How Circular Fashion Can Extend the Life of Silk


For a relatively new term that emerged only in the last decade, “circular fashion” has been well-received and garnered exponential reach in a short period. Circular fashion, as the name suggests, focuses on recycling and creating a circle of life for all things fashion. The main concern that circular fashion addresses is the industry’s landfill problems; where clothing are discarded in an average of 3 years.


Silk has been around for centuries with references found in medieval and ancient manuscripts. But what goes on BTS of manufacturing a silk garment?


Silk is primarily a fiber made from natural protein composed of fibroin, which is produced by insect larvae to build their cocoons. There are many types of silk produced by various insects and arachnids but the silk from moth caterpillars reared in captivity undergoing complete metamorphosis are the ones preferred for textile manufacturing. Even though there are several types of wild silk, they aren’t used commercially as they differ in colour and texture and in most cases, the pupa already emerges from the cocoon making for shorter strands obtained from them. Thus the most commonly used variant is silk obtained from cocoons of larvae of the mulberry silkworm known as the Bombyx mori. 


The reared silkworm pupae, emit a white coloured silk thread which make for the most perfect commercial silk as they can be dyed more uniformly. The process begins when eggs laid by silk moths hatch and the caterpillars are fed fresh mulberry leaves. After 35 days, the caterpillars now 10,000 times heavier are ready to begin the spinning of their cocoon. By moving their heads in a particular pattern, liquid silk is produced through two glands from openings in their heads called spinnerets. This liquid protein is then covered with sericin which acts as gum by solidifying in air. Sericin which binds the cocoon together is water soluble in nature. Now within 3 days, the caterpillar is done spinning around 1 mile of filament to form its cocoon where it's ready to move into its next phase of life, by undergoing metamorphosis, developing beautifully patterned wings and flying into its evolved identity as an adult moth.


At this very stage is when the pupae are killed by either dipping them into boiling hot water or piercing them with a needle. Boiling water softens the sericin which allows for the cocoon to unravel into one long continuous thread which in turn allows for a stronger fabric to be woven. A single silk fiber is too fragile to be used on its own and so as many as 3 to 10 strands are spun together to form a commercially usable single yarn of silk. By this we see that anywhere between 3 to 10 silkworms lose life to make for one single yarn.


Though sericulture is heavily criticised for cultivation of silk and killing them, possibly painfully, by animal welfare and rights activists, it is also the bread earning way for hundreds of thousands of farmers and weavers around the globe. In India alone we can find over 20 different types of silk weaves being converted into sarees - a traditional attire of unstitched fabric ranging from 6 to 9 yards in width that can be tied and draped in nearly 80 recorded ways. In a small town called Kanchipuram in southern India, there are more than 5000 families that work on silk weaving as their only means of income. The Kanchipuram sarees are woven from mulberry silk and metallic gold and silver zari threads. This silk art of weaving is a hand skill passed down generations and followed as a close to heart profession. Such beautifully crafted sarees that go through the hands of silk rearers, spinners, dyers, weavers and many more are ultimately worn occasionally and discarded over stains or minute tears. Though the fabric is biodegradable, it still adds to the landfills in huge numbers on the regular and quite frankly, it is heart-breaking to see such a coveted and worked on textile being trashed for the silliest of reasons.


Around 60,000 silkworms are used to manufacture a silk saree, but with circular fashion, millions of these landfill-bound sarees could be reborn as a new garment. zy-lk follows the circular fashion model and collects landfill-bound silk sarees and brings them to a design unit to sketch out their new life. Silk is upcycled by hand and find new life as embroidery on garments or as an accessory. zy-lk strongly believes that circular fashion by textile revival is the only way to keep the craft alive in a way that is environmentally friendly.