Silk is one of the most historically fascinating textiles out there. At least in my opinion. According to Chinese legend, silk was discovered after a cocoon fell from a mulberry tree into a cup of tea. Whether or not that is true, silk has been coveted for thousands of years. In fact the processing of silk was kept secret in China until two monks smuggled cocoons out of the country and allowed the rest of the world to begin harvesting silk.
Silk is developed from the cocoon of the silkworm, a genetically engineered moth (through thousands of years of careful breeding), that produced a liquid from its mouth forming the silk of a cocoon. Once the silk has dried the cocoon is either gassed or tossed into boiling water before workers unravel the silk and process it for use. In its entirety a silk worm will live for around 1-2 months, depending on if they are selected to breed.
Is this sustainable? Its difficult to tell. Environmentally silk is biodegradable, requires minimal chemical processing, and can be produced organically very easily. Its production provides plenty of jobs that require little chemical interaction and are relevant for culture and tradition. However, the difficulty lies in how ethical silk is. When silk is produced the silk worm dies in the process, and the ones that survive live for no more than 5 days before starving due to underdeveloped mouths. There is a way around this though! Wild silk has emerged as a promising new field for sustainable textile.
Wild silk is produced from harvesting abandoned cocoons in the wild. These silkworms are not genetically modified, allowing them to live fulfilled lives as moths and caterpillars. Though the cocoons have been dissolved at points (so the moth can escape), workers in this industry simply spin the silk into a fiber instead of a single thread. I am personally super excited for the future of this, I think it has a promising future in sustainable fashion.