In the grand hierarchy of animal fibers to ban—foremost of which would be fur, obviously—silk doesn’t seem to warrant as much attention. Animal-rights crusader Stella McCartney deploys silk “from traditional sources in Como, Italy,” regularly at her luxury house, so how heinous can it be?
Well, plenty heinous, if you care at all about living creatures. “Approximately 3,000 silkworms die to make every pound of silk,” Tracy Reiman, executive vice president of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), told Sourcing Journal. “To obtain the material, distributors boil the worms alive inside their cocoons.”
Still, when Asos, Britain’s No. 1 online retailer, pledged in June to ban silk, along with mohair, cashmere, feathers, down, teeth and bone, from its site by January 2019, not everyone was completely on board.
“They’re insects; I don’t think silkworms are going to notice,” a somewhat befuddled shopper named Thomas told the BBC after the news broke. “I think sentient animals definitely, but things like worms—it’s not going to be such a big deal is it?” Marc Bain, fashion reporter for Quartz, wondered how much pain silkworms can feel. Writing for Australian Vogue, Clare Press, its sustainability editor at large, praised silk as a beautiful, breathable fiber that she, an “animal lover who thinks very deeply about human impacts on nature,” is only happy to wear.
Then there was Orsola de Castro, co-founder of the international grassroots movement Fashion Revolution, who questioned if Asos’s new policy would do more harm than good.