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Known as ‘poor man’s silk’, Eri silk is valued for the strong, supple fabric it produces. The fibre is woven into chadars or wraps and used as a substitute for woollens. Eri silkworms are relatively cheap and easy to maintain and their cultivation forms a small scale, cottage industry in Assam and Meghalaya that produce around 95% of the world’s Eri silk.
Here are some reasons why Eri silk earned its moniker ‘ahimsa silk’ and why it is one of the most sustainable fabrics in the world.
1. It is a free gift from Samia Cynthia
The Eri Silk moth (scientific name Samia Cynthia) is born as a silkworm and it spins open-ended cocoons as it transitions into beautiful moths. Because these cocoons are open-ended, allowing the moth to leave and enter the cocoon through the opening. It also means that the worm does not need to be killed in order to obtain the silk threads and that it can complete the process of metamorphosing into a moth, hatch and breed. Unlike other silks, the moth is allowed to leave the cocoon before the Eri silk is extracted earning the fabric many names like ahimsa, non-violence, peace or vegan silk. These are yellowish-white or golden in color and have an almost divine sheen to them.
2. Its cultivation is sustainable
The Samia Cynthia worms feed off castor leaves (era in Assamese). Unlike mulberry silkworm rearing which is known to be land intensive, cultivation of castor is easier, possible in drought-prone regions on small plots of land alongside other crops, thus providing small and marginal farmers an alternative economic activity and income source.
3. It has a small water footprint and produces zero waste
Most plant based natural fibres like cotton and linen require a lot of water during the growing stage and need very good irrigation infrastructure. Since the eri silk fibre is technically a waste in itself (after the worm becomes a moth), no additional resources are spent by nature in its making, apart from helping a life transition into another version of itself. 100% of the cocoon can be used to make yarns and, in turn, fabrics. It is in fact nature’s very way of teaching us upcycling.
4. Its production empowers small and marginal tribal farmers
Almost all Eri Silk is produced in north eastern part of our country. The communities rearing athe eri silkworms, mostly indigeneous tribal communities, are incentivized by Ericulture as they get good profits for this valuable material. The Central Silk Board runs many clusters in the region to ensure that the activity serves as a sustainable alternate source of income for small and marginal farmers in the region.
The Sustainable Fashion Hub is a series that examines shifts in the the global fashion industry to more sustainable and ethical practices and processes, with a special focus on India. It explores what goes into creating a just and sustainable fashion value chain – from the creation of garments and lifestyle accessories to making them available to consumers. All content on the hub is produced with 100% editorial independence by The Alternative.
The Hub is supported by , India’s first certified organic designer apparel brand. With products that are directly sourced from organic cotton farmers at fair trade terms. Bhu:Sattva® uses natural colours, vegetable and herb dyes and goes further to work on reviving various forms of traditional weaving and handloom. Information on its products and processes can be found at http://www.bhusattva.com