I used to have silk clothing items, and here’s what I pictured happening:
Somewhere in the countryside, cute little silkworms were spinning shimmering silk strands in a green, dew-kissed forest. Occasionally people would visit, collect the unused strands, and give the worms a thankful pat on their little worm heads.
(Okay, maybe I didn’t really believe it was that much of a Disney-esque caricature, but I certainly didn’t think that the silkworms were being severely harmed.)
Surprise, surprise: my assumption was incorrect.
First of all, silkworms aren’t really “worms” in the sense that earthworms are. They are the caterpillar stage of the silk moth, and the material that we harvest to make silk is actually the cocoon that these caterpillars build to protect themselves as they make the transition from caterpillar to moth. As any child can attest who has eagerly waited for a butterfly to emerge from its cocoon, this process is a beautiful and fascinating component of our natural world.
However, the caterpillars that are being used for silk production never have the opportunity to live out their mothy destinies.
The most common way that the silk is ‘harvested’ is by boiling all these caterpillars alive inside their cocoons. About fifteen caterpillars have to be killed to create a single gram of silk thread.
What the heck?! Are there any ways to make silk that aren’t horrible?
There’s a teeny portion of the silk market that uses a different type of caterpillar, which doesn’t have to be killed in order to retrieve the silk.
These caterpillars build their cocoons differently, leave the cocoon materials behind after their metamorphosis, and it’s these discarded cocoon scraps that are used to make the silk — rather than harming the caterpillar while it’s still inside the cocoon.
However, this method of making silk is much more time-consuming, expensive, and so rare that I’ve never personally seen this type of silk for sale anywhere. If you’ve ever seen an item of silk clothing in a store, it’s 99.999% likely that it wasn’t made with this painstakingly prepared no-kill silk, but rather the boiled-alive kind of silk.
So for most vegans, it’s much easier and more cost-effective to simply avoid silk altogether, rather than trying to track down some of this rare and expensive no-kill silk.