Animals in the Silk and Cashmere Industry

December 14, 2021Lu Shegay


While talking about animals being used in clothing, the most attention is drawn to fur and leather. However, there are many other materials that are used by exploiting animals and causing unnecessary suffering to them, while plenty of alternatives has been already invented and widely used. This piece will discuss the industry of silk and cashmere, and why these practices are detrimental to animals, namely, in what ways animals suffer in such businesses.

"Silkworm- silk for making Laotian skirts and scarves" by shankar s. is licensed under CC BY 2.0


Silk is oftentimes used in clothing and is the fiber that silkworms weave to make cocoons. The silkworm is a domesticated insect that goes through the same stages of metamorphosis in nature, which is laying eggs, larval, pupal, and adult. A lot of insects that are raised for the clothing industry do not live past the pupal stage because they are either steamed or gassed alive inside their cocoons. Still, insects are considered beings that are not capable of feeling basic emotions, such as pain, suffering, or fear. However, their brain system is more complicated and insects may even go into depression and may be optimistic or cynical.

“In fact, there's mounting evidence that insects can experience a remarkable range of feelings. They can be literally buzzing with delight at pleasant surprises, or sink into depression when bad things happen that are out of their control. They can be optimistic, cynical, or frightened, and respond to pain just like any mammal would. And though no one has yet identified a nostalgic mosquito, mortified ant, or sardonic cockroach, the apparent complexity of their feelings is growing every year.”

“The earliest insects emerged at least 400 million years ago, long before dinosaurs took their first tentative plods. It's thought our last common ancestor with them was a slug-like creature that lived around 200 million years before that, and they've been diversifying ever since. Initially, they ruled over the land as giants – some dragonflies were sparrowhawk-sized, with 2.3ft (70cm) wingspans – before evolving into the extraordinary array of arthropods around today, from flies with fake scorpion tails to fuzzy moths that resemble winged poodles.

As a result, they're strikingly similar to other animals, and yet vividly different. Insects have many of the same organs as humans – with hearts, brains, intestines, and ovaries or testicles – but lack lungs and stomachs. And instead of being hooked up to a network of blood vessels, the contents of their bodies float in a kind of soup, which delivers food and carries away waste. The whole lot is then encased in a hard shell, the exoskeleton, which is made of chitin, the same material fungi use to build their bodies.

The architecture of their brains follows a similar pattern. Insects don't have the exact same brain regions as vertebrates, but they do have areas that perform similar functions. For example, most learning and memory in insects rely on "mushroom bodies" – domed brain regions which have been compared to the cortex, the folded outer layer that's largely responsible for human intelligence, including thought and consciousness.”

Read more: Why Insects Are More Sensitive Than They Seem

There are approximately 3000 silkworms die in the industry to produce silk. Although one may not see how silkworms express the negative emotions that humans can see, e.g, screaming that can be observed in mammals, but it may be seen that earthworms startle when their dark homes are uncovered and these insects are sensitive and afraid for their lives. They are also capable of producing endorphins and have the ability to physically respond to pain.

In India, for example, at the facilities, silkworms who are given to mature into moths fare a little better than those who are boiled alive inside their cocoons. After female moths lay their eggs, they are then crushed to death and if any disease is found in their bodies, their eggs are destroyed as well. Male moths - because of their inability to lay eggs - are killed simply after they mate.

"ZOO Olomouc - Cashmere Goat (Capra hircus)" by arwen_cz is licensed under CC BY 2.0


Cashmere is another type of fiber obtained from cashmere goats, pashmina goats, and some other breeds of goat, and is commonly used to make yarn, textiles, and clothing. Cashmere goats are kept by the millions in Asian countries, such as China and Mongolia, and this type of business dominates the market due to its “luxury” material. To produce cashmere, goats are usually combed by hand or sheared. For many people, when they hear that animals are sheared, they are opinion that it does not cause any stress to animals as the practice seems natural. However, according to one of the cashmere goat farmers, “shearing is very stressful to them and robs them of their natural insulation, leaving them vulnerable to cold temperatures and illness, but combing requires more time and physical effort.” Of course, combing causes a lot of physical pain and suffering to the cashmere goats.

In China and Mongolia, two world’s top cashmere exporters, PETA has exposed the undercover investigation with extreme cruelty seen and violent slaughter of cashmere goats. The video also demonstrates that goats scream in pain and fear as the workers tear their hair out, and later, they are killed in slaughterhouses and left to die in agony. China and Mongolia both produce 90% of the world’s cashmere.

With harm and distress to animals, cashmere production also affects the environment and the planet. For the past years, there has been an increase in the phenomenon unique to Mongolia known as a dzud. Dzud is a disaster in the steppe, semi-desert, and desert regions of Central Asia, in which large numbers of livestock die, primarily due to starvation being unable to graze due to particular severe climatic conditions. In winter it may happen, e.g., due to impenetrable ice crust; in summer it may happen due to drought. It does not only impact the quality of the fabric but also causes the deaths of large swaths of goats.

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