Silk Series: Peace Silk

ahimsa silk

“Piccadilly” silk from Ahimsa Peace Silk

It takes around 3,000 silkworm cocoons to produce one pound of silk fabric, which translates to death for millions upon millions of silkworms each year. Or does it? There is a mini-industry of “peace silk,” also known as “vegetarian silk,” which claims to allow the silkworm to live its full life cycle.

In traditional silk production, cocoons are boiled or steamed to kill the worm inside and loosen the filament. If the moth is allowed to emerge from the cocoon, the filament is broken and can no longer be reeled as one continuous strand. However, broken filaments can still be carded, combed, and spun into yarn, just like cotton or wool. This is the process used by “peace silk” manufacturers and retailers like Ahimsa Silk and Aurora Silk.

However, my new friend Michael Cook of wormspit.com questions the peacefulness of peace silk. He writes that when the all of the number of silk moths required to produce textiles are allowed to hatch, the resulting population is not sustainable, and millions of eggs and newly hatched caterpillars die from a combination of dessication and starvation. He suggests looking beyond the marketing terms like “wildcrafted” which may simply be putting a feel-good spin on traditionally farmed silk.

What do you think? Here, let’s try a poll …

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10 Comments

  1. Jick says:

    Knowing how “peace” silk works does not seem to bother some … yet the practices of obtaining standard silk do. Isn’t this just a major contradiction? Doesn’t the fact that people are purposefully exploiting tags liks “peace” and “vegan” make any difference whatsoever?

    When researching this topic in the past, I found some websites selling “vegan” silk where they blatantly explain that the worms are allowed to emerge from the cocoons … before they crush them to death. At least they weren’t being totally deceptive.

  2. Jick says:

    I should probably also mention that I personally don’t find using silk an awful thing. However, I do think it is important for people to know what they are buying in either situation.

    Luckily I can sidestep most of this guilt since I don’t particularly care for the look of most silk. :P

  3. Caitlin says:

    Thanks for posting this!

    I think a lot of people aren’t even aware of peace silk — they imagine that silk is a natural fabric, and don’t realize that the worms are killed in order to produce a continuous thread.

    I read somewhere that even if the silkworm is allowed to emerge from its cocoon and continue its life, it only lives for a very short time afterward, in order to reproduce. One could argue that it’s not worth doubling the cost of the fiber in order to save a worm for a few hours or days … so I think it depends on one’s ethical outlook in general on the use of animal products for human consumption.

    I don’t actually think there’s a right answer … but I do think that awareness of the difference between regular silk and peace silk is an important step in the right direction. It’s part of the bigger picture of being aware of where the fabrics we wear come from, and how consumers play a role in the textile industry.

  4. Dan says:

    I love silk and won’t give up using it. I try and be as ethical as I can with all my consuming but the ‘peace’ and ‘vegan’ silks seem to be more about jumping on a bandwagon than an actual feasible solution – you either kill them as soon as they emerge, or let them emerge, live and possibly end up with an uncontrollable population. And the fabrics on Ahmisa Peace Silks were so not my taste. I don’t feel there is a ‘good’ solution to the problem, so I will be thankful for the lives given in the creation of beautifil textiles and leave it at that.

  5. Rachel says:

    Sorry! I’m not selfish enough to buy something which I don’t need if it brings harm upon another living being. It just seems wasteful. That said, I realize that the silk industry allows many people to live, to feed their children…I don’t think that is unimportant.

  6. Angie says:

    Any fiber will result in the death of beings. Wether the fabric is natural or synthetic, organic or uses chemicals heavly in production. Land is tilled roads are paved and traveled upon. Organics pits organism against organism, chemical agriculture just kills everything. Fabrics that are petro chemical based polute the environment and are the root of civil conflict and war. If death of other beings concern you, I would suggest a well informed choice, over unquestioned beliefs. It’s not a agrument of wether you’ll kill another being it’s who, and how many, and what the world might be like because of your choice.

  7. Sheila says:

    Thanks for posting this article and the interesting comments. I think everyone has made valid points. The life of the moth is very short and the production numbers are not natural nor naturally sustainable. I agree with Angie that all production impacts the earth and the best thing is to use less.

    I like your blog and am going to post a link to this article on my blog.

  8. Tabitha says:

    I agree with Dan about peacesilk users being more about jumping on a bandwagon than an actual feasible solution. There are no conflict free diamonds, there’s no peaceful silk. They are just comforting titles to make consumers feel better about our indulgences. And it’s fun to say “It’s PeaceSilk!” and everyone goes “Oooo!” without any follow up questions. Haha.
    I myself, do my best to avoid superfluous purchases. Research prior to consuming is our greatest weapon!

  9. Magda says:

    Thanks for the lively discussion! There are some fantastic comment here-glad to see people paying attention to this!

  10. Matriarch says:

    All life is competitive with other life. Nothing lives, not even grass-eaters, without causing the death of many other organisms. I believe our duty as thinking creatures is to live without waste as much as possible. I wear silk. But I don’t buy a dozen silk shirts. I own five, purchased over a period of years and still worn many years later. I eat meat. I don’t put raw steaks in my refrigerator and leave them to rot so I can throw them away. Live frugally and respectfully. Our grandmothers had it right: Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.