If you’re wondering where most of your silk comes from and the specialties of these countries, we’re going to go inside the silk industry itself in Thailand, Japan, and China to see just what it is that they’re making and how.
Silk production in Thailand is very specialized. The Thai silk moth is most suited to tropical conditions. This moth is what is called polyvoltine, meaning it can produce at least ten batches of eggs each year. They hand reel the silk from the Thai moth from green cocoons. These cocoons still contain the live pupae. The pupae from these cocoons are not killed before being reeled because that would make reeling very difficult. What they do is they place the green cocoons in hot, almost boiling water. This process loosens the end of the thread. They only have about 10 days to finish this process before the moths come out and ruins the cocoon. Many times, the workers run out of time. This limits the scale of the industry and partially explains why silk is so expensive. The most experience workers usually only produce about 300 kg per day.
Silk production in China and Japan is a little different. The moth that is mostly used in these countries is monovoltine or bivoltine. These moths produce one or sometimes two batches of eggs each year. These are then put into a suspended environment so that they can induce hatching at a more convenient time. These cocoons are very large so they are better suited for machine reeling. They produce a filament that is usually between one and two kilometers long. The adult moths that are normally used for production are too fat to fly. The moths that can fly don’t produce enough silk to be worth cultivating.
The larvae farmed by the silk makers of China and Japan, unlike the ones in Thailand that are very sturdy, are very fragile and need great care. They are selectively bred and their purpose is strictly to get maximum output with a minimum amount of work. In Thailand they get about 26 kg of raw silk per hectare. The production in Korea is about 80 kg per hectare and in China it is 125 kg per hectare.
In 1995 a major silk producing factory was set up in Hanzhou, China. This factory has the capacity to make over one million silk blouses every year. Yes, silk production in these countries is big business and makes up a large part of their economy.
While silk production in these countries may be big business, there are those who, because of the nature of the industry, would just as soon see it die a quick death. The reason is simple. In the making of these silk products, living creatures die. While this isn’t anything new (just take a look at the fur coat industry) the activists against this industry are probably one of the most vocal, staging rallies and marching in protests. So far, however, their efforts have not even slowed down one of the largest industries in that part of the world. But the fight continues.