Veganism is a lifestyle that is centered around the avoidance of using animals, exploiting animals, and eating animals. This does affect aspects of life such as recreation and clothing choices. Vegans will not wear wool, fur, leather, feathers, and silk in most cases. Let’s look at what puts silk in particular off-limits.
How is silk made commercially?
Modern methods of silk production involve farm-raised silkworms. These worms have been domesticated overtime to produce as much silk as possible. The type of worms used most often is called Bombyx mori.
The worms are fed and cared for until they spin cocoons by excreting liquid silk from glands located on their heads. Then, they are boiled alive so they can be extracted from the valuable silk after they die.
One gram worth of silk is equivalent to roughly 15 silkworms’ cocoons, and a single silken sari may cause the death of 10,000 worms. Sometimes, the silkworms are killed before they cocoon to have the silk glands extracted and spun into a material called “silkworm gut”.
If the worms were left to their natural life cycles, they would become silk moths, and they would chew their way out of the cocoons. The chewed threads are shorter and worthless in the industry, which makes it seem prudent financially to stop them before they damage the silk by chewing it.
Ethics of using insects
While people may readily admit they understand other mammals do feel pain, the line gets a bit blurred as we work our way to insects. It’s a fact that insects will react to stimuli, but people do not know if they are in what we would classify as pain or it’s simple impulses.
In the vegan perspective, using the animals at all would be unethical. Whether they feel “pain” at death, they are bred to the point of deformity, kept captive, and they have their lives ended to make silk.
Alternative methods to get silk
There are other methods of producing silk commercially that are less harmful to silkworms. These methods include:
1. Eri Silk: Eri silk is made using the cocoons of a silkworm species called Samia ricini that leaves an opening in the top of their cocoon and crawls out of it when they are done. Their silk needs to be carded and spun ,similarly to wool.
2. Ahimsa Silk This silk uses the Bombyx mori worm, but lets the worms live and chew their way out of the cocoons. It costs more because it leaves less usable silk for textile making.
Can vegans wear silk?
There are a few ways vegans could wear silk and respect their ethical stance:
1. Wear silk from wild silkworms that have shed their cocoons
2.Wear silk they were given secondhand
3. Wear silk they had before becoming vegan.
The main reason most vegans eschew animal products is to avoid animal suffering and exploitation to the fullest extent possible. This means they make life choices through that lens.