5 vegan silk alternatives for cruelty-free luxury
Silk is a luxurious fabric that is known for its soft handle and sheer finish. However, it is often criticised by vegans and animal rights activists because of its origins. Silk is generally produced by boiling the cocoons of the silk worm – a process that often harms or kills the worm. There are several synthetic, silk-silk alternatives, but these are typically derived from non-renewable sources and can take centuries to degrade at the end of their use. These biodegradable, plant-based fibres produce interesting, cruelty-free silk-like fabrics that can satisfy textile fanatics and animal lovers alike.
Although banana trees are cultivated for their fruits, the fibre from the leaves has been used in traditional textile production in Japan and Nepal since as early as the 13th century. Bananas grow in 135 countries worldwide, and whilst it makes environmental sense to use the waste generated by the industry to produce fabric, it also can generate a second stream of income for banana producers. Banana fibres can be processed by hand or by machine, and respond well to both natural and synthetic dyes.
Sabra/agave or cactus silk is derived from a subspecies of succulents that require incredibly small quantities of water and grow very well without chemical intervention. Sabra silk is typically produced by hand in Morocco and can be found in the street markets of Fez and Marrakech. Like conventional silk, it has strong affinity with natural dyes. Unlike conventional silk, it is naturally crease-resistant – thus potentially saving energy during the consumer use phase.
Pineapple silk is made in the same way as banana silk – the long fibres from the plant’s leaves are dried, spun and woven into fabric. Again, nothing new needs to be grown for this fabric, because it is a by-product of the fruit industry. In fact, every year around 40,000 tons of pineapple waste is generated each year and so it would be an economical use of resources to make use of some of the waste.
Lotus silk is made by spinning the long roots of the lotus flower. Lotus plants require very little water and flourish without the use of chemical pesticides. It is generally processed completely by hand, and therefore has little to no carbon footprint. At present, the fabric is very rare and therefore rather pricey, but its eco-credentials will no doubt cause it to surge in popularity before too long.
Manmade Spider Silk
Actual spider silk is one of the most durable materials on earth and is still used today in the production of telescopes and bulletproof vests. However it does require around 400 spiders to produce a single yard of silk. Introducing manmade spider silk. This innovative fabric was developed in response to the logistical and moral issues conventional spider silk brings up. It is produced in a lab setting by fermenting yeast, sugar, salts and water and spinning the solution through a spinneret machine. Although this process does require more energy than the previously mentioned silks, it can be produced quickly and on a mass-scale so is perhaps a viable alternative for petroleum-based fabrics.