As promised, the BEAUTYCALYPSE beauty cake in September is drizzled with fashion sprinkles. Let’s talk about the most luxurious and sensual fabric: silk.
Debutante tries on her silk ball gown and turns happily to her mother:
“Isn’t it crazy that this beauteous dress comes from an ugly little worm?”
Her mother snaps at her:
“Don’t you dare to call your father names!”
– A heavily bearded joke
Silk is a word you use and read a lot when talking beauty: the skin is soft as silk, the hair shines and moves like silk. And of course it’s the epitome of luxury and high fashion, so it seemed legit to talk about it during my self-imposed Fashion September here on BEAUTYCALYPSE.
WHY SO SERIOUS, AFTER ALL?
“Really, you killjoy? I understand your resentment to fur, but hello-o? Crying for caterpillars? Isn’t that just a tad over the treehugging top?”
I will ignore this cheap provocation by saying “No” and inviting you to the facts buffet instead:
1. Silk is a protein fibre, spun by cocoon forming moth pupae.
(I mean: Yikes, actually. Anyone who’ve ever run into a spider’s web, knows why.)
2. “The entire production process of silk can be divided into several steps which are typically handled by different entities. Extracting raw silk starts by cultivating the silkworms on Mulberry leaves. Once the worms start pupating in their cocoons, these are dissolved in boiling water in order for individual long fibres to be extracted and fed into the spinning reel.” (Wikipedia) The animals are killed because they otherwise hatch out – to do so they destroy the cocoon and break the “precious” silk threads.
3. The silkworm (latin name: Bombyx mori) is one of the world’s most genetically modified animals and can’t survive on its own or in the wild. (Miss Wiki again)
4. Given the usual labor conditions (outside Europe, US, Canada) it’s likely that any silk not certified Fair Trade was produced under conditions you probably don’t want to support.
5. The enviromental impact of conventional dyeworks is often as bad as social, so you’ll want to look for fabrics certified GOTS – or similar.
6. Beware of the “easy care”. The coating of silk with synthetic chemicals such as softeners is toxic to the enviroment and the textile workers; it’s not sure what happens when you wear those.
7. Silk weighting (adding metal to fibers in order to make silk more heavy and shiny and thereby more expensive) is a potentially toxic process.
8. As a natural protein, silk can cause allergies.
I don’t feel really good about my silk scarves now. Do you?
SUGGESTED SILK ALTERNATIVES
Let’s see what the market offers.
Fun fact for curious consumers:
The farming of silk moths for silk production is called sericulture.
Did you know there is such a thing as “sea silk” or “mermaid silk” produced by sea shells? Amazing, isn’t it?
It’s not one of the real alternatives, though; the shells are now close to extinction due to overfishing and pollution, and only few artisans in Italy are known to produce it. It also has a slightly different feel than the silk we know. (More info here and here.)
Cruelty-free silk sources – and the reality bites:
1. Second hand or recycled ecofashion.
BS-check: Well. Doable. Not my fave option though since vintage fabric can contain toxic dyes and I’m not sure what recycling can eliminate.
2. Wild silk. Ideally, it’s meant to be silk collected from cocoons of free moths living in the wild. Has a look and feel different to standard silk (knotty).
BS-check: Not easy because wild silk isn’t a protected name. Sometimes people will sell dupion or shantung silk as wild silk, but it isn’t. Also – not every uneven silk is silk from “uncooked” cocoons – sometimes it’s made from silk waste. Conventional, that is. Remember: wildcrafted is “going into the wild and collecting”. Buying land and letting moths hatch in the trees is still farming.
3. Indian Ahimsa silk. The conventional Bombyx mori moth is allowed to hatch and is not killed by steam, needles or boiling water. Yay, my vegan friends?
BS-check: It’s still not veggie or vegan-friendly because not all moths are allowed to live (otherwise the factories would be overrun by moths within months, if you do the math). A by-product of silk production are pupae that are sold as food. Yummy roasted silk pupa bite, anyone?
4. Organic, GOTS certified and Trade Fair certified silk – seems the safest, as animal-friendly option as we can get today. I have found this online shop for Fair Trade/GOTS certified fabrics and whenever I might be ordering fashion pieces or house textiles, I will look for silk there – I think you can find similar specialists near you, too.
(NB: It works and helps spread the word a bit more. The fabrics quality is really top notch; when I purchased a custom-made pair of jeans at Anthracite, I asked the designer to use GOTS certified denim from this shop – for an extra fee – and I absolutely love the wear and feel of it.)
Frustration? No. I prefer to think of this whole research as a journey.
In the end of a quest, deep in a dungeon there are always boss-level enemies. I might not have found perfection, but I have the knowledge and the freedom to choose. It’s also a fabulous sensation to be zen-like unimpressed at the sight of colourful cheap silk blouses. So that’s a win.
But will I wear silk in the future?
Well, I do own quite a few silk scarves that I have to find good use for now because my personal style has evolved and silk scarves aren’t part of it anymore. (Don’t get me started on artfully binding them to obtain tops, bags, or vests – it never works outside a fashion shoot!)
I don’t wear silk blouses because they’re unpractical and I’m a tomboy even in my thirties.
I like silk jersey tops, you know, the kind you wear under a blazer; but not enough to miss them if I suddenly had none left.
As for underwear, here my bets are on organic and GOTS anyway.
A brand I want to try is ica watermelon, a Berlin-based fashion brand that focuses on certified organic silk. The designs are splendid, but none has fit my style yet. I’m keeping an eye on them.
Man-made silk alternatives, anyone?
We’re not talking polyester here of course, we want the look and feel of high fashion, right?
So, there is viscose aka “art silk” aka modal aka rayon aka lyocell – chemically treated cellulose spun into versatile threads, one of them being silk-like. The chemical production process can’t qualify as healthy or sustainable though. Period.
One more for the road.
One can of course ridicule vegans, and goodness knows some are begging for people to take the mick out of them, but there’s only one, quite simple thing to ask yourself. It is:
How do you call people who torture living beings for pleasure?
You don’t want to be one of them, do you?
I hope you understand my belief – beauty cannot come from cruelty – a bit deeper now.
Do you think veganism is a mere trend?
Can you live without silk?
Do you ask yourself “what about leather” just as I do?
DO TELL! xoxo