Vegan Silk Alternatives

By Divya Kashyap. Published: May 2022.
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Silk is a popular fabric made from the cocoon of silkworms. Silk has long been called luxurious, while known for its softness. While this fabric is biodegradable, it isn’t considered vegan as silkworms are bred and killed to produce silk.

According to PETA, it takes as much as 3,000 silkworms to produce one pound of silk. Not only that but the manufacturing of silk also presents its own sustainability concerns.

An increasing number of people today are now choosing vegan clothing. Thanks to this there is a demand for vegan, cruelty-free, and sustainable textiles, including silk.

Read also: Is Silk Vegan? What Is It Made Of?

What Are Vegan Silk Alternatives Made Of?

Vegan silk alternatives can be made from a variety of plant-based fibers such as tree pulp or bamboo fabric. Often, silk alternatives also use plastic polymers that mimick real silk well.

A major benefit associated with vegan silk-like fabrics is the reduction in carbon emissions. Plant-based and synthetic fibers take much fewer resources to produce compared to raising and breeding silkworms.

List Of Vegan Silk Alternatives

Below are some vegan and cruelty-free alternatives to insect-derived silk: 

1. Banana Silk

Banana silk, aka Bananatex comes from the fibers of banana leaves. It is a great vegan alternative to silk because it makes a strong, elastic fiber that is tougher than wool but softer than cotton. The fiber responds well to both natural and synthetic dyes and is processed either mechanically or with the use of a machine.

These properties make banana leather an excellent vegan alternative to silk for dresses, caftans, and skirts. They can also be part of strong cordage that is used for structural purposes.

Banana fibers are considered biocompatible and non-irritating. They are usually spun or woven, then dyed, and last about a year before becoming unusable. 

The last benefit of the banana fibers is that they may be more environmentally friendly than other fabrics. They can be grown quickly without destroying forests whilst offering another source of income for growers.

When compared to traditional silk, banana silk is far more sustainable. But the agricultural waste in production may impact the environment and wildlife when not managed.

2. Cactus Silk

Cactus silk is made from the pads of prickly pear cacti. Cactus silk is actually the fibrous material that the plant produces to cover its stems. 

It’s made up of three layers primarily. A cuticle, which is a thin tissue layer that encloses cells similar to animal skin. An apical layer, made primarily of cellulose, which provides strength and elasticity. And an epidermal layer, that forms the outermost surface that can vary from thin and flaky (like a cicada) or thick and leather-like (like a snake).

The fiber is extracted by boiling the pads with water and then spinning out fibers into tight bundles. Cactus pads have a natural elasticity that makes them perfect for clothing, as well as other goods like mats and purses.

Cactus silk varies in quality but is typically considered to be more durable. It is also fire-resistant, and less prone to deterioration. Not only is the plant used to produce silk but also vegan leather.

3. Lotus silk

Lotus silk has been used for centuries in Asia and has recently gained popularity globally. Lotus silk is a sustainable alternative to natural silk, made from a water-repellent seedpod from lotus plants.

This plant is native to Asia and is grown primarily in China and India, where it grows in abundance. The seeds are processed into textiles that are 50% stronger than cotton, with the feel and softness of silk. The fabric also has antibacterial properties, making it better for sensitive skin. 

The only drawback to this fabric is that it lacks elasticity. Clothing made from lotus fiber will be less comfortable when wet or with movement. Besides, it cannot be produced in mass scales.

4. Ramie Silk

Ramie is one of the strongest natural fibers found in the world. It comes from the Ramie plant native to East Asia. Ramie is a bast fiber which is a fiber obtained by stripping away parts of the plant that are not considered useful. 

Ramie has been used for centuries as a substitute for cotton and linen and has similar properties to silk. It can be processed to create clothes with a soft brushed texture, similar to cashmere wool.

The properties of ramie allow it to be durable when wet which makes it very useful in humid environments. The fabric can be dyed and bleached easily and holds its shape. It’s eco-friendly and sustainable. 

Ramie silk is more expensive than cotton in many cases but cheaper than linen or natural silk. Some disadvantages of this fabric are that it may wrinkle easily, not be easily accessible globally, and is not as flexible to work with. 

5. Bamboo Silk

Bamboo is one of the most remarkable materials on earth. It is tough, resilient, and sustainable without synthetic materials. Bamboo produces beautiful natural woven fabrics like “bamboo linen” and “bamboo viscose silk”.

There are two ways to make bamboo silk. In the first procedure, it is stripped off the bamboo and then chopped into strips and boiled in a chemical solution. 

In the second process, it is immersed in water and then steamed until the fibers soften. The two processes can produce varying degrees of strength, abrasion resistance, and durability. The mechanical way is cheaper but the chemical way is cleaner to produce.

Bamboo viscose fabrics are available in a variety of weaves and can look and drape like silk, but are more practical when it comes to washing and drying. They also tend to resist wrinkling without the addition of resin finishes used in other fabrics to give them that property.

Bamboo silk has been used by many top brands like Ralph Lauren which has created very durable dresses out of this natural fabric.

6. Synthetic Spider Silk

Vegan spider silk is a type of fabric currently produced by the company Bolt Threads. The fabric is molecularly identical to real spider silk, with a few minor differences. 

Yeast, water, and sugar are the raw materials, and fermentation, similar to beer brewing, is used to create raw vegan silk. Instead of processing the sugar into alcohol, the yeast converts it to the raw material for spider silk.

The material is incredibly durable and can be used in textile, medical, and automotive industries. The brand is currently partnering with outdoor ski wear brands like Patagonia and North Face.

7. Tencel

Tencel is a brand of fabric made from natural, renewable resources such as wood pulp and cotton. It’s soft to the touch and long-lasting. It is used for a diverse range of applications such as clothing, furnishings, and home goods.

In order to manufacture Tencel, the fibers are separated from the wood by steaming. The steam leaves behind a viscous liquid that remains on top of the wood, making it easy for mechanical means to separate and collect the fibers. Once separated, the Tencel fibers are laid out in dryers and heated until they have attained their proper weight and moisture content.

Tencel is known for its superior performance qualities. They include moisture-wicking, temperature regulation, and breathability. These excellent properties are not found in most other materials available today.

Summary

All in all, these are some great silk alternatives that are vegan, cruelty-free, and more sustainable in most cases. Now, one can enjoy silk-like luxurious fabrics without the heavy costs associated with silk.

Featured image: courtesy of Neu Nomads

Divya is a content crafter at Vegan Avenue. She is a long-term happy vegan who is also enthusiastic about slow, mindful living in the company of cats.