What's RIGHT about Peace Silk
Seresilk is unique. As Australia's only silk farm, we maintain control over the entire production process. After our silk-moths naturally emerge from their cocoons to continue their life-cycle, the silk is collected and the hydrolysis process begins. The silk fibres are then subjected to hydrolysis and liquefied in a base compound solution with the end result being a beautiful, golden concentrate. But, unfortunately this isn't enough for everyone...
In a recent article on Shop Like You Give a Damn, writer "Polly" contends that "Silk is not an ethical fabric to wear. Not only it requires thousands of animals to die but silk is also produced by workers who are often paid below a living wage – and child labor exploitation is also involved. Read further to find out why even the friendly named ‘peace’ silk isn’t the solution."
Unfortunately Polly, this couldn't be further from the truth. Other than the obvious grammatical errors in this passage, let's go through the full article and give an actual silk producer the opportunity to address each claim. You will notice that over the duration of this article my tone becomes quite combative, and to be honest I think it is entirely fair given someone has come from nowhere with 0 silk industry experience looking to make sensationalist claims to sell some products for the site they write for...
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How is silk made?
Silk is made out of harvested cocoons of silkworms that are painfully killed in the process. The silk production starts with female silk moths (most often Bombyx mori) laying their eggs – about 200 to 500 eggs each. The eggs hatch after about a week, get fed with mulberry leaves, and eventually go through five stages in which they shed their skin and grow in size. At the end of the fifth stage, the silkworm caterpillar starts spinning and sealing its cocoon and then morphs into a pupa. The transformation into a moth takes just about one week.
Silk is not made out of "harvested cocoons". Silk is made by the silkworm directly and spun into a cocoon. This silk is later collected, unravelled and spun into your favourite garments. Also, silkworms take 2-3 weeks to hatch - not 7 days and again take closer to 2 weeks not 7 days to transform into a moth. Please take the time to learn about the life cycle you are professing to care so much about before writing an article next time, Polly!
In nature, the next step for the moth would be secreting a yellow fluid which would cause the cocoon to open, allowing the moth to climb out of it, attracting a male to mate and then the process would start all over again.
Silkworms are completely domesticated. Where is this "nature" you speak of, Polly?
In the silk industry, it’s something else entirely. In order to not damage the cocoons (silk threads), they are harvested while the silkworms are still in the pupa stage – this prevents them from becoming a moth. This process is called 'stifling' – and it is as awful as it sounds. The cocoons are boiled, steamed or baked resulting in undamaged silk thread but a painfully killed silkworm.
This is close to correct, without giving the full details. As described in this article by Startup Daily, there are alternatives to traditional silk production where no silkworm is harmed in the entire production process. This can be achieved through following "ahimsa silk" rearing methods. However, there is a case to be made the silkworms which ARE boiled in their cocoons for their silk do not actually feel anything and are in fact in a state similar to hibernation, making it even less cruel than the meat that so many people across the globe enjoy on a daily basis. Alas, at Seresilk we go a step further and ensure no silkworms are hurt at any stage of the production process!
Silk is not an ethical fabric to wear. Not only it requires thousands of animals to die but silk is also produced by workers who are often paid below a living wage – and child labor exploitation is also involved. Read further to find out why even the friendly named ‘peace’ silk isn’t the solution.
Developing economies such as China and India are not the only silk producers in the world. If you care so much about the working conditions of silk farmers please consider purchasing silk from developed countries such as Italy, Japan or the Australian silk products produced by us here at Seresilk.
The impact of silk production on the animals
As the silkworm has to experience a painful death by being boiled, steamed or baked alive, silk cannot be considered an animal-friendly fabric. To make 1 kg of silk, about 6600 silkworms need to die. That's 1000 animals for one silk shirt. And yes, silkworms (or insects in general) are sentient beings. They possess a central nervous system, brain and have the ability to experience pain.
We as humans have domesticated silk moths (Bombyx mori) to produce fine silk. To optimize their silk production, we created a moth that is blind and unable to fly. She lays eggs only once and then she is killed. And her offspring are killed before they mature and grow into a moth.
The rule of thumb is simple: if you need an animal to produce fabric, the animal is being exploited. The fashion industry sees animals as a commodity and not sentient beings that can experience stress or pain. The same applies to the silk industry – even if the animal happens to be an insect.
This section is highly emotive and in most cases is repeating points that have been rebutted earlier in the piece. However, the new point "if you need an animal to produce fabric, the animal is being exploited" is blatantly incorrect. In this case, Polly should try to reframe her thinking. The reality is that the silkworm is such an amazing animal that over the course of its history it has evolved to a stage where humans are completely reliant on their continuous survival to ensure the production of its silk. Meaning, the silkworm is smart enough to have figured out a system whereby humans are reliant on THEM and not the other way around. To farm a silkworms' silk, a silk farm must supply them with the highest quality mulberry leaves, temperature and humidity around the clock for their entire life cycle. This means that all the world's farmed silkworms are reared in the most perfect rearing conditions possible.
The impact of silk production on people
As silk production is a very labor-intensive process, it requires many workers. The silk industry employs about 1 million workers in China and 7.9 million workers in India, mostly in rural populations. Unfortunately, this opens the door for the exploitation of workers who are paid unfairly low wages which are simply not enough to cover life essentials. And by workers, we also mean children, unfortunately.
Human Rights Watch reported about the abuse of child slaves in the Indian silk industry – about 350 000 working children, some as young as 5 years old – boiling cocoons, hauling containers of mulberry leaves, and embroidering saris. These children worked for twelve or more hours a day, six and a half or seven days a week, experiencing physical and verbal abuse. Their wages ranged from nothing at all to about Rs. 400 (7.71€) a month.
That being said, the exploitation of animals in the silk industry is not the only reason to sheer away from silk.
Again, these points have been addressed above, however I will add that this is a very complex topic and comparing wages between developed countries and developing countries is a dangerous game and risks cementing the western world's position and authority in a geopolitical setting that sees countless countries around the world trying to break their cycle of poverty. Employing so many workers is a good thing! Supporting the industry is a great chance to help bring these people out of poverty.
Is silk sustainable?
Not at all. It is actually the single most environmentally-unfriendly fabric despite its ability to biodegrade. Silk is even worse than the 'much-demonized cotton', using more water, and being responsible for more water pollution and more greenhouse gas emissions.
In fact, the Higg Materials Sustainability Index ranks the environmental impact of various fibers (from the production of raw fibers to fabrics) – and silk scores the highest when compared to all other fabrics. This is due to its global warming potential, water usage and pollution as well as the use of fossil fuels. How come?
Silk farms need to be kept at a certain temperature and humidity. But silk is produced in Asian countries with hot climates, so the silk industry uses a huge amount of energy to keep the right temperature and humidity. Steam or hot air is used to dry cocoons after harvesting which means that even more energy is used in the process. The energy could be potentially provided by burning wood of mulberry trees, but it’s most likely provided by a coal-fired plant. So, it seems that silk is not as sustainable as consumers might have heard…
Refer to this previous article on our blog and consider that the main variable that dictates the environmentally friendly nature of silkworm-farming relates to the harvesting of mulberry leaves. With giant strides currently being made in regenerative agriculture, it would be unfair to pigeon-hole an entire industry on the most extreme methods of growing mulberry trees and farming silk. Also, given the highly competitive nature of the silk industry, any silk farm worth their salt in any corner of the globe will be developing biogas and other circular economy solutions from the entire silkworm life cycle and not just harvesting silk.
Is peace silk a better and ethical alternative?
Peace silk is not a better nor ethical alternative. Actually, it is responsible for even more deaths of caterpillars than regular silk production.
Peace silk, also called Ahimsa (which means non-violent) or Eri silk, is commonly offered as a better and ethical alternative because the process of stifling is avoided and therefore, the moths are able to climb out of the cocoons and breed. What is often overlooked and left unquestioned is the fate that awaits the adult moths.
As the farmers allow the moths to mate, the male moths are used again and again until their fertility decreases. Then, they are no longer needed – so, they are just thrown away, left to experience a very slow death. The female moths are crushed and later examined whether they carried any diseases. If so, all their eggs are destroyed too.
The claim that "moths are just thrown away, left to experience a very slow death" is ridiculous, without evidence and goes against Ghandi's born-again Ahimsa principles.
Peace silk might be actually even worse than regular silk
There are several ethical inconsistencies in peace silk production. In short, peace silk causes more animals to die when you consider the whole picture.
Just one female moth lays about 200 to 1000 eggs. In some strains, the eggs require refrigeration, otherwise, the offspring die in about one or two months. After refrigeration, they hatch and need to be fed right away. If not, they quickly die of starvation or dehydration. The final result, however, is the death of 200 to 300 embryos or hatching silkworms per moth – for any amount that exceeds the needs of the next crop.
Of all the claims in this article, this particular one leaves me the most frustrated and angry. I will repeat the line "Actually, it is responsible for even more deaths of caterpillars than regular silk production." Let that sink in. Ridiculous! Again, Polly is generalising and making emotive claims. As is stated time and time again across the Seresilk website and regular comms, Seresilk is part of the larger Australian Silk Group born out of founder Taylor Battistella's first business Everything Silkworms. Seresilk is creating value-added skincare products from the silkworm life cycle which Battistella first started by selling silkworms across the country to schools and retail customers to give them the opportunity to raise silkworms in their own local environment. Not only is it crazy to equate the death of a silkworm egg (that wouldn't hatch without being wintered) to that of a silkworm or any other animal in the world, but Polly is claiming that we do not let our silkworm eggs hatch and thereby "kill our silkworms"... which couldn't be further from the truth!
How come? Well, the vast majority of silkworms raised for Ahimsa silk have several breeds per season. If you take, for instance, 20 000 cocoons, the next generation will result in about 2.5 million cocoons and the next one in about 312 million cocoons. We could continue on and on, but one thing is clear – it is impossible to feed so many silk moths. So, many offspring are left to die from starvation and dehydration. This means that instead of killing one pupa per cocoon (in case of the regular silk production), hundreds of caterpillars are killed.
So, the theory behind peace silk might seem appealing – no wonder that many conscious consumers avoid silk but are comfortable with buying and wearing peace silk – we must admit, the term itself is quite tempting. But the reality of the peace silk industry is not ethical nor peaceful – even though the silkworms are 'set free' from the cocoon, they are still met with a painful death afterward. So, wearing clothes that are ethical towards animals means wearing clothes that are animal-free.
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The article continues but goes on to speak about synthetic alternatives which are not relevant here. We'll leave it to you the readers to be the judges... oh and Polly, please be sure to drop us a line if we've managed to convince you and you're interested in trying our ethical, cruelty-free peace silk skincare!
We will continue to zero-in on the topics explored briefly in this story. Interested in finding out more about silk in skincare? Join the Seresilk mailing list and message email@example.com for any topics you'd like to see covered in future articles.