Material Matter: Wild Silk from Madagascar

By Brittany DiBenedetto | Material Matter
Posted Sep 6, 2016

Silk is a strong, flexible fiber greatly desired for its luxuriousness and beauty. Among consumers there is a stereotypical expectation that all silk is to be soft and something you might want to wear as underwear. This is not always the case.

An uncommon form of silk is making its way out of a Malagasy rainforest. The organization Conservation Through Poverty Alleviation International, or CPALI for short, is connecting local farmers with their surrounding resources. In this region, a major resource happens to be silkworms. The project utilizes two types of species indigenous to this area: Antherina suraka and Ceranchia apollina. Farmers are harvesting the silkworms’ cocoons and creating unique, artisan textiles.

CPALI works with a network of farmers from communities near two large protected areas in Madagascar. The farmers plant native trees on their own property sufficient enough to host the silkworms. Breeders have the option of being paid for harvesting the cocoons or being a part of the textiles production. Kerry O’Neill, assistant director of CPALI, describes the projects’ objective:

“We designed the whole project as a source of supplemental income for subsistence farmers… We spent many years encouraging farmers to plant as many host trees as they could in and around their properties so that they could raise many silkworms.”

The organization has a no kill policy when it comes to their silk production. Once in the pupae stage, the silkworms are carefully cut out from the cocoons and placed into a protected environment until they are mature. Otherwise the moth would rip the cocoon and leave a residue from their wings adding a possible allergen to the material. After the cocoons are harvested they are washed, dried, ironed flat, and sewed together. Due to the rough texture of the material, the textile is ideal for art, home design, and accessories.

This new, and amazing raw silk is helping conserve the Malagasy rainforest along with two rare species of silkworms while supplementing the income of local farmers. CPALI is working with these communities in order for them to sustain themselves and function as their own independent NGO. Currently it is a small project with a small market, but the organization has seen positive growth. The raw silk has been sourced for products by Color by Amber, dConstruct Jewelry, Habu Textiles and ABC Home and Carpets and designers can source here.


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