Why is silk so expensive, insight into cost factors

Why is silk so expensive, insight into cost factors

You get what you pay for, is something we often hear. Silk is a high quality fabric, hence the exorbitant price tag. Which is also why I generally buy my silks second hand. 

But does silk have to be so expensive?

Why is silk so expensive

Besides being one of the finest natural fibre globally, it also has limited availability which leads to it’s higher price point. Not to mention, production is costly. Just to produce 1kilogram of silk, it will take more than 5,000 silk worms (Bombyx mori).

Why is silk so expensive, insight into cost factors
Imagine 5000 of these silkworms for just 1kg of silk

In fact, the entire process of making silk is resource and labour intensive. Here’s an insight into sericulture, which is how silk is made [Link].

What makes silk expensive

Being time, labour and resource intensive makes silk expensive, let me go into specifics, in case you did not read the link above.

From it’s time of birth, it takes about 6 weeks for the silkworm to form its cocoon. The time taken for silk threads to be processed, dyed, treated and spun and transformed into fabric depends a lot on the technology used. Or sometimes, the lack of technology – hand spun silk would naturally take a long time.

Remember that 1 kilograms of silk takes more than 5,000 silkworms? Combine that together with the fact that it would easily take more than two months to produce your silk fabric. That explains the cost of silk.

The largest producer of silk, China, contributes to 50% of the world’s supply of silk. Even then, in 2020, China only produced 53,359 metric tonnes of silk.

Why is silk so expensive, insight into cost factors


Why is silk considered luxury?

Luxury is often reflected in its price tag and silk has a pretty hefty price tag. In ancient China, silk was reserved for royalty. Today silk is often used in occasion wear, even in casual clothes, silk is considered an upgrade from our regular cotton tees.

Silk is synonymous with quality and makes us feel special when we are wearing it. 

What makes silk so special?

Price aside, silk is also versatile, popular in both the textile and apparel industry. You see it almost everywhere, curtains, lingerie, loungewear, professional suits and dresses, casual wear, even accessories!

The lustre of silk when light hits it at different angles differs from other non-silk garments. Lustre is also what makes silk a special luxurious piece.

How expensive was silk in ancient china

In a time when peasants and common folk could barely afford new clothes once a year, royalty were wearing silk. I cannot fathom the price tag on silk in ancient China, it was likely even more expensive than it is today. 

Why is silk so expensive, insight into cost factors
This entire ancient chinese garment is made with silk and further hand embroidered with silk threads

Why was silk so expensive in ancient china

Silk was purely handmade in ancient China. Today, modernised sericulture made silk a little more affordable. If ethical silk production is expensive today, imagine having the entire process done by hand. It makes modern day silk look cheap by comparison.

How expensive is silk fabric

Actual dollars and cents aside, a well made silk tee shirt can easily be 10 times more expensive than a cotton tee shirt. The term expensive differs for everyone, but I cannot think of anyone that would consider silk a cheap fabric.

How much does silk cost per metre

The price of silk varies greatly, from $10 a metre to $100. A lot of factors come into play, from how the silk farm is managed, to the quality of the silk produced. Ethical silk production tends to cost more, just like silk of higher quality and higher momme count [Link] costs more.   

Is silk durable

Silk can last for a lifetime, if cared for well. If that does not prove its durability, think of how silk was also used to make parachutes during WWII, as it was stronger and lighter than canvas.

Why is silk so expensive, insight into cost factors

Why is silk more expensive than cotton?

Every single step of silk production costs more than cotton. Mulberry silkworms have to be cultivated, costing more than growing cotton plants. The production of silk threads and silk fabric is more labour intensive, costing more. Add these together, it is only natural that silk fabrics and silk garments cost more than cotton ones.

Why is silk so bad

Silk fabric feels good, the process of making silk (sericulture) however is cruel. Silkworms are sacrificed, 5,000 silkworms die to give us 1 kilogram of silk. 

It is also harmful to the environment. To increase silk output, pesticides and fertilizers are used to grow mulberry plants used to feed silkworms. Sweatshop labour practices are also closely linked to silk production.

Why is silk so expensive, insight into cost factors

To be blunt, silk production is expensive, exploitative, cruel and unfriendly to the environment. 

Most expensive silk

Mulberry silk is the most expensive silk in the world. To be specific, grade A mulberry silk. A single unbroken floss of grade A mulberry silk can stretch out as far a mile. That is 1.6 kilometres!

Why is silk so expensive, insight into cost factorsMulberry silk, do I still wear it

Despite all the negativity around silk, cost, labour practices, human and animal rights, I still wear silk. I am not burning my silks away, but before you protest, I try to wear silk ethically. 

I buy most of my silks second hand, if not, than from an ethical source. It makes it even more expensive, but silk was never cheap to begin with and I am happy to pay more for sustainable practices.

SIlk has always been expensive but with modern day technology, it has been made more affordable. If you like silk like I do, perhaps try to purchase second hand or buy silk that is made ethically.