Wearing silk can be a tricky decision for eco-fashionistas. On the one hand, silk is a naturally beautiful fiber that can support at-risk women and villages, when produced fairly. And silk is biodegradable, when produced naturally.
On the other hand, most silk today is produced “efficiently” to maximize profits, which can negate most of its inherently beautiful qualities. Here are a few simple things that can help you make choices that feel better.
Look for the Fair Trade label
Did you know it can take more than 1,500 cocoons to produce a single silk dress? Processing all those cocoons is extremely labor intensive. And while silk is expensive compared to most fabrics, the workers are rarely the ones who benefit. The easiest way to ensure the silk you buy supports safe working conditions, pays fair wages, and does not exploit slave or child labor, is to look for the Fair Trade logo on the label.
While the Fair Trade logo is the easiest way to ensure fair practices, it is not the only way. Fair Trade certification can be cost prohibitive for independent designers, producers and retailers, yet this is where you are most likely to find silk that has been produced fairly. These designers will market their fair practices on their labels and website. And because they are typically small businesses, you often have the opportunity ask about their fabrics and practices directly.
Choose Peace Silk
In conventional silk production, silkworm caterpillars are boiled alive during metamorphosis. This ensures they cannot break the cocoon’s silk thread once they are ready to emerge as a moth. Silkworms do feel pain and many animal-lovers eschew silk for this reason.
Opting for fabrics made from peace silk (also referred to as Ahisma silk) ensures the cocoons are harvested after the moth has emerged unharmed. Peace silk is therefore considered a more humane option.
Those who seek a completely vegan alternative may favor Tencel, rayon, nylon, or polyester. It is worth noting that most synthetic fabrics are made from chemicals and petroleum, which come with their own set of social and environmental issues.
Opt for raw and untreated silk
Most commercial silk is processed with metallic salts, bleaches and synthetic dyes to make the silk look and feel more desirable. Flame retardants and other chemicals may be added to improve silk’s resistance to burns, wrinkles, static, and water stains.
The good news is that wedding dresses, ties, scarves and other textiles can be made from raw silk, which is not chemically processed or treated with heavy metals. You can also avoid labels that boast things like “wrinkle-free” and “stain resistant”, while opting for labels that market qualities such as “100% naturally dyed”, “undyed”, or “unbleached”.
These products are not only healthier for the wearer, but also for the environment and the workers.