#LetsTalkAboutIt: Does Natural Fabric Necessarily Mean Environmentally Friendly Fabric?

#LetsTalkAboutIt: Does Natural Fabric Necessarily Mean Environmentally Friendly Fabric?

Is the division of environmentally friendly fabrics straightforward enough to distinguish as good and bad? Here we discuss the production of silk to determine an answer.

Whilst we are familiar with fabrics such as organic cotton and hemp being associated with ‘green’ fabric – that is to say, ethical and environmentally friendly – could it also be said that natural fabrics such as silk can be ‘green’ too? Or are the ethical impacts too much to allow silk to be fully included in such a category?

Whilst we are familiar with fabrics such as organic cotton and hemp being associated with ‘green’ fabric – that is to say, ethical and environmentally friendly – could it also be said that natural fabrics such as silk can be ‘green’ too? Or are the ethical impacts too much to allow silk to be fully included in such a category?

Since we usually associate silk with luxury, it can be easy to dismiss it as an unethical fabric – aren’t all things luxurious just that little bit taboo (think foie gras, Clinique’s animal testing, sports cars)? While this might be the perception, it could be fair to argue that silk itself is a green fabric because it is a natural protein fibre. How unethical can something be when it is produced naturally? And how can something not be luxurious when the natural production of it is from a silkworm cocoon? In the instance of silk, it is almost the very fact that the fabric is so natural that makes it lavish.

Furthermore, it’s ‘green’ in the sense that it’s not artificially made and therefore isn’t harmful to the environment, as such. It’s not on the same level as mass-producing polyester, for example, which is synthetically made from terephthalic acid and dihydric alcohol. In essence, it comes from an animal.

This animal is a domesticated silkworm, Bombyx mori, which is raised on a farm in large quantities, and then boiled and killed at the pupal stage to unravel the cocoon to produce silk thread. This is because if the silkworm were allowed to develop into a moth, it would chew its way through the silk cocoon and lessen the value of the fibres. Still sound ‘green’ to you? I’m not sure it does me, either, but it remains true that this is definitely not an isolated incident of animal manipulation to create a fabric. It is approximated that 15 silkworms are killed to make a gram of silk thread. A pretty grim statistic, indeed.

Despite all the boiling of baby silkworms and so on, silk can be produced without killing or harming the animals. There is a species of silkworm – Samia ricini – that spins a cocoon with a tiny hole through which it can crawl out when fully formed. Because of this, none of the fibres are chewed and the value is not lessened. This is called Eri silk, but it only represents a small part of the silk industry.

It is in some ways then, down to the consumer to determine whether their silk is ethical or not. If they make a conscious effort to source their silk from a non-silkworm-boiling source then it can be true that silk is ‘green’. As ever, it seems to remain that silk is a natural fibre and ‘green’ in itself, but it is humans that turn it somewhat unethical.

Written by Elle Shoel,

Contributor

Images via Fastcocreate.com

 

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