The fashion industry is no stranger to innovation, particularly in fabrics and textiles. As I’ve discussed before in pieces like Journey of The Vegan Leather Bag, vegan designers are essentially pioneering an entirely new fashion category with innovations in vegan leathers and vegan wool-like fabrics made from eco-friendly materials.
More and more designers are offering alternatives to products that harm animals as consumers become more conscious of the products they’re buying. One textile to emerge from this movement is peace silk.
Peace silk is a broad term used to categorise silk that has been harvested without causing harm to the silk worm who lives inside the silk cocoon. Traditional methods of silk harvesting require the killing of the silk pupae still inside the silk cocoon in order to preserve the integrity of the silk.
Some consumers who have made the choice to stay away from traditionally produced silk have welcomed peace silk as an alternative.
But is peace silk, also referred to as ahimsa silk, vegan?
By nature, peace silk can never be considered vegan as truly adhering to vegan principles would exclude the use of anything that uses or exploits living things in any way; peace silk still requires breeding of silk worms and farming them to harvest the silk.
Looking further into the silkworm farming methods will bring to light the fact that a fertilised female moth will lay anywhere between 200-1000 eggs. A silk farm cannot possibly support all of the hatchlings that are born from each moth, so a number will die of starvation or dehydration days after they are born. So, although the silkworm moth is not harmed during harvest, many of their offspring will die.
While it is certainly a personal choice, many vegans decide to stay away from any type of silk entirely, but there are other vegans who care deeply about animal rights, yet view the empty silk cocoon as an opportunity to make use of a natural product so it does not go to waste.
One of these people is Lucy Tammam, the London-based designer behind Atelier Tammam, who works extensively with peace silk she sources from India. Tammam has been promoting and creating ethical fashion a decade before the mainstream had ever given the topic any thought; since there weren’t any ethical fashion labels to speak of, she new she needed to create her own. I caught up with Lucy to discuss peace silk and her experience with it as a designer.
(conversation edited for clarity)
S:Please tell me a bit about your background, where you’re from, and what you do.
LT: I studied fashion design at Central St Martins, set up first the ethical label in 2004, set up Tammam in 2007, started doing wedding dresses In 2006, opened Atelier Tammam and became a bespoke only label 2012. I’m the creative director of the Tammam label and I live in London and I spend a lot of time in India (and a bit in Nepal).
S: Consumers are becoming more and more conscious and concerned with the ethics and consequences of their purchases, both socially and environmentally, but this is a relatively recent (and welcome!) phenomenon stemming largely in part by the ease with which information can be shared through social media. You have made ethical fashion a central component of your designs and brands for over a decade, before the proliferation of social media as we know it, so I’m wondering how and what inspired you initially to be mindful and aware of the ethics behind fashion?
LT: I turned vegetarian when I was 9 years old, I liked animals and I didn’t want to eat them! This lead me to a life of animal rights activism (skipping school to go to fox hunt protests etc), which made me start thinking about the environment and human rights, too. As a full-on eco warrior, I went to fashion school, with a dislike for the fashion industry but a love for the craft of couture and tailoring. I combined my two loves and set up in business (because at that time there were no stylish, fashionable and ethical labels to work for).
S: Please describe what peace silk is, how you learned about it, and how you use it in your designs?
LT:Peace silk is silk from a cocoon that is processed after the moth has emerged. Conventional silk, usually mulberry silk, is extracted by throwing the cocoons into boiling water and reeling off the filament, leaving a poached pupae in the boiling water. The silk I use the most is from a moth called eri, which has a naturally open ended cocoon, meaning the moth can emerge without breaking the fibres (unlike in mulberry silk the moth has to nibble through the cocoon to emerge, breaking the filament and leaving a short fibre.
In all cases peace silk will be a spun fibre as there isn’t a single long filament available to use. This means peace silks tend to be heavier weight and less shiny than conventional silk. However with new technology and a bit of experimentation and patience, some of the silk suppliers I work with have created super fine luxurious yarns from empty eri cocoons; therefore, many of the fabrics we associate with traditional silk are now available in peace silk options.
My favourites include a hand-loomed herringbone tweed and “fabric 28” a light weight plain weave we have worked with for a long time, named because it was the 28th sample in the collection.
I don’t use any conventional silk in my designs, and we offer a range of vegan alternatives. Peace silk is especially lovely in bridal gowns and I’m glad I can offer a compassionate silk in my collections.
S:In my research I’ve found people who don’t think peace silk should be considered vegan at all. Then there are those who say that it is vegan and anyone who says otherwise doesn’t fully understand the process of harvesting peace silk. Could you speak to those points?
LT:In reality silk can’t be vegan, it’s an animal product after all. However it can be cruelty free and therefore suitable for vegans who care more about the reality and impact of their choices. If you consider the empty discarded cocoon as a waste product then it becomes more appealing to a vegan sentiment; however, silk generally is cultivated. For me being vegan is about compassion and educated choices, so I still consider myself a vegan and use silk – but I make sure I know where it comes from.
Tammam specialises in bridal gowns and offers a variety of other vegan alternatives in her designs. Visit Tammam.co.uk to see more.
All photos courtesy of Tammam