In conversation with Kusuma Rajaiah - The origin of Ahimsa silk
2nd October, marks the International Day of Non-Violence, the birthday of Mahatma Gandhi, the Father of India's Independence Movement. Gandhi's non-violence and legacy not only inspired our founder, Lily in building Ethical Kind as a socially conscious label. It has been the firm principle that inspired Mr Kusuma Rajaiah, who invented the Ahimsa Silk method in the early 2000s, for producing silk using an eco-friendly way and without the need for killing the silkworms.
Months before the launch of Ethical Kind, Lily went to meet with Mr Kusuma Rajaiah in Hyderabad to learn about Ahimsa silk. He holds both a Patent (Application Number 217/MAS/2002) and a Trademark (Application Number 1495103, Class 24) for Ahimsa Silk from the Government of India. Lily speaks with Mr Kusuma Rajaiah to find out how he started and what makes Ahimsa Silk special?
Mr Kusuma Rajaiah at his facility in Hyderabad
Q: Tell me what is Ahimsa Silk, and how does it work?
A: Ahimsa is a Sanskrit word meaning non-violence; the silk is made without killing the of the silkworm. In this process, what we are doing is taking the same cocoons. These cocoons are formed from silkworms eating mulberry leaves, they grow, and after four weeks these silkworms kept in the baskets will start oozing liquid from their glads to form an oval shape cocoon. The silkworm is inside the cocoon; the outer layer is the silk filament. For regular silk, they will be purchased and put in boiling water to extract the silk. In this process, billions of innocent silkworms are killed. I buy the same cocoons from the farmers and keep these cocoons in open bamboo baskets at my facility. We will wait a week to ten days for the silkworm to grown into a silk moth. The silkworm will ooze a liquid to soften its cocoon and pierce through naturally. We will then separate the cocoons and the moths by hand, the moths are left peacefully. We extract the silk from the broken cocoons by softening them in boiling, the silk is then spun into silk yarn. These silk yarns are very soft compared to regular production.
I applied for the patent; the word "Ahimsa" was not patentable. However, my invention, the claim, and process were granted in 2002 by the India government. The patent methodology is non-violent, eco-friendly manufacturing of silk.
Q: What inspired you to start this process?
A: I like Mahatma Gandhi; I am also a loom and textile student. The India president's wife raised a question in the '90s; she asked if it was possible to make a saree with silk without killing the silkworm? That question and Gandhi's message to the silk industry, where there is a lot of massacres to produce silk, ask for a way to stop this violence without killing the silkworms. Nothing had happened for a while, but it led me to research into the method, and I succeed in it. I can proudly say as a common man, I have fulfilled one desire for great Mahatma; this is a great satisfaction. Once, I invented this method and it went to press; two notable things were happening, 1) more people were following the non-violent way, and 2) more people are converting to vegetarianism.
Q: What are the main differences between Ahimsa silk and conventional silk, aside from the non-killing process?
A: Regular silk is like paper, it's not smooth, whereas Ahimsa silk it's very smooth when you touch it, it's like butter. Regular silk won't absorb sweat; it won't permit the air; it won't fall as well. Ahimsa silk is very smooth when it touches the body; it will permit the air and absorb sweat. It does take more time and labour to produce Ahimsa silk. Silk is treated as priced fabric and worn at prestigious occasions, but there is a lot of killings, I'm not sure why people are encouraging regular silk. Non-violent is pure, and you can wear it without feeling any guilt.
Q: What will be your lessons to pass down to the next generation of designers?
My lessons to the younger designers are to create designs that keep mother earth safe. The fabrics which we are wearing should be biodegradable, ethically made and it should not harm the environment. The globe is discussing non-violence, please divert garments to give the purchaser a message on how a garment is made, what is the process and difficulties behind it.
While Ethical Kind decided not to source from Mr Rajaiah, as we were unable to trace the source of the cocoons, it was an essential visit in our sourcing journey. We thank Mr Rajaiah for his time. Follow us on instagram and see the full interview on IGTV here.