Silk is a natural fibre that comes from the cocoons of silkworms. There is no nice way to say this, but the making of silk cannot be exactly called "cruelty free".
Silkworms die to produce silk. There are different types of silk but the one we generally use to make all our gorgeous silk saris mostly are produced in a way where the silkworm has to be killed. Yes, even the beautiful Kanjeevaram saris use something called mulberry silk, which is the smoothest silk but it kills the silkworm in the process.
A more conscious type of silk is Eri Silk also called the Wild Silk. Eri is a type of silk which is non - violent and doesn't require killing the silkworm, because it has a natural opening for the pupa to escape. Yes, the smooth lustre of silk is compromised, but Eri silk is known to have elegance of silk with the comfort of cotton and warmth of wool.
Any silk that is produced by allowing the pupa/ moth to escape is non - violent silk. But in most of the cases this doesn't happen because people want smooth silk. When the pupa escapes it breaks the cocoon unevenly and hence the thread obtained from such a cocoon is broken and not as smooth as it would have been otherwise.
By killing these worms mostly by boiling them in hot water, the cocoon remains intact and we get an unbroken filament. Of course, the effect of this unbroken filament is the very soft touch of silk. What we have understood is everything comes with some sort of cost.
Sericulture is labour intensive in India and does provide a lot of employment in rural areas. Often these pupas are consumed as a protein intake in many of the tribal areas. Also, the degumming process of Eri silk requires almost negligible chemicals than other silks.
The humid climate of Northeast India is very favourable for the Eri culture. Rural and tribal women traditionally carry out the processing, spinning and weaving as part of their daily life. For around 30 days the silkworm grows and munches on castor leaves until it reaches its final size. It then starts to spin its cocoon, which takes another 15 days. Once the moth leaves its cocoon, the silk is processed.
The more it is worn, the softer it gets and it is a great textile to be worn all year round. Its texture, especially when woven with hand spun yarn, is profoundly beautiful. Additionally, it is skin friendly, thermal, anti-fungal, bio-degradable.
Eri silk is funnily enough also known as the silk of the poor. The status of eri clothes in the folk life of Assam is reflected in an old Assamese proverb, ‘Dair pani, erir kani’, which implies that while curd (yoghurt) cools, Eri cloth warms up a person. Unlike the proverb, to buy pure Eri silk is an expensive affair and can cost you a good 1000 rupees and up for a meter.
If you are a textile connoisseur or want to opt for eco-friendly silk, Eri silk is definitely worth the investment.