The first time I got to own and wear a silk dress was on my tenth birthday. Long before then, my mum used to tell me how beautiful the silk dress was. She called it the ‘queen of fabrics’ and the ‘fabric for queens’. So, on that special day of mine, I actually did feel like a queen. My joy lasted far beyond the colourful celebration because even at madrasah, I was told that silk was the garment for the people of Jannah. And so it was that my love for silk continued to grow beyond bounds.
My great love for the silk fabric was not to last long, however. I visited my beautiful friend Nabeelah on a cold weekend, wearing a beautiful silk dress under a long cardigan. As soon as I got into her room, I pulled off the pullover and WOW! Her eyes were all over the dress. I smiled secretly, thinking that she really loved what I was wearing. I was wrong. It turned out that my lovely fabric was a taboo in their little haven called home. Her parents were vegans and the silk fabric to them was the fabric of cruelty.
I felt uneasy and sad at the fact that there were two sides to silk’s coin. I wanted to know more. My friend had told me that the fabric was a product of cruelty, but how was I to know? My thirst for knowledge led me to ask my home economics teacher in school why the silk fabric was a product of cruelty. There and then, she quenched my thirst, explaining to me the whole process of its making and telling me how cruel it is to both the silk worms and to humans. According to Aria Melton, the silk fabric comes from the bombyx mori caterpillar or silkworm. This caterpillar does not exist naturally in the wild. Humans have domesticated it for so many centuries that it cannot survive on its own and requires constant human care. Most silk on the market is reeled or made by unwinding the caterpillar’s chrysalis (cocoon). In order to keep a caterpillar from developing into a moth, producers steam, boil or expose the chrysalis to dry heat, killing the caterpillar inside. Some other producers do allow some caterpillars to develop into moths for breeding purposes, but due to the severity of their inbreeding, bombyx mori moths are blind, cannot fly and cannot eat. All they can do is mate and then starve to death. This confirms the extreme cruelty meted out to these wonderful creatures of Allah (SWT) which we are supposed to preserve. Its cruelty to humans stem out of the fact that workers in non–Western silk-making industries are exploited with long hours, dangerous working conditions and extremely low wages.
Naturally, I became inclined to stop wearing silk as the ugly image of the torture inflicted on the beautiful creatures of Allah (SWT) continued to sicken me. But as time went by and I grew older, it became a dilemma for me, more so because I learnt that silk fabric is one of the most eco-friendly fabrics as it is not made via a chemical-based synthetic process. This was a contrast to what I already knew about the fabric. I continued to think, “What is eco–friendly about a fabric that metes out so much torture to some living creatures of Allah (SWT)? Isn’t eco–living supposed to be about protecting and preserving Allah’s creatures?” And most of all, this fabric of all fabrics has been specifically chosen for the people of Jannah. Yet, deep inside me was a remnant of my past love for silk that made me want to dig deeper to solve my puzzles. There and then, on my road to discovery, I came across two eco–friendly silk fabrics: vegan silk and wild silk.
Vegan silk (also called peace silk) is made from the worm casings gathered only after the moths have emerged and moved on, thus allowing all the moths to hatch and making the fabric slubby, warmer and softer. In the same vein, wild silk is produced from the empty cocoons of silk worms after the caterpillars have lived an entirely natural life free from interference. These two cruelty-free types of silk are for every silk-loving sister who does not want to compromise her eco–love for any luxury.
Knowing that I could start shopping for silk after so many years of avoidance was more liberating than I could ever have imagined. The good news is that my vegan family friends can now cross the silk fabric off their taboo list. So, let me tell you this – if you choose to buy silk, choose wild silk or vegan silk (it’s always clearly labelled, so accept no substitutes), especially the ones made from either Eri or Tassar moths. If you are not convinced enough, you may care to know the following facts about conventional silk:
• The durability myth about conventional silk being the strongest natural fibre is only true when the processing is minimal and the fabric is fairly heavy in weight.
• Conventional silk fibre is covered with a sticky substance called sericin. Manufacturers remove this in an alkaline bath to give the fabric a better drape and prepare it for dyeing. This process is called “degumming” and it removes up to 20% of the silk’s weight.
• Unlike most other fabrics that retailers sell by the yard, raw conventional silk is sold to wholesalers by weight. Therefore, the weight lost through degumming is added back with metallic salts that are easily absorbed by silk. This increases costs, puts undesirable metals against our bodies and makes the finished goods much less durable and more sensitive to perspiration, tears, scratches and pulls.
• Cultivated conventional silk is often dyed with toxic acid or dye containing heavy metals.
So, wouldn’t you rather make a better green choice? Considering these facts, you should also try looking for silk that has been dyed naturally and made as close to home as possible. Another option is to buy silk secondhand, so that you do not increase the demand for “new” silk. If you still have your doubts concerning the silk fabric, you may like to consider some plant-derived fibres which offer a similar look and feel to silk. Ingeo, made from corn, and Tencel, made from wood pulp, both resemble silk. Some types of cotton fabric mimic the lustre and weight of silk as well. The bottom line when shopping for environmentally friendly silk is to do your homework or shop at a reputable eco-friendly goods store or online supplier who will weigh the facts for you in advance.
In the end, we all have the right to feel like queens and imitate the people of Jannah of which, inshaAllah, we will all soon become in our eco–friendly silk fabrics.
Wardah Abbas is a graduate of law from the University of Ilorin, Ilorin, Nigeria. She is a passionate eco-Muslimah and a budding writer who believes in intellectualism as a prerequisite to change. You can read more of her writings on http://therosespen.wordpress.com.