Producer for Madewell, Everlane takes us inside the sustainable silk industry
By Robyn Turk
19 Mar 2020
Naturally-derived materials don’t inherently lead to eco-consciously produced fashion. The acts of processing fibers into fabrics can often have side effects that harm the environment due chemical nutrition that increases outputs, synthetic poisons used to control pests, damage to land with heavy machinery, high energy consumption and high carbon emissions.
“We’re looking to radically shift traditional perceptions on the silk industry by using new approaches on how silk is produced,” Hilmond Hui, vice president of Bombyx, told FashionUnited.
As a sustainable silk manufacturer that provides materials to brands including Everlane, Madewell and J.Crew, Bombyx is dedicated to producing silk fabrics in a way that isn’t harmful to the environment.
“While silk is a natural material, the processing of it isn’t so environmentally friendly. In the beginning stages, it has many of the same problems that come with the industrialization of farming most crops,” Hui continued.
Bombyx has pioneered what it describes as “an entirely vertical silk supply chain from seed to shelf.” The company has implemented measures to teach its farmers beneficial concepts such as intercropping, rotational cropping and animal integration to promote regenerative agriculture and increase carbon potential in the land.
“By doing what we’re doing, the way we’re doing it, we are encouraging the land to regenerate itself creating a fertile environment for any crop to thrive,” Hui said. “Our silkworms live directly on the farms so they can get the freshest leaves, literally farm to table, while also allowing us to limit transport of the leaves and carbon emissions.”
According to Hui, Bombyx’s sustainable measures result in high quality material outputs. When better quality leaves are fed to silkworms, the worms produce better quality silk. “If we treat the land with the respect it deserves, the land will produce quality crops at growing quantities,” he explained.
Bombyx offers sustainable silk at market value
While eco-conscious manufacturing systems often lead to a lack of efficiency in production, which in turn lead to higher pricing, Bombyx has created a system that allows it to maintain its pricing at an industry standard.
“Speaking from an agriculture perspective, when a farm transitions to organic they lose the ‘efficiency’ that the chemicals forced on the land,” Hui said. “With lower output and costs staying the same or rising, amortization of the costs will of course increase the product price. From a manufacturing perspective, it is a heavy investment to convert an existing traditional facility into one with energy efficiencies and low carbon emissions due to the cost of machinery and equipment necessary to create renewable energy.”
Sustainable measures haven’t caused a detriment to efficiency or pricing for Bombyx as it controls its entire supply chain. This not only allows the company to ensure sustainable implementations, but cuts out any middlemen that can spike pricing. Hui commented, “This way, we can offer our silk at market price (or better) sustainability included.”