Soysilk: Everything You Need To Know About Soy Fabric

Plant-based clothing, as the name implies, is clothing created from organic materials that are sourced from plants, such as cork bark, mushrooms, hemp, cacti, or even fruit leftovers.

Several different types of vegan clothing are made from plants, although not all vegan clothing is made from plants. The most commonly found vegan leather, for example, is made from either plastic or PU. Although plant-based alternatives exist, they're almost always mixed with some derivative of plastic.

Silk gets a bad reputation from animal rights activists because of the animal abuse that is rampant in the industry. On top of that, recent reports have shed light on how people who work in the production of silk, live and work in toxic environments where they are often subject to physical and verbal abuse.

Keeping these things in mind, a new type of silk branded as peace or ahimsa silk (Ahimsa is a Sanskrit word for non-violence) has gained popularity in recent years. The producers of this type of silk claim to not harm any silkworms in the process of silk production. In reality, this is hard to regulate as no agency or governing body exists that can certify any type of silk as being violence-free.

What Is Soysilk?

Soysilk is a relatively new fiber that is gaining traction among the connoisseurs of sustainable fashion. Soysilk, sometimes referred to as vegetable cashmere is made from soybean waste left over from the soy food industry's manufacturing processes. While having only recently gained both popularity and large-scale availability, the earliest occurrences of the existence of Soysilk can be traced as far back as the 1940s.

Soy fabric has a silk-like feel and drapes similarly to silk. It's also quite durable, making it ideal for a variety of clothes and home textiles such as bedding. Moreover, thick soy fabric is warmer than wool and far exceeds the warmth provided by polyester, making it excellent for winter wear and soft, cozy cover-ups. Soy fabric is also simple to maintain, does not wrinkle easily, and is frequently more durable than natural textiles of comparable quality.

How Is Soysilk Made?

Soysilk is created from leftover soybeans from tofu production. This method is claimed to be completely natural and devoid of petrochemicals, making it an exceptionally ecologically friendly product. Different manufacturers will probably have different processes with which they produce soysilk, but since soy is a resource that is both renewable, organic, and biodegradable, and soysilk is made from the waste left in soy harvesting, the production of soysilk is generally considered non-detrimental to the environment.

However, Soy fabric is a man-made cellulosic material. This means that it has to be extensively chemically altered to transform from a plant to fabric. The complex manufacturing process entails breaking down the proteins in the soybean by subjecting them to heat, alkalis, or enzymes, following which they are filtered and spun into long strands using a spinneret. Formaldehyde, an irritant that is carcinogenic in some bacterial and animal species, is then used to cross-link the fibers to lengthen them.

Spotlight on Sustainability

The obvious advantage of soysilk is that it's an alternative fabric for those looking to reduce their reliance on fabrics derived from animals, and in this respect, makes for a good substitute for garments that are made from such fabrics as silk and cashmere.

However, since the main raw material in the production of soysilk is waste from the soy industry, we need to look at the impact of the soy industry as a whole to understand the true environmental cost of using soysilk.  

TThe Environmental Impact Of The Soybean Industry

The majority of soy is grown in the United States, Brazil (and to a lesser degree, Argentina), and the majority of this has been driven by rising demand for animal feed, biofuels, and vegetable oils over the past couple of decades.

While soy is used extensively in vegan meals and meat substitutes, it is also considered responsible for most of Brazil's deforestation pandemic. Brazil has increased its overall soy plantation area to 36 million hectares since 2000, making it the world's largest producer. In some of the country's most biodiverse regions, this growth has wiped out gigantic regions of forest and other ecosystems.

Animal feed accounts for around 75% of worldwide soy production, and a major part of soy imported into Europe is utilized on poultry and pig farms.

What Does This Mean For Soy Fabric?

The excessive production of soy and the soy industry as a whole is under scrutiny given the excessive deforestation that they are supported by. The production and popularisation of silk fabric will only increase the demand for soy and soy waste and therefore feed into the vicious cycle of demand and supply.

While soy fabric itself appears great as it seemingly minimizes waste, the need of the hour is to move towards a truly circular economy by using resources that already exist in our environment, instead of creating new ones.