Nearly 20 years ago, when I felt compelled to go vegan, I soon learned that not only did being vegan influence the food I ate, but also the fabrics I wore—silk being one of them. The interesting thing is that when I looked in my closet to see how many silk garments I owned, I actually didn’t have anything. I had found silk to require special maintenance and with 6 cats in my house, it wasn’t particularly practical!
That said, there is a much more pressing reason that I do not wear silk and that’s first of all, the horrors the silk worms endure as well as the dreadful environmental impact and many silk processing plants, particularly in India, have minimal health and safety protections for the workers. In case you’re wondering, I also have no clothing (other than a couple of scarves) that is made from synthetic silk (which is not great for the environment either).
But the entire world of ‘silk’ is changing in ways we could never imagine and I want to share what’s happening out there for next-gen fabrics. It’s a whole new world that is both sustainable, beautiful and animal-friendly.
Let me introduce you to the Materials Innovation Initiative. I met Nicole Rawling, the Co-founder and Chief Executive Officer, several years ago and am regularly impressed by what she has created and, as a result, what is happening in the world of next gen materials. You can read their recent article about ‘What Makes Silk, Silk.” here: https://materialinnovation.org/reports/what-makes-silk-silk-revisited-2023/
I have outlined 3 key points and statistics here, but you’ll definitely want to read more about what innovations are happening as a result of these statistics:
- Animal-based silk has the highest environmental footprint across nearly all reported categories compared to cotton, nylon, or wool since it is extremely energy- and water-intensive.
- Around 1 trillion silk worms are boiled alive every year to create silk. “Ahimsa silk” which allows the worms to escape the cocoon before using the silk is not much better as a large percentage of moths are killed very soon after emerging.
- Microplastics shed by synthetic silk alternatives damage ecosystems and harm trillions of animals by reducing their food intake, delaying their growth, altering their behaviors, decreasing their reproductive capabilities, causing inflammation and oxidative damage, poisoning them with toxins, and leading to premature death. Microplastics cause the most damage to ecosystems through harming keystone species—including species of zooplankton, crabs, and coral—all of whom serve critical functions for supporting entire ecosystems.
Knowing all that, what’s next? It’s SO exciting and almost mind-boggling. For instance, have you heard of spider silk? It’s so cool! As Nicole shared with me, “They do not use real spiders to harvest the silk. They are recreating the properties of spider silk through technologies like precision fermentation. The general concept is called biomimicry in which scientists identify properties in nature which they want to recreate and then use various technologies to recreate them.”
That’s not all! Regenerative bamboo is another plant that has proven its versatility and definitely earned its keep! When treated with non-toxic chemicals, this versatile fiber is soft, makes superfine yarns, colors easily, and has natural performance properties. Next-gen silk can come from unlikely places – including bamboo, wood pulp and cellulosics as well as recycled used cotton and used cellulose-rich fibers. This means that updated recycling processes can yield silk-like filament fibers, saving discarded apparel and textiles from landfills and incinerators.
It’s fascinating to read these advances in this beautifully created report. If you are intrigued by where the world is headed when it comes to clothing and fabrics, this is a must-read! https://materialinnovation.org/reports/what-makes-silk-silk-revisited-2023/