What is Vegan Silk?

There are so many alternative vegan materials these days. These non-animal products get made into shoes, handbags, and clothing, but where do silk scarves fit into all of this?


Protests to ‘save the silk worms’ are rare, but in a small village in the Assam region of India, it’s a priority as vegan silk production is their livelihood.



There are about 80,000 tonnes of silk produced globally every year and around 60 countries in the world that produce it. Over 1 million workers are employed in the silk sector in China alone. Sericulture, as silk production is known, provides income for 700,000 households in India, and 20,000 weaving families in Thailand (FAO, 2009).


Although many of the vegan readily available products are simply substitutes, vegan silk, or Peace silk as it is also known, is the real product, only harvested differently, in a way that sustains the life of the silkworm.


As children we learn about the cute little caterpillar that surrounds itself in one single long strand of silk to form a cocoon. After sometime inside its temporary home, it eventually breaks free as a beautiful butterfly.

But that’s not how the story ends where commercial silk harvesting is concerned. The normal process starts with the silkworms being fed a diet of mulberry leaves. Once the worms start transforming in their cocoons - a process called pupating - they are collected and usually placed into boiling water; sometimes they may be exposed to hot steam too. This process needs to be precisely timed, to prevent the newly formed butterfly from emerging, breaking the cocoon and flying away free. If the insect burrows its way out of the cocoon, it breaks the long single filament that is needed to feed the spinning reel in silk production. It’s no surprise that the insect inside rarely survives at any stage of this process.


Silk worm cocoons are boiled with the living insect still inside.

The good news is that the vegan or peace silk process is not cruel at all, and the lovely butterfly, well, it’s actually more of a moth, is preserved to then exit the cocoon and fly away to live a life that’s happy and free.


Happy peace silk moth displaying its magnificent wings

Whilst normal silk production effectively boils silkworms alive in their cocoons, Vegan Silk, allows the silkworm to emerge out of the cocoon in the process nature intended, to then breed naturally.



The empty whooly white cocoons are then loosely tied in cotton cloth and boiled for 45 minutes to 1 hour. After boiling, individual cocoons are stretched or opened up in plain water into thin sheets. 3-4 such sheets are joined to make a cake, which is dried and used for spinning in a similar way to wool and woven into the stunning scarves featured in our Textiles Collection.


This different process produces a silk that is less shiny and smooth, but with all the thermal and longevity qualities expected in silk.


The entire process takes an extra 10 days and as a result increases the end cost of the product, but ultimately invests in a much more sustainable means of production for the long term. This is an essential consideration given that silk production is the primary income of almost everybody in the village.



Finders and Makers sources it’s silk scarves from the Assam region, in the north eastern part of India. Here weaving silk is so engrained in the culture, every home has a loom in its verandah. (Learn more about the village here: https://www.findersandmakers.com/blog/so-how-different-is-sourcing-off-the-beaten-track)


We love to share what we learn when sourcing beautiful products at Finders and Makers. The entire village we visited came to greet us. They were all keen to show us the intricate process they follow to produce the beautiful vegan textiles we make available to you (even Queen Elizabeth II has one!).


Until next time,

Carina.


All photos copyright of Finders and Makers

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