Do Silkworms Feel Pain? The Reason Why Vegans Don’t Wear Silk
June 19, 2019
Silk is made by silkworms, but how it is actually harvested? Why don’t vegans wear silk? Let’s find out!
Do silkworms feel pain? The sentience of silkworms and other insects hasn’t been proven by science yet. Silkworms have nerves that are very different from a mammal’s central nervous system. Even though we’re not sure about their ability to feel pain, vegans refuse to buy silk because the worms die when silk is harvested.
Silk is harvested in many different ways but the worms are killed almost all the time. However, thanks to some amazing vegan brands, vegan silk is on the rise and hopefully going to replace traditional silk completely very soon.
Why Vegans Don’t Wear Silk?
Silk is a material that silkworms produce as their cocoons. At the age of 35 days, the worms spin egg-shaped cocoons to stay there until they transform into moths. Each worm makes 1000 yards (915 meters) of silk in only 3 days.
The transformation of the silkworms takes 16 days, but sadly, they don’t get to live this long. The cocoons are harvested before the 16 days is over because when the months leave the cocoon they release a liquid that would damage a small part of the silk. The cocoons are put into boiling water and within them, the silkworms are boiled alive.
Again, we’re not sure yet whether or not silkworms are able to feel pain, but if they do, boiling them alive is probably the best kind of torture we could think of.
But even if they aren’t capable of feeling pain, they probably, like every living being on this planet, value their lives and don’t want to die.
It costs the lives of 1500 silkworms to make only one silk blouse (source). I don’t know about you, but I’m the kind of person doesn’t kill a spider but gently put them out the window. How could I ever think that it’s okay to kill 1500 worms so that I could have a blouse? Life, no matter how small, is always more valuable than things!
What if we just don’t kill them and let them leave their cocoons?
Unfortunately, it isn’t an option anymore! Silk farms have bred so many generations of silkworms already that they aren’t capable of surviving anymore in their moth forms. The moths are blind, can’t fly or eat. They can only lay some eggs and then they die.
So no matter if we let those poor little worms live or not, they are going to die anyway. If we boycott silk farming, we could let wild silkworms to repopulate in these areas and live their lives peacefully as they’re supposed to.
You don’t have to give up on wearing silk though! Silk is a beautiful material, and it has many ethical, vegan alternatives that you can wear without guilt.
You can buy silk clothes second-hand. I know there are vegans who don’t wear second-hand leather, wool, or silk, but I do. I think it’s a great way to reduce clothing waste which is a huge problem. So if I want to buy something, I always check if I can find it in the thrift store.
In the case of second-hand silk, you are still wearing the same material that the silkworms were boiled alive for. However, you’re not paying directly for the production of the silk item, so you’re not creating demand for more silk on the market.
It is also a great way to cut your budget a little while still buying something of good quality.
Buying silk that is recycled takes you one step further from the original silk fabric which is still a vegan gray zone, but it’s really up to you!
Silk fabric can be broken down and recycled into usually a lower quality silk.
Clothing made from upcycled silk is also a great alternative! In comparison to recycling, upcycling doesn’t break down the material but repurposes the fabric to create something different than the original item.
It’s called peace silk when they let the silkworms transform into moths and leave their cocoons. Then workers collect the silk they’ve left behind and turn it into fabric.
As I mentioned earlier this method has some issues of quality because the animals eject a liquid to help them get out of the cocoon which damages parts of the silk.
Peace silk is also difficult to produce in big quantities since these silkworms are not farmed. We don’t manipulate the population so we can’t manipulate the quantity of the material either.
Art silk or artificial silk is a synthetic material that is similar to silk. Usually, it’s used as a synonym for rayon. It is also called bamboo silk when made from bamboo viscose.
Art silk is much cheaper to produce and it doesn’t use materials that come from animals so it’s also vegan.
Orange Fiber is an Italian company that creates silk-like fabric using citrus juice byproducts. They break them down into citrus cellulose which is then used to make a sustainable fabric called orange silk.
Orange silk is one of the first plant-based silk alternatives, but it’s already getting popular as even the fast fashion giant, H&M is starting to use it in its Conscious Collection.
There’s still room for innovation in this field, but I’m sure will see more and more new materials as the demand for sustainable, vegan fashion increases.
Similarly to lab-grown meat, researchers are working on finding alternatives to clothing materials as well.
Bolt Threads, for example, recreates a material that is very similar to the silk produced by spiders.
They studied the silk of spiders to find out what makes them so incredibly strong and soft. Then they use bioengineering to recreate these proteins they’ve found and produce them in large quantities using only yeast, sugar and water!
Should You Buy Silk?
After seeing all the simple solutions for avoiding bung silk and all these amazing innovations that’ll lead to the future of silk, I think we can agree that traditional silk production is unnecessarily cruel, outdated, and unsustainable.
Silk is not a material we can’t live without, but when we do need to buy it, there are a lot of ethical sources that don’t require the death of thousands of innocent animals.
What clothing do vegans wear? Vegans don’t wear clothes that come from animals: fur, leather, wool, silk, etc. They replace leather shoes and bags with PU (synthetic) leather or plant-based leather. However, some vegans wear leather that is second-hand.
Can vegans wear alpaca wool? Alpaca that is raised for wool is usually better cared for than sheep. Even so, alpacas are still exploited for their wool, therefore vegans don’t wear alpaca wool.
Written by Csilla Herbszt, a sustainably stylish fashion blogger living her vegan life in Switzerland. You should follow her on Instagram!