Silk fabric is one of the most luxurious materials there is. In its well known form, a smooth and glossy sheen, it is one of the most widely used textile products for high-end and beautiful pieces.
Its existence has lasted generations, and it has been noted to have been harvested as far back as the 2nd century. It has adorned the garments of those from the nobility, or anyone rich enough to afford it. Its use on home decor and furniture pieces are things we still use today.
But now I think the topic of its ethics is slowly becoming more asked by us, and a question we won’t be avoiding in the future. The most common process is the extraction of silk from the silkworm. Its cocoon contains many strands of fine silk threads, which are obtained from the cocoon while the silkworm is between its larvae and adult stages. The result is that they don’t survive, and because the yield is so small, this requires many of these silkworms to suffer the same fate.
This has led to a lot of people being turned off at the processes, and look for more ethical alternatives. But do they exist?
This alternative has been the most utilized alternative for real silk, and it has been on the high street forever.
Polyester ‘silk’ is affordable, because it is made of plastic which is so easy to obtain. On the high street, satin slip dresses have been an on and off trend for years now. And its no surprise when it’s price tag is considerably less than the more expensive genuine silk. The same goes for satin camisole tops or midi skirts.
But there are a lot of issues with producing more of this type of ‘silk’. Although it may look as good as silk, it is made of plastic. This needs to be taken into consideration as it will have a harmful impact on the environment if it’s not recycled or reused once it is unwanted.
It can also feel a lot less luxe in comparison to real silk. If cheaply made, it can feel rough to the touch, and gives off a cheap and plastic-y feel. Not everyone will be a fan of such properties.
It has brilliant anti-wrinkling properties and compared with real silk, is much easier to care for. But with something that it is easy to come by, it is just as easy for it to be let go of. Easy come, easy go.
Viscose is a very good alternative for the real thing as well. It is soft, can produce a beautiful, smooth sheen just like some forms of the real thing, and is made of all natural materials. As a very versatile textile, viscose can be formed into all kinds of textures, whether it be a solid matte finish, or a smooth and even shiny appearance.
This is why viscose is also one of the top picks for a silk alternative. It’s ability to imitate the material makes it a perfectly viable option. Different types of viscose, which come from a variation of different plants, are taken, turned into a viscous thick liquid, are spun into threads to make the plant version of this satin delight. It’s affordability makes it so that everyone can access such good quality, and best of all its pretty eco friendly, meaning that if it is no longer usable, then its biodegradability makes it a top pick for the environment.
Now like myself, you might still be a big fan of the original stuff itself. I love my silk garments, and I know that I wouldn’t have been able to get them without thrifting it.
One of my thrifted silk pieces is actually a particular favorite of mine. Not too long ago, I purchased a very lovely short silk camisole dress from a thrift store. It’s a beautiful silky grey color, with black lace along its v-neck line and is just so luxurious. So checked the label, and it was 100% silk, and I bought it.
It was from a brand called Myla, which, when I looked it up, turned out to be a luxury London based lingerie brand. I had a snoop at some of the prices and guess what? Yes, some of their little camisoles cost up to £600 each! I was absolutely amazed, because when I bought this one, it only cost me £4!
So pre used silk doesn’t have to cost a fortune, you can sometimes find it second hand. And we all know giving clothes a second chance is a great way to reduce our waste.
New and Alternative creations
As always, there are very smart people in the world trying to find better and better ways to respond to and deal with the cries from Mother Nature. There are so many problems that the best thing to do is go one step at a time.
So the first thing that has been trialed, tested and works to some degree is spider silk, from spiders of course. This has been seen and you’ve probably heard a bit about it already. Yes, they use the kind of silk that spiders use to spin their webs with. One strand can be very strong on its own, and the possibilities for its use are endless.
The issue here is that obtaining enough silk from spiders to create something substantial is immensely time consuming. A few hundred thousand or even up to a million silk spiders alone are needed in some cases in order to create the kid of material that could make the equivalent of even 1 garment. But that really isn’t enough.
In addition to this, the method of getting this many spiders in order to extract fine silk threads is not very easy either. Spiders, especially when confined together in one living space, are not well suited to this environment. With a few in the same area, the chances of them being hostile, and definitely vicious is high, and they are likely to eat each other. This does not make the process any less hard.
So other lab versions have also been in the making. In an attempt to imitate the way that spiders spin silk, a few experiments have been carried out across the globe to create a synthetic version it. These experiments including taking E coli, which is a type of bacterium, and engineering it to produce silk. Not only was there some success in doing this, but what this means for the future is fantastic. Imagine being able to create silk, as cruelty-free as possible, and in a way that can do a lot less harm to our world.
Even though there are some methods that appear to take us one step back in the world, I think that in the future, we can be seeing some bright new ways of making those fabrics that might be somewhat problematic into easier and more viable ethical options.