By Inara Hasanali
Sustainable living, is a set of words that are bandied about fashionably by many today. However, sustainable living doesn’t necessarily mean that we need to completely drop everything we are doing in our lives and change everything; sustainable living can mean changes at several levels, from taking small steps for improving our day-to-day lives to larger steps to make our planet Earth greener, more eco-friendly and a place where future generations may survive with lesser threats to their living.
With the growth and development of our species, human beings have adopted many natural fabrics. Some, like silk, have been relegated almost solely to the reaches of the wealthy. Silk, still considered a luxury for special occasions in India, is extracted through a process that destroys the silk worm. It is indeed difficult to reconcile one’s mind with what happens to the tiny little silkworm, the small creature that gives us this beautiful fabric, in most silk manufacturing enterprises. Basically, in sericulture, silk worms of the species Bombyx mori are cultivated, and then subsequently killed before they can exit from the cocoon. The killing of the worm enables manufacturers to obtain a single, long, unbroken thread of silk.
In contrast to this process, wild silk or silk obtained from silk worms in the wild, is extracted from the cocoon after the silk moth has broken the cocoon and flown away. Since the cocoon is broken, it is not possible to obtain a long, unbroken thread of silk from each cocoon. Since Gandhi was vehemently outspoken against the practice of sericulture where the silk worms are killed, wild silk is also called as Ahimsa silk, as a nod to Gandhiji. Muga, Tasar and Eri are three of the more commonly known wild silks in India.
In addition to these silk varieties that are obtained in the wild without cultivation or the subsequent killing of silk worms, there are established organisations that promote the practice of obtaining silk without killing silk worms. One such organisation is Ahimsa Silks. This organisation entered the Indian market in 2001, and they claim to be non-violent and eco-friendly in their processes. For example, they purportedly do not allow child labour or discrimination in their work processes. Their method of silk extraction is patented, and produces a silk that makes up for what it lacks in lustre, in softness and the joy of knowing that hundreds and thousands of silk worms did not have to die for you to look good at a formal function.
Several garments for men including dhotis, and saris and stoles for women are available in a fairly wide range of colours. Plain silk fabric is also available.
Natural dyes and minerals are used to colour the fabric adding to its eco-friendly value. Roots, plants, leaves and barks have natural colouring material. Some minerals, flowers and even fruits add colour. However, the effect of such natural products may not be as bright and shiny as artificial colours, which are mainly obtained from coal tar dyes that are long lasting and remain unchanged through long periods of time.
Despite some shortcomings, Ahimsa Silks may be worth your money – if you are looking at not killing countless silk worms.
Website: Ahimsa Silks
Disclaimer: GreenCrumbs is publishing this article as a public awareness initiative. In no way do we condone or oppose the established norm of cultivating silk. Since the silk worms that are killed in the process of sericulture are cultivated specifically for sericulture, killing these silk worms to extract silk would appear akin to killing birds in a poultry farm or other animals on a farm for their meat, or even harvesting vegetables and crops from a field. These are a few ways in which living beings are killed to add something to our lives – be it food or clothing. Yet, we cannot stand with the industry and completely condone the process of silk extraction because the scale to which this industry has grown is mind-boggling, and it would definitely help the environment if we look towards alternate methods and means of extracting silk, such as the wild silks mentioned in this article.