Why Silk is Problematic – and the Silk Alternatives Vegans Wear Instead


In 2018, an uncommon story unfold by means of trend press: retail big ASOS could be ceasing all sale of mohair, cashmere, feathers, and…silk. Whereas the style trade isn’t any stranger to manufacturers banning supplies (numerous luxury designers have refused to work with fur over the previous couple of seasons, and most retailers have banned angora), a model saying no to silk was remarkable. A steadily used materials throughout the style spectrum, silk is commonly current however hardly ever talked about. It seems to slide underneath the radar at any time when the moral implications of trend are mentioned, and it has evaded most sustainability conversations as nicely.

However silk is much from harmless. For starters, it claims an astonishing quantity of animal lives. Silk is, actually, an animal materials and never plant-based; silk is the fibre that silkworms weave to make the cocoons that they reside in throughout their pupal stage. Silk staff generally boil or fuel the cocoons to unravel them, permitting staff to entry the threads that the silk yarn shall be spun from. Throughout this course of, worms are sometimes boiled or gassed alive. Silk will also be made by killing the worms simply earlier than they start spinning the cocoons and extracting their silk glands. An estimated 6,600 worms are wanted to make only one kilogram of silk.

Associated Put up: The Problem With Cashmere

It’s a essential tenet of vegan residing that every one animals have a proper to reside with out human oppression – and that compassion doesn’t finish at canine, cats, cows or pigs. Vegans argue that worms, nonetheless small and nonetheless completely different from ourselves and our companion animals, additionally should reside in peace. And relating to worm sentience, research have proven that bugs have responses to stimuli which will point out they really feel ache (though the scientific group stays divided on this subject).

So is silk an environmentally pleasant alternative? Probably not. Even though mulberry timber that maintain silkworms might be grown organically, as typically occurs, the issue begins as soon as we start remodeling the uncooked materials into completed silk. The Higg Materials Sustainability Index ranks silk increased than most different fibres, resulting from its contribution to international warming and its use of fossil fuels in its processing levels. The 2017 Pulse of Fashion Industry Report by the Boston Consulting Group additionally put silk within the second place (behind cow leather-based) on its listing of probably the most polluting supplies utilized in trend, measured for cradle-to-gate impression per kilogram of fabric.

Associated Put up: Dirty Luxury: How Fashion Contributes to Pandemics

Some manufacturers provide one thing referred to as “peace silk”, which sees worms reside out their pure lifespans earlier than the cocoons are harvested and sometimes marketed as ‘non-violent’. However as vegans and animal rights activist have seen many occasions, these initiatives are sometimes well-intentioned, however hardly ever reliable. The Indian animal rights organisation Beauty Without Cruelty has investigated peace silk farms and located that farmers couldn’t account for what occurred to the worms as soon as the cocoons have been harvested. A few of the animals have been discarded or crushed. The males have been stored in a fridge, in a semi-frozen situation, and introduced out time and again to mate. After their skill to mate diminished, they have been thrown away. It’s additionally essential to needless to say the “peace silk” practices don’t reduce the environmental impression of silk.

The most typical choice that has changed silk in at present’s trend is polyester – a material that comes with a collection of environmental points. To start with, polyester isn’t biodegradable. Secondly, it’s a petroleum-based materials, produced from a non-renewable useful resource. Almost 70 million barrels of oil are made to make polyester every year – a mind-boggling quantity. Then we even have the difficulty of microplastics, which polyester garments release into the environment each time they’re washed.


Thankfully, a deeper dig into the world of naturally derived vegan materials reveals us that there are numerous methods to switch silk that don’t contain synthetics. Under are 5 vegan silk options that trend manufacturers are selecting as a substitute:


Ramie is likely one of the oldest present fibre crops. It originates from the stalks of a flowering plant within the nettle household, and its properties contain the power to carry its form and a naturally wrinkle-free texture. It’s additionally extremely absorbing, making it simple to dye.

Orange silk

Created by Italian model Orange Fiber, this materials harnesses the untapped sources of the a million tonnes of citrus fruit waste that Italy alone is chargeable for every year. Entrepreneurs Adriana Santanocino and Enrica Areno have patented a singular expertise that extracts cellulose from citrus fruit peels which are left over after juicing and transforms this cellulose into an opulent silk-like materials. The fibre is extracted in Sicily, the place a big a part of Italy’s citrus trade relies, and is later spun in a spinning manufacturing unit in Spain. The fabric is lastly despatched again to Italy – this time to Como – the place the tip product is made. Orange Silk was included in H&M’s Aware Unique Assortment two seasons in the past.

H&M featured orange silk fiber in its 2019 Aware Assortment.


Often known as Lyocell, Tencel is produced from wooden pulp cellulose utilizing closed-loop technology, that means that the water and chemical substances used within the course of are re-used to keep away from waste. Biodegradable, resistant and wrinkle-free, Tencel is likely one of the most eco-friendly vegan supplies in use at present.


Cupro is a by-product of cotton – it derives from linter, part of the plant that might in any other case have been waste. This smooth, silky material is straightforward to drape and is steadily utilized in clothes.


US-based materials innovation firm Bolt Threads have invented a bioengineered vegan silk, made to imitate the smooth but sturdy and resistant properties of spider silk. Spiders have by no means been farmed for his or her silk – they’re territorial, solitary animals who can resort to cannibalism if stored in teams. No spiders, or different animals, are used within the making of Microsilk, which is created by including genes into yeast and utilizing yeast, sugar and water in a fermentation course of. The result’s a supple, versatile yarn that may be spun into many various materials. Stella McCartney has showcased a costume produced from Microsilk as part of the “Common from Nature” exhibit on the Victoria & Albert Museum in London.

Stella McCartney costume produced from Microsilk. Picture: Bolt Threads.

Like many animal materials, chances are high silk will quickly be out of date and changed by new vegan supplies. Not many individuals are but conscious of the problems behind silk – however many will know and put on the modern materials that may change it.

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Cowl picture by way of Bolt Threads.

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