What’s wrong with Silk? A Brief Guide to Understanding Ethical Silk

Silk is such a common fabric that people in many cultures have been using for centuries. The shiny fabric may not be as highly priced as it once was, but it is still commonly used in many different types of clothing. Silk garments are recommended for nearly all seasons. In the summer, lightweight and loose-fitting silk clothes are recommended for keeping the skin cool in the warm weather. The material also traps body heat, so it’s recommended to wear as the bottom layer of clothing during winter. The popular fabric is everywhere, but what is all this hullabaloo about silk being “unethical”? Is it unhealthy or shouldn’t you buy the fabric for some reason? Read below to understand what ethics behind buying silk garments:

The Silkworm and the Animal Rights Dilemma

If you don’t already know, silk is made from a little insect known as a silkworm caterpillar. The process of making silk actually kills the worm, so it has been compared to cruel practices like commercial poultry farming. The silkworm caterpillar is first fattened up with fresh mulberry leaves during production. When the caterpillar reaches a certain age, it enters into the cocoon stage. The cocoon the caterpillar weaves around itself is made from solid silk. The thread weavers extract the silk by steaming the cocoon with the insect inside, this killing the animal.

Silk is such as ubiquitous fabric, so every year, millions and millions of silkworms are killed in the process of creating this fabric. Not everyone is thus comfortable about the fabric. Because silk is made from an animal, vegans prefer to stay away from the fabric. Some are concerned about the exploitation of an animal, even a caterpillar, for crass commercial purposes. While there are alternatives such as ethical silk shirts and other garments buyers consider, the killing of the caterpillar makes the fabric a no-no for some consumers.

Labour Exploitation

Another major moral issue associated with silk production is labour exploitation. Silk originated from China, and since then China has been the forefront in producing the fabric and clothing from it. Unfortunately, China in recent decades has not had a stellar record when it comes to ensuring worker’s rights, such as reasonable working hours and fair wages. Some stay away from buying silk because of the chance of allowing these garment sweatshops to profit from exploitative practices.

How to Buy Silk Responsibly

While many legitimate moral concerns have been raised around the production of silk, there are still ways to purchase what’s called “ethical silk.” If you are a vegan, there are silk fabrics made from alternative sources such as silk-cotton tree and milkweed. This silk is not involved in the killing of the caterpillars. For those concerned about labour practises, there are certified ethical silk suppliers that closely monitor the workers who produce silk and sews the clothes.

Silk is still one of the most priced natural fabrics out there. It’s nearly impossible to avoid the material even in the age of synthetic fabrics. You can make sure that your purchase does not contribute towards human, animal, or environmental harm by purchasing only ethical silk.


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Author Monet Eisenhart