From Silkworm to Silk: The Life-Cycle Impacts of Luxury Fibers

The textile industry’s manufacturing supply chain is one of the longest and most complex, says Michael Andrew, executive officer, technical services at Sumerra. Because the chain is fragmented and dominated by many small and medium-scale enterprises, assessing the life-cycle impacts of textile fibers is a challenge. “In what I would consider a global and more conscientious society, brands who make these products and consumers like you and I, really need to be aware of the potential sustainability risks of these products,” he says.

Unfortunately, there isn’t a lot of literature that examines the impacts of textile fiber manufacturing, particularly for luxury goods. So Andrew examined three fibers — cashmere, rayon and silk — in order to better understand the dynamics at play. He’ll present some of his findings during the presentation Material Risk Analysis of Three Luxury Fibers at Stewardship 2016.

“The real genesis of the project is based on the relationship of what is being reported by activists and NGOs and then what is the reality of the situation,” says Andrew. “What truly are the sustainability risks associated with these fibers, and what are some reasonable measures that manufacturers can take to mitigate some of these risks?”

To summarize the risks, Andrew examined the entire supply chain. For example, in producing silk, he started with the raising of silkworms and learned that the species are totally domesticated. “These worms to do nothing but produce silk for us, and so the worms can no longer live without human intervention, which I think is quite interesting,” he says.

Andrew will also talk about claims that rayon production is related to deforestation and desertification is related to cashmere production. “Each of the fibers has one big thing that activists usually jump on as being a problem in the production of fiber,” he says. “We'll examine that as well as other issues that may relate to the production of that fiber or the product.”


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