. According to PETA, around 3,000 silkworms are killed to make just one pound of silk.
Vegan alternatives to silk:
Here at art school dropout we use a vegan silk alternative in the production of our scarves. There are different types of vegan silk alternatives, one popular material is known as 'Peace Silk'. Peace Silk is vegan because it allows the silkworm to emerge out of the cocoon naturally. Fibres from the damaged cocoon are then spun together forming a silk which has the same luxurious feel as organic silk, with a raw appearance.
So...is silk sustainable?
The question of whether silk is really sustainable is not an easy one to answer. However, with vegan silk alternatives now easily accessible, with the same luxurious texture, it seems non-sensical to still be producing silk in unsustainable ways.