Silk is the strongest natural textile in the world. This textile was just recently surpassed in strength by alab-engineered biomaterial, but it remains the strongest fabric made through natural processes.
Despite its immense tensile strength, silk is generally prized for other reasons. Silk’s softness has made it a hotly desired commodity throughout history, and this simple fiber has built legendary trade routes and transformed cultures throughout the Old World.
Where it grows / Where it is made
Top countries (2018): China (75%) - India (22%)
Nightgowns, lingerie, robes, eveningwear, blouses, suits, sport coats, curtains, pillow ruffles, parachutes, bicycle tires, medical dressings.
Impact on the environment
Silk is spun from the long threads which make up the inner cocoon of a silkworm. The fibres are in fact saliva, produced by the worm to insulate itself until it is time to transform. The raw silk threads are harvested and then reeled together for commercial use. The silkworms are killed during the process of extracting the silk.
In addition to this, silk has a relatively high emissions intensity, particularly in the yarn and fabric production stages. In fact, its supply chain is one of the most intensive per kg according to the Sustainable Apparel Coalition.
It is possible to find less lethal alternatives to the silk-making process.
Ahimsa silk, also known as ‘peace silk’, allows the moth to evacuate the cocoon before it is boiled. Some silks that fall under the Ahimsa umbrella include ‘Eri silk’ and ‘Tussar silk’. Unfortunately, peace silk isn’t necessarily much better for the environment!
For those who want to avoid animal silk for its negative impacts, one vegan silk innovation that is worth looking out for is vegan spider silk! Microsilk is the trademarked name of a lab-made spider silk produced by California-based company Bolt Threads. It is a synthetic fabric, but one which requires no land or chemicals to produce—only water, yeast, sugar, and a pinch of DNA.
More sustainable alternatives
Vegan silks (Cupro, Spider silk, Lotus silk, ...)
End of life possibilities
When it comes to buying silk or its alternatives, check sources to ensure that you don’t buy into exploitation or environmental destruction.