Is silk a sustainable fabric ?

  1. History of silk
  2. How is silk produced
  3. Animal friendly silk
  4. Alternatives to silk
  5. How to take care of silk
  6. What to consider before buying a silk item


When we think about silk, we think of a luxurious fabric, of high-end clothing items, and of its delicate, soft texture that no other fabric has. Not only is silk timelessly elegant, but it also has flame retardant and antibacterial properties. But let’s dig a little deeper than that. What are the other factors that make silk so desired?


Silk is a natural protein fiber produced by the mulberry silkworm, which is used for textile manufacturing. Silk fiber has a triangular prism-like structure that allows silk cloth to refract the light at different angles, producing different colors.


History of silk


The legend of Silk has it that the process for making silk cloth was invented by the Yellow Emperor’s wife, Leizu, around 2696 BC. 


The idea came to Leizu while she was having tea in the imperial gardens. More precisely, a cocoon fell into her tea and unraveled. She then noticed that the cocoon was actually made of a long thread that was both strong and soft. 

Leizu discovered how to combine the silk fibers into a thread and invented the silk loom that blended the threads into a soft cloth.


Silk was also used for other purposes than clothing, such as paper, fishing lines, bowstrings, and canvas for painting. Around the 13th century, Italy became one of the major producers of silk (some of the finest silk in the world is made in Italy today).


The European silk industry started to descend in 1845 with the first silkworm diseases, which increased the price of silkworm cocoons. Due to the crisis in Europe, Japan became the world’s greatest producer of silk, which lasted until World War Two. Today, the People’s Republic of China is the world’s largest silk producer.


During the time, silk was seen as a luxury item and became very popular among high society. There were even laws made to regulate and limit use of silk to the members of the imperial family. That rule stayed in power for over millennia. Until the Qing dynasty (1644-1911), peasants weren’t allowed to wear silk clothing at all. 


How can silk be produced


There are several ways of producing silk, more or less animal friendly, but we’ll identify each of them, so you can check how every item you’re interested in is made. Properly done, silk manufacturing can be a harmonious and low waste process. 


A moth lays 500 or so eggs and then dies. Baby worms hatch from the eggs and eat mulberry leaves for one month, until they are fat. The worms spin cocoons, which are steamed to kill the growing moth inside and then are rinsed in hot water to loosen the threads. Workers unwind the cocoons and then blend about six fibers into silk threads. The threads are woven into cloth, which is then pounded to make it softer.


Animal Friendly Silk: Peace Silk and Wild Silk


Peace silk (Ahimsa silk) is manufactured without killing the silkworms. However, the Bombyx mori moth has been cultivated and bred by humans for thousands of years, and so they aren’t able to survive long once they emerge from their cocoons. The moths can’t see or fly, which makes them very vulnerable to predators. 


Wild silk (Tussar or Tussah silk) is made from cocoons found in open forests, where several species of wild moths live. The cocoons can be harvested after the moth has hatched and flown away, or harvested with the larvae still inside. This silk has shorter fibers, a golden color and it is valued for its warm base tones.

Note that some companies also use ‘wild silkworms’, which means that the worms live in an environment that imitates their natural habitat – essentially they are free range. Wild silkworms produce more durable fabric, and the producers use fewer chemicals.

Tussah silk is more robust than mulberry silk and, by nature, has a slightly brownish colour. The thicker and shorter thread is more uneven and less fine, due to its natural coloring and heavy basting. Honan and shantung are some of the fabrics made from this wild silk. 

The cocoon is damaged in this process and the thread is therefore no longer intact in many places. This in turn causes knots when weaving the threads, which lead to the typical irregular structure. The threads are also only partially subjected to the time-consuming process of degumming, thus the fabric feels somewhat harsher.

Unatura uses predominantly wild silk! 

Please check here our wild silk items:



Alternatives to silk: Micro Silk


Because it is made from an animal product, silk is not vegan. As an alternative, silk-like threads can be made from several plant sources.

Stems of the lotus flower can be made into luxurious, silk-like fabric. Making a textile from lotus stems is an ancient practice, but it takes a huge volume of the stems to make a small length of the fabric. Another alternative is piña, a traditional Philippine fabric made from the leaves of pineapples. Piña has a silk-like texture and is lightweight, translucent, and stiff.


New technologies also help create new and better alternatives to silk. Bolt Threads launched its first commercial spider silk. But the company does not use spiders in the process. In fact, the thread is made from yeast, water, and sugar. The raw silk is produced through fermentation, much like brewing beer, except instead of the yeast turning the sugar into alcohol, they turn it into the raw stuff of spider silk. This innovative material is both strong and flexible and could be used in everything from bulletproof vests and biodegradable water bottles to shoes and flexible bridge suspension ropes.


Silk care


We are happy to inform you that all the silk items from Unatura can be washed in the washing machine, without the risk of damaging the fabric. But for that, please make sure you follow our next instructions. 

  • In order to protect the shimmer of the natural silk, please only use special detergent, designed for silk or wool. 
  • Simply set your washing machine to a temperature no higher than 30 degrees C and wash with a gentle, silk detergent. 


*If you, by mistake, wash your item with normal detergent, it will not tear or break, but will lose its natural shimmer. You can still save it by following the next steps.


Steps to Restore the Shine:

  • In the wash bin, mix ¼ cup vinegar for each gallon of warm water.
  • Stir to mix.
  • Submerge the silk in the water.
  • Swish the garment around, until thoroughly soaked.
  • Remove from vinegar water and rinse well with clean water multiple times to ensure all of the vinegar, and the smell, is gone.
  • Spread a thick towel on a flat surface.
  • Lay the silk fabric over the towel.
  • Top with the second towel.
  • Press or roll gently to remove excess water.
  • Remove the garment from between the towels.
  • Hang or spread over a drying rack until dry.

Many people choose to hand wash their silk garments, as this helps you control how delicate the cleaning process is. You can also have more control over the temperature at which you wash the fabric – which can help keep its colours brighter for longer. When hand washing your silk, it’s important to remember to keep a low temperature.


Airing silk: Some of our products benefit from being aired out from time to time. Airing out your silk is easy and gives it a new lease of life. Just place your pillow or duvet somewhere out of direct sunlight for a few hours every few months. Make sure this is done in a shaded area to preserve the colour.


Smoothing out Wrinkles: Wrinkles in your silk can cause it to look worn and aged, but with such a delicate fabric it can be difficult to achieve a smooth finish without damaging the material. If possible, we would recommend using a steamer, or if you don’t have access to one then hanging the fabric near a shower can also be beneficial. Irons can also be used on our products. That being said, it is important to set the iron on the lowest temperature setting and iron the piece, inside out, while it is still slightly damp.

Kleid Orange Sun Wildseide

What to consider before buying a silk item


If you want to make conscious decisions when buying your next item, you have to know that there are also cruelty-free alternatives for obtaining silk. More exactly, the wild silk, where the wild worm leaves the cocoon before the production process. Also, less water and chemicals are used.


One of the biggest advantages when choosing silk, from my own experience, is the long life of that item, while maintaining the same unique shimmer. 

No other fabric can keep its properties so long, we are talking here about more than 10 years.

Buying a silk item is really an investment for the long term future. If you think that in 10 years you will get bored of your silk item, you will have no problem selling it on the second hand market, because it will still look like a brand new one. This way it will bring joy and happiness to someone else too.


By the time other pieces get worn down and replaced with new ones, your silk pieces will resist and keep bringing you the quality you expect. This way, you are buying less and consuming less resources overall.



Check here, Unatura’s Silk Collection:


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