The Future of African Luxury feat. "African" Silk from Madagascar

Being able to recognize good fabrics can help you choose a quality garment or accessory, and learning about raw materials is your first step to knowing the quality of a fabric. So this week, let's learn about silk, more specifically "African" silk.

Silk has a small percentage of the global textile market - less than 0.2% according to statistics from the International Sericultural Commission (ISC). While 97.9% of silk is produced in China and India (as of 2012 according to the ISC statistics), silk production takes place in over 60 countries in the world. In Africa, Madagascar has a long history of silk production.

Madagascar produces two types of silk: one is cultivated silk from breeding silkworms (Bombyx mori which was introduced in around 1850), and the other is wild silk from the native silkworm Borocera Madagascariensis, which lives in wild tapia trees. According to the ISC, 100 tons of Bombyx mori and 40 tons of wild silk were produced in Madagascar in 2012. 

Malagasy wild silk. (Source: International Sericultural Commission website).

Malagasy wild silk. (Source: International Sericultural Commission website).

Since most silk in the global market is cultivated, you may not be familiar with wild silk, which is pictured above. Wild silk is uniquely textured and comes in a variety of brownish or gold colors while cultivated silk is white. 

An article in The New York Times suggests that wild silk could have more potential for commercial production in places like Africa, "where the climate is well suited for wild worms," especially with a newly-discovered process that makes unraveling cocoons easier. The article also suggests that it could be a high ROI agricultural product that requires less space and produces high value. Silk production is labor-intensive so it can also create jobs. 

The production process of Malagasy wild silk textiles involves no less than 13 critical steps (after sourcing cocoons):

  1. Turning over cocoons onto a peg in groups of 5 or 6
  2. Cooking silk with soap and water for about a day (duration depends on the volume)
  3. Drying by mixing up silk once again with soap and throwing them (!) onto a wall
  4. Pulling apart the thread which takes about 6 hours for 100 grams of silk (the amount needed to produce one small scarf)
  5. Wrapping around the bamboo poles
  6. Dying by boiling silk with natural coloring ingredients from local trees for about half an hour, rubbing ash all over it, washing and drying, and cooking again with rice, water, and flour.
  7. Drying after spreading the threads tightly on stumps
  8. Spinning onto a spool
  9. Winding on a special bobbin called Betsileo (the name of a highland ethnic tribe in Madagascar)
  10. Weaving
  11. Finishing into a final product
  12. Washing to let the extra color come off and prevent bleeding
  13. Ironing - finally ready for sale!

You can enjoy a glimpse of this astonishing production process of wild silk in this documentary film (Quick tip: Watch the trailer below!) produced by an organization called Sahalandy (meaning "field of silk" in Malagasy) that aims to maintain the heritage of weaving the native raw silk of Madagascar by promoting their silk products. 

At Maki & Mpho, we believe that luxury is not really about expensiveness or exclusiveness, but it is more about experience ofa rich story behind a product or person. These silk producers, or "Silkies" will definitely play a key role in creating the future of African luxury.

Produced by: The Santa Fe International Folk Art Market (Original link)