Ahimsa means non-violence in Urdu (Indian language). Ahimsa silk, like the name suggests is a process of non-violent silk manufacturing that does not harm silkworms unlike traditional silk making processes.
Silk is a natural fibre and is considered to be one of the most beautiful and lustrous fabrics. It is typically used for making high-end garments and often seen in high-end boutique shops or global red carpets. China and India are the two countries most known for producing silk.
For all its beauty and lustre, silk comes at a hefty price; the traditional method of spinning silk out of cocoons is an often considered cruel and unethical technique.
The silkworm, which is responsible for producing raw silk fibre, makes its home on plants, such as the mulberry tree. The worms feed on the leaves of the trees and secrete a liquid that hardens to become raw silk, which also encases the worms in cocoons.
To extract the silk, the cocoons are boiled, roasted or processed in centrifuges effectively killing the silk larvae. Additionally, once the female moths have laid eggs, they are cut open to ensure that they have not transmitted diseases to the next generation of silk worms.
An awareness of this violent process of silk production has prompted the search for an alternative way to produce silk.
The Search For A Kinder Approach
In 2011, the wall street Journal featured the story of Kusuma Rajaiah, a known advocate of non-violent silk production, and the inventor of the ‘Ahimsa’ silk label, which directly translates into ‘non-violent’ silk.
Different sources show that 10,000 to 50,000 silkworms have to be boiled to death to produce a single silk sari; an Indian traditional dress made up of between 5 to 9 yards of fabric. Being against what he called the ‘cruel killing of millions of innocent worms’, Kusuma invented an alternative method of producing silk, that ensures the worms stay alive.
Kusuma’s journey with non-violent silk begun in the early 1990s when the wife of the former president of India inquired about silk that was made without killing worms. A similar enquiry by Amala, an actor, kindled Kusuma’s curiosity and he started researching. His efforts paid off in 1992, with the production of his first two non-violent silk saris.
Since then, the non-violent silk ‘movement’ has picked up, with notable designers and key public figures in India and around the world opting to use it in place of regular silk.
Non-violent silk production allows silk larvae to mature and emerge out of their cocoons as moths. Once the moths have emerged, silk yarn is then woven from the cocoons.
This method is suitable for cocoons found both in the wild or those that are commercially grown.
What’s more, the method does not compromise the quality of the silk.
The reason it is not yet widely adopted is because of it’s two main limitations. Firstly, the fact that it takes 10 days longer to produce Ahimsa silk as the larvae have to be given time to grow into moths and hatch out of their cocoons. Secondly, the amount of raw silk filament yielded per cocoon is lesser when produced using the Ahimsa method than when it’s produced using violent means. This is because the silk filament degrades when the larvae is allowed to occupy the cocoons for longer periods.
Due to these two reasons, non-violent silk tends to be more expensive, costing up to two times more per kilogram as compared to violent silk.
Despite these minor limitations, it is important to note that the possibility of an ethical way to produce silk does exist! As consumers we can make a choice to enjoy silk responsibly and ethically.