My journey along The Silk Road

Well spent or mis spent, depending on how you look at it, quite a bit of my twenties found me roaming the world, sometimes with friends, sometimes alone. I craved seeing new places, trying new foods and exploring new cultures and was constantly looking at a map of the world figuring out a route or deciding on a new place to visit. 

Recently, when looking over a map of the silk road (I have a thing about maps), I realised that to some extent, I’ve travelled in a number of the major towns and cities along the route. It seems a lifetime ago now and due to my lack of diary writing at the time, I decided to dig out some photos to help jog my memory and see what I can recall from my former life as a traveller.

First on the list (as it is the start of the Silk Road) is China, where I spent two months in 2008. I arrived overland from Vietnam and went straight to Hainan, an island in the south with beautiful beaches and shop signs in Russian, yes, Russian. Hainan is a huge Russian holiday destination, not at all what I was expecting but nice beaches all the same and delicious fruits and seafood - you can't really go wrong.

After lapping that up for two weeks I got the ferry back to the mainland, learning basic and invaluable Mandarin on route from some lovely Chinese students (I’ve learned that as long as you can count and negotiate a price in the native language, you’re one step up on the local ladder and it really helps the more remote you go). Next I visited Guilin in Guangxi province, with beautiful countryside along the Li river that made for some lovely cycling days. After that I went up to Longji rice terraces, a spectacular spot in the hills with beautiful scenery and absolute quiet due to the lack of roads and therefore cars. Getting around is by foot alone, sometimes piecing ones ways among the rice paddies like a novice while octogenarian locals skip past without missing a beat.

Having been traveling solo for some time now I was delighted when a friend from home joined me for a month and together we went to Yunnan province in west China. Yunnan has enough variety to occupy any traveller with great hiking, beautiful cities such as Dali and Lijiang and the Tibetan town of Shangri La where we enjoyed the annual horse racing festival and yak butter (the jury is still out on yak butter). We undertook a three day hike along the Tiger Leaping Gorge, a canyon on the Jinsha River. I love hiking, I really do, but I find that when I have to carry a tent, sleeping bag, food and water for the whole trip, my enjoyment slides as the kilos increase, plus I spend the whole time looking at the ground while walking. So, with it’s teahouses and guesthouses to stay in along the way, Tiger Leaping Gorge made for one of the most enjoyable treks I’ve done, it was the bomb.

 

After Yunnan we made our way up to Xian to see the Teracotta Army and climb Mount Huashan (2154m) to sped the night on the mountain. Although we took the longer, less terrifying route, there is a route for the thrill seekers where you take your life in your hands walking along planks of wood along a sheer drop. I opted out of this for obvious reasons (see pictures below).

Heading eastwards to Beijing it was all action as they prepared for the Olympics with buildings and roads appearing in a matter of weeks. I hung out here for a couple of weeks waiting for a visa for Mongolia and found it a vibrant city - tasty food, nice people and tons to see and do from visiting the Great Wall, shopping in the Silk market (not for the faint hearted) and going to the Chinese opera. Next up was a three day train spectacular contry side through Inner Mongolia to Ulaan Baatar in Mongolia and onto the next adventure.

I cannot overstate how much I enjoyed traveling in China, the diversity in foods, cultures, scenery make it a destination you could visit numerous times and have a different trip each time. There I go, I knew I’d get itchy feet taking a wander down memory lane.......

A trip out East

With our new collection’s imminent arrival, I made a much anticipated trip over to India recently to check in with its production at Mehera Shaw, the Fairtrade tailoring unit in Jaipur where our products are made. 

As is usually the case nowadays, any work trip I make is pretty jam packed as there’s young children at home to get back to. Eight days seems like such a long time when tickets are being booked (especially to a three and a five year old) but it quickly fills up and this was the case on this trip. I began in Jaipur in Rajasthan, one of the prettiest cities in India I’ve visited. Here I spent a few days visiting the printing and dyeing units in and the tailors in Mehera Shaw to check in with the production and prints for our new collection. As proficient Skype calls and emails are, it’s always great to visit with the production units personally to meet with and get to know the people who are ultimately responsible for our designs and prints coming to life. 

I did manage to squeeze in a day of sightseeing in Jaipur and welcomed the familiar bustle and noises of daily life (not the traffic though, which seems to have got worse). Jaipur, the Pink City, is one of the cities in India most visited by tourists and for good reason. I could easily have spent a week here but as one day was all I had, I made the most of it.

After Jaipur, I flew south to Chennai to visit my aunt for a day. I hadn’t seen her in a few years so it was wonderful to spend quality uninterrupted time with her on my own. The following day I flew further south to inspect a new factory for future products (I’m not going to say too much here but suffice to say I was very impressed with the factory and its standards and ethos so lots to think about now...). Also being in the south meant I got to indulge in some South Indian cuisine and you really can’t go wrong with that, I’m still dreaming of the masala dosa I had one of the mornings for breakfast.

Then it was back up to Chennai to spend the night before catching my flight home the next day. Honestly I can say that I thoroughly enjoyed the flights, I’m serious! Watching back to back movies is rarity these days so I nestled into my seat and emerged from the flight square eyed and three movies wiser. It was great.

Fashion Revolution Week '17

As #FashionRevolutionWeek 2017 is coming to an end, we want to encourage people to keep asking companies #whomademyclothes. 

It is four years since the Rana Plaza catastrophe in Bangladesh where 1133 people were killed when a building housing garment factories collapsed. The previous few days, when cracks appeared in the building walls, a number of workers in the building were evacuated. Under the pressure of completion deadlines from managers, the garment workers were threatened with losing their jobs if they didn’t return to work and these were the vast majority of the casualties and fatalities. Unfortunately this is not a one-off occurrence, with factory fires in Pakistan, India and Cambodia having occurred since the Rana Plaza tragedy.

Rana Plaza has been a major catalyst in highlighting the conditions many garment workers are subjected to with reports of gross mistreatment and abuse and working dangerously long hours in unsafe conditions for exceptionally low pay. Changes have transpired such as factory safety audits, workers unions being formed and confidential report lines for workers being set up. Lots of brands are serious about making commitments to improving social and environmental issues, setting time-bound commitments to improving things and making progress towards fulfilling them. However, transparency remains a huge issue as big brands work with multiple factories, making it difficult to obtain definite accountability throughout.

*Our products are made in Mehera Shaw, a Fairtrade tailoring unit in Jaipur, India.

During Fashion Revolution week, people are encouraged to question and put pressure on brands to provide details of the supply chain of their garments. All too often companies outsource production through an agent who seeks to get the lowest price possible for production. Fierce competition means that ultimately it is the worker that pays the price as they are forced to make more and work longer hours for exceptionally low pay. Subsequently, the actual brand and therefore the garment wearer is oblivious to where their clothes are being made and by whom. The chain of production, from field to production, is well and truly lost.

Livia Firth, a staunch fashion activist and founder of the Green Carpet Challenge puts it well - "This is a global problem - we need to question how loyal we are to all brands to flush out sweatshops all over the world, even in developed countries, on our doorstep. If we imagine we are voting every time we buy something, and we use our purchase power, then things will change."

Research and support for the companies that do show transparency is paramount as ultimately it is the buying power of the public that will bring results. Here’s an extremely informative Transparency Index, created by FashionRevolution so you can check out a brand’s policies and performance before making your purchase.

Please keep asking #whomademyclothes

A belated Mother's Day

Phew, after a hectic week, I made it to India to visit the unit where The Ethical Silk Company’s products are made, and to see the new collection which is currently underway. It will be an intense trip but it’s a privilege to see this beautiful country and its people again. 

I still have a childish joy in packing my bags to go away and feeling the excitement starting to build. Well planned hand luggage is the top priority as even the smallest comfort can make the travel so much easier as the flights and layovers can really take it out of you. A silk wrap and eye mask are your best friends on a trip - silk is lightweight and temperature regulating helping keep you snug on flights and warm in chilly airports.

Now that I’m settled in Jaipur and I’m taking a few hours to rest and acclimatise (to the noise if nothing more) I realise that I won’t be in Ireland for Mother’s Day. My first Mother’s Day without seeing my two boys, and the first Mother’s Day in a very long time that I won’t see my own mother.

I’m not usually sentimental about these occasions. It’s a short trip and we can all enjoy a belated Mother’s Day when I get home, but that doesn’t stop you thinking about your mammy, and where would you be without her.

My mother is responsible for planting the original seed of an idea of The Ethical Silk Company. When we were growing up, she slept with a silk scarf over her pillowcase, and encouraged my sister and I to do the same as it was so good for our skin and hair. That’s what led to a lifelong love of silk and exploring the idea of making silk pillowcases and baby cot sheets. Fast-forward to now, and arriving in India to see our new Ethical Silk patterns and styles in production, fills me with pride. Thank you Mum for showing me the beauty of silk so early on in life, who knew it would sculpt my life so much!

Despite it looking like punishment lines (remember those from school?) this card was made under entirely voluntary conditions

Despite it looking like punishment lines (remember those from school?) this card was made under entirely voluntary conditions

And I’ll be missing my own little helpers too but they can just have an extra day to get their homemade card count up (one card for an occasion never suffices, it’s usually 6 or 7). So enjoy your mums and enjoy being a mum on Mother’s day. It’s the hardest job in the world, but I wouldn’t be without it.

Hurrah for Gin - never fails to get a giggle

Hurrah for Gin - never fails to get a giggle

Caring for your silk

“I love silk, but all that hand-washing and dry cleaning, I don’t have time for all that extra work!” 

In my line of work, I tend to hear this a quite a lot. Rest assured, I’m here to share the good news! Yes, mulberry silk from The Ethical Silk Company requires just a little bit of love and attention, but it Is strong as well as beautiful and surprisingly easy to look after. Silk is the strongest of natural fibres. This natural material needs to be cared for like any other, in order to maintain its strength and durability. There’s a reason why we call our beloved baby cot sheet the ‘gift for life’, we know it can last a lifetime.

Our 100% natural, eco-friendly silk can be easily washed, dried and ironed. Just follow our handy guide to getting the best from your silk products and you’ll have family heirloom to pass on to future generations.

  1. You can machine wash your silk on a low-temperature, gentle cycle.  Use the time-reduction setting on your machine, if you have it.
  2. Wash like colours together.
  3. Use a silk/wool detergent like Woolite, or Ecover Delicate Laundry Liquid.
  4. A mesh bag will protect your silk from any possible snagging in the machine.
  5. Avoid the fabric conditioner/softener! It is not necessary for silk. In fact, it leaves behind a coating on your laundry, that with repeated use makes it impenetrable to water and detergent (same goes for your sports gear by the way). 
  6. Silk dries very quickly. Hang to dry, out of direct sunlight.
  7. For best results, iron from damp, on reverse, using low setting. Trust us – it gives the nicest finish and is the easiest way to dry.
  8. Tumble drying is not recommended (or needed as silk dries so quickly)

 

If you’re still dubious, you can always hand-wash your silk, using lukewarm water and a mild detergent. A good alternative is a non alkaline soap or even baby shampoo! Do not soak. Wash your silk gently through the soapy water for a just a few minutes.

Rinsing can take a bit of time, but adding a few tablespoons of white vinegar to the water is recommended as it neutralizes alkali traces. Do not wring it out afterwards as this can damage the fibers. Roll your garment gently into a towel to extract the water. And continue as before to dry.

Love your silk laundry and it will last for many years to come!

Simple Love

The Hallmark day arrives again, Valentine’s Day. I don’t want to snub it completely, what’s the harm in being reminded to express your love for your nearest and dearest and not take them for granted? But it sometimes feels too forced, as if you simply must receive a card, roses, chocolates and an expensive dinner out or there’s something wrong with your relationship! 

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But we can enjoy Valentine’s Day without feeling like we are doing it for the sake of it.  How do you really want to spend the 14th February and have it feel special? As ever, it’s the little things. You can spoil your loved ones in thoughtful, meaningful ways and have a really special evening by delighting the senses without caving to the expensive paraphernalia. So stay in on Tuesday night and keep it cosy!

1) Cosy up
The weather is beyond cold at the moment, and nothing is more cheering on these dreadful evenings than a cosy fire. It’s my favourite thing. For those of you who don’t have an open fire or stove, using lots of candlelight will help create that relaxing, flickering glow.  Very ‘hygge’ altogether!

2) Get your taste-buds tingling
Make this spiced-chocolate aphrodisiac mousse from the fabulous Susan Jane White.  I love her decadent yet healthy sweet treats and this one is delicious. A perfect Valentine’s dessert, and so easy you’ll be making it again and again http://susanjanewhite.com/spiced-chocolate-mousse/. This will get your heart racing!

3) Dump the digital interference: 
Turn the TV and all your digital gadgets off! It’s so easy to get consumed by all the digital stimuli around us and it can play havoc with our personal relationships. Instead, why not play some of your favorite music, and give your partner some time and attention, away from social media.

4) Get some scents
Aromas can trigger varying emotional and physical responses in people and there’s nothing as pleasing to my nose than some wonderful essential oils.  Many essential oils have aphrodisiac qualities such as rose. (if it’s good enough for Cleopatra..) neroli, sandalwood, vanilla and jasmine. The handiest way to use essential oils is to heat the in an oil burner, but if you’re up to creating a massage lotion or oil - go for it! 

5) Go to bed!
Or at least, get to bed earlier, snuggle up together in freshly laundered sheets, and silk pillowcases, and feel the glow the next morning knowing you got your beauty sleep. That is, if you get your sleep ;) 

Happy Valentine’s xx

All wrapped up and ready for gifting

Christmas is just around the corner, and if you are looking for unique gift ideas for the ones you love, there is nothing more thoughtful than the gift of silk. Especially when that gift comes packaged beautifully and ready for gifting! Here is The Ethical Silk Company’s guide to the perfect gifts, delivered straight to your door.

Gifts for her
If you’re uncertain of sizing or it’s hard to choose what print your favorite lady would like, we recommend our mulberry silk scarf as an excellent introduction to the beauty and feel of mulberry silk. Wrapping this beauty around their neck, she will immediately experience the quality and simple sophistication of silk. Perfect for mums and grannies too – its heat regulating properties make our silk scarves an ideal practical gift for those who feel the cold!

Gifts for a new Mum and baby
With its numerous uses, our 100% mulberry silk cot sheet is the perfect welcome to the world; for a new baby. A mulberry silk eye mask will help Mum make the most of those precious hours of sleep. The cot sheet is the natural (undyed) ivory colour. Numerous uses include using as a swaddle, sheet for Moses basket / cot and a breathable, lightweight cover in hot weather - a true Gift for Life.

New Mums can enjoy a wonderful night's sleep with our mulberry silk eyemask. 100% eco-friendly mulberry silk on front & reverse with organic cotton filling for extra padded comfort, our eye masks are ideal for use at home and while traveling. 

A unique gift for your fashionista friend
We are so delighted with our newest product, our silk-sleeved top. 100% mulberry silk, French-seamed with stitch details at the sleeve trim, available in natural (undyed) ivory, lunar grey, coral/teal and grey/teal combinations. It’s the year-round perfect top for comfort, style and elegance. 

Gifts for him
Him? Really? You’ll be surprised to learn that our best selling product is our silk pillowcase, and many of our customers are male. Hot flushes and night sweats are often linked solely with females, but in reality men get night sweats too, for a range of reasons. And while sleeping on a silk pillowcase will not cure these conditions, male customers regularly feedback to us that using our silk pillowcases give them a far more comfortable night’s sleep. That’s because silk is a natural thermo-regulator, keeping you warm in cold weather, and cooling you down when it’s hot.

We’ve had many a skeptical male customer becoming one-men ambassadors for silk pillowcases, recommending them to friends who have similar sleep problems. If you have a partner, relative or friend who suffers with this condition (honestly you might be surprised if you ask them the question), a silk pillowcase is your only man!

Gifts for that special someone
It’s the ultimate ‘Christmas Wrapping’ for that most special of people – you! Feel the sheer comfort of being wrapped in silk and lounging around in style this Christmas with a 100% silk robe from The Ethical Silk Company. Happy Christmas, you know you deserve it! 

Natural beauty Tips Mammy Swears By

As sleeping on silk, a natural fibre, is so good for your skin and hair, I thought to share a few natural home beauty remedies that I’ve grown up with. It may seem a bit strange putting different foods on your face but trust me - my Mum has amazing skin, so much that on her 50th birthday she received ‘Happy 40th Birthday’ cards. I think that was the turning point for me and I started to take note of the various items coming out of the fridge or press and being rubbed onto skin. It does make sense though, especially when I don’t understand practically any of the ingredients on tubs of face creams. At least with these natural beauty tips, you know exactly what you’re using. Everyone’s skin is different though so do a patch test or just use on a small area when trying these natural beauty tips for the first time.

Here’s a few I’ve grown up with and work for me:

1) Porridge oats

Place a heaped teaspoon of organic oats into the palm of your hand, add two teaspoons of water and mix so it turns mushy. Then rub onto your face and leave for 10 minutes or so. The mixture will get hard and look very odd so lay low, especially out of the sight of children. Rinse off after approx. 10 minutes and your skin will feel exfoliated and beautifully soft.

2) Honey

After using the porridge mask, I normally wet my face with water and rub a teaspoon of honey onto my skin and neck in gentle circular motions. Leave it on for 30 minutes and rinse off. Honey is an antioxident leaving your skin soft and radiant. I use both of these home remedies weekly, usually when I’m watching a movie at home so I can hide away in the dark.

3) Coconut oil / Cold pressed castor oil

This is my nightly moisturiser. I find castor oil a little heavy on its own so mixed with coconut oil (50/50) gives a lovely consistency. Castor oil penetrates deep into the skin, softens and hydrates it. The oil helps to promote the production of elastin and collagen, which help to delay the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. Coconut is an all round wonder. Give your face a massage when you are putting on your night time moisturiser. It’s amazing how much tension you can hold in your face and a gentle massage (no pulling or dragging though) will help stimulate skin cells and lymphatic drainage.

4) Banana peel

Keep a banana peel and rub the inside over you skin as a natural moisturiser. Wash off after approx 20mins. This is a handy one if you eat bananas with your breakfast and wait to put on makeup until after washing it off.

5) Baking soda & sea salt toothpaste

Mix together and dip a wet toothbrush into the mix. Brush with this mixture for pearly whites. Sodium bicarbonate is highly alkaline, and as such counteracts acids in the mouth (acids cause tooth decay), kills bacteria and germs, and combats bad breath. High in iodine, sea salt has antibacterial properties and helps neutralize acids in the mouth. Use a few times per week as well as your usual brushing routine.

Enjoy!

Thanks for reading,

Eva

Mehera Shaw in Jaipur

In February this year I returned to India to visit the various production units along The Ethical Silk Company’s supply chain. It had been a few years since I had previously been in India (it appears young children can hamper your ability to roam around as freely as your pre baby days) so I was itching to return (read about the whole trip here). Even though most aspects of the business can be run remotely, thanks to the powers of the internet and Skype, there’s nothing like a face to face to have a proper talk with people along the supply chain and to discuss how things can move ahead.

As The Ethical Silk Company has been growing, I needed to source a second tailoring unit to work with and had been in contact with Mehera Shaw, a fairtrade tailoring unit in Jaipur. I was eager to visit and meet Shari, the founder. An added bonus was that I had never been in Rajasthan before and was looking forward to seeing the pink city. The brand, Mehera Shaw began in 1999 with the fairtrade production unit becoming a private limited company in 2007, priding itself on being a transparent, vertical supply chain using fair labour standards. 

"We believe that good design can and does go hand-in-hand with beautifully made, hand-crafted textiles, that sustainability, small-scale artisan production and good design are a good fit and the way of the future. We see it as a continuous cycle--on the production end, we believe in the fair trade model of people being able to help themselves and their success coming from themselves. The role of artisans and of everyone in the supply chain is important.  Everyone has a voice and a significance. I would also call this slow fashion --meaning, for me, that there is a story behind the production. It is a dialogue across cultures and brings people together through art, craft and understanding." --Shari

Product sampling at Mehera Shaw

Product sampling at Mehera Shaw

Being able to visit this sustainable production unit myself and meet the people working there was essential for our working together to commence. I was delighted to meet Shari, a truly kind and lovely lady and am delighted to say that we’re now producing our new products (stay tuned!!) in this Fairtrade unit as well as working with the Himalayan Tailoring Centre in Dharamsala (you can have a peek our Fairtrade tailored products here).

Trying my hand at block printing at Mehera Shaw's Dyeing Unit

Trying my hand at block printing at Mehera Shaw's Dyeing Unit

Mehara Shaw have also founded a non-profit foundation, Mehera Shaw Foundation Trust, whose mission is to support artisan development projects with a philosophy of emancipation through work, self building and dignity. Projects include women artisan micro-enterprise skills training programme making upcycled fashion accessories from post production scrap fabric. I LOVE the idea behind this project and am thinking hard on how The Ethical Silk Company can work with the Foundation, so again, watch this space!

Thanks for reading,

Eva

My long awaited visit to India

After a long time in the pipeline I finally got back out to India in February this year to visit the various production and tailoring units we work with. Although my last trip incorporated a holiday, with a young family at home I didn’t have that luxury this time round - it was more a case of trying to fit as much as possible in a short amount of time. So with 8 flights in 9 days planned and 5 units to visit I knew it would be a full on trip. I brought Mark, a photographer friend, along for the trip (all pics courtesy of Mark Phillips, more to be posted on Pinterest, Facebook and Twitter).Mark has travelled in India a few times and knows the lay of the land so he was ready for a busy trip and lots of good food.

As our boys are so young I had really mixed feelings about leaving for 9 days - not for them, I knew they’d be delighted hanging out with their dad for the time, it was more that I hadn’t had 9 days without one or two small people to be responsible for in over 3 years. I wouldn’t know what to do with myself and warned Mark I may feel the need to offer him snacks and ask him if he needed the toilet. It turns out I was fine and the novelty of just having myself to look after and being able to read uninterrupted was an extra bonus of the trip.

After a long flight from Dublin to Hyderabad (I can’t complain too much as I got bumped up to business class for the second leg!) we arrived with Kusuma Rajaiah, the founder of Ahimsa Silk. Here in his home we met with Rajaiah’s family and the beautiful moths that emerge from the silk cocoons before the silk is harvested. These moths are spared the fate of being boiled alive (like in regular silk production) and only the discarded cocoon is used for Ahimsa Silk. 

After sampling the biryani that Hyderabad is famous for (it’d have been rude not to), the next morning we flew from Hyderabad to Raipur to visit the mill where the silk is spun into yarn. Although I knew the basics of yarn making I had no idea of the intricate system involved where each stage of the process was repeated at least 4 times to ensure top quality yarn. The mill was HUGE, like a small village and we had the privilege of staying in their on site guesthouse. After spending a day at the mill in Raipur, we took a morning flight to Bangalore in south India to visit the weavers and eat some masala dosa while still in the south (if you are yet to try masala dosa do so immediately. Ambala on Camden St. in Dublin make a fantastic one).

Bangalore was hot, busy and loud. We had seemed to escape the hustle and bustle in Hyderabad and Raipur so it was reassuring to see that Indian life was still as I had remembered it, at least down south. We visited the weavers where the silk is woven on autolooms that work at an unbelievable speed. Being on site meant I was fully able to talk with Rajaiah and the weavers about future developments rather than emailing back and forth so it was fantastic to get so much ground covered. Unsurprisingly, I could have done with more time there but I reckon that is always going to be the case when a trip has a tight timeframe.

After Bangalore, Rajaiah headed back to Hyderabad and Mark and I carried on to Dharmsala. With a full day of flying from south to north we arrived in the Himalayas where fresh air and (relative) calm awaited us. We headed straight for Eternal Creation’s Himalayan Tailoring Centre, where our products are tailored. The unit is terrific, great atmosphere and really lovely people working here. I suppose working surrounded by the stunning Himalayas has to rub off on your mood to some extent! I got to meet the tailors that work on our products and talk extensively with Ayaz, the head tailor. As the next day was a Saturday and the tailoring unit was closed meant we had the luxury of a day off. It had been a few years since I was last in Dharmsala so it was lovely to see the area again and take in a walk to a local waterfall. We had heard a sufi fusion band (don’t ask me to explain) were playing in a local rooftop bar that night and went along to check it out. Although it was pretty cold, everyone, both tourists and locals, got really into the music and it was a good laugh and nice to enjoy an aul Kingfisher beer.

Sunday was mainly spent flying from Dharamsala to Jaipur via Delhi. I had never been to Rajasthan before so it was great to see even a small part of it. Jaipur is known as the pink city, and it really is pink, and pretty, and very clean. We stayed at a guesthouse that had the sweetest garden I’ve seen with plants and flowers potted in teacups and  rabbits roaming around in the morning time. In Jaipur I visited another fairtrade tailoring unit, Mehera Shaw, where our new sleepwear range is being developed. Here they have created a new dyeing unit and carry out traditional block printing which is all food for thought for me now. I even tried my hand at block printing and had the pleasure of seeing the artists at work.

Trying my hand at block printing at Mehera Shaw in Jaipur

Trying my hand at block printing at Mehera Shaw in Jaipur

After a fascinating day at the tailoring and dyeing units in Jaipur and eating delicious Rajasthani thali, it was onto Delhi for a night in the old backpacker haunt of Paherganj before my flight home the next day. A beautifully uneventful flight back to Dublin saw me suddenly back home on Tuesday night reading bedtime stories to my three year old and dreaming of a traveling adventure for the whole family to go on. 

Thanks for reading,

Eva



The Silk Road and how it shaped the modern world

Many people have heard of the Silk Road, the vast expansive route that facilitated the silk industry for centuries, and allowed trade to flourish between Asia, the Middle East and Europe. We’ve even mentioned it before in our previous blogs about the history of silk. But this week, we decided to give our #EthicalSilkCo followers a little more detail on just how influential the Silk Road was (and still is) in shaping the world we know today.

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The Silk Road itself is just under 6,500km’s long and expands across much of Asia, the Middle East, into Europe and finally Africa. It gradually became a popularized route when first, the Persians, and then Italians, joined in the sericulture industry to produce the much sought after material: Silk. By the 13th century the Silk Road, or Silk route as it was also commonly referred to, had been widely acknowledged and permanently established.

Despite the route not being officially established until the 2nd century BC, ancient remains found in Egypt indicate that Silk was travelling along its various tributary routes long before previously thought, even as far back as 1070 BC. Evidence suggests that some Egyptian mummies, presumably royalty, were buried with silk along with other valuable or necessary items which they would need when passing into the afterlife.

However, it wasn’t just tangible goods that were traded along the Silk Road. Cultural and religious exchanges began to meander along the route, acting as a connection for a global network where East and West ideologies met. This led to the spread of many ideologies, cultures and even religions. For example the route contributed to the spread of Islam, with many Arab Muslims travelling along the Silk Road to China in order to spread the Islamic faith. Additionally Buddhism, Zoroastrianism, Manichaeism and Nestorianism were all introduced to China and parts of India because of the Silk Roads influence.  

The spread of papermaking was also influenced by the route.  This production method spread from China through much of central Asia as a direct result of the route itself. Architecture, town planning, as well as music and art from many different cultures were transported along the Silk Road. Actors from the East performed in Constantinople (modern day Istanbul). Music from Eastern Turkestan and Central Asia grew popular in China, while buildings such as Timur's structures in Samarkand and Timurids tombs at Gur-Emir, have heavy architectural influences from various countries such as Iran, Georgia and India.

Even today, the Silk Road holds economic and cultural significance for many. It is now recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, while the United Nations World Tourism Organization has developed the route as a way of ‘fostering peace and understanding’. Having visited a number of countries the Silk Road passes through (I’ll do a write up on those again), I can definitely say that taking a trip along this route is incredible and well worth the long distance travelled.

If you’d like to have your very own piece of the Silk Road, why not check out our range of ethically produced mulberry silk garments. Remember, you can also stay up to date with everything to do with the Ethical Silk Company, including all our blogs by following us on Facebook, Twitter or Pinterest.

Thanks,

Eva

The History of Silk II: The Silk Road and Spread to Europe

A few months ago, we gave you a little insight into the extensive and exciting history of silk. In our previous blog post, we discussed silks early dominance within Chinese culture and how it spread to nations such as Japan and Korea. So today, we reveal the second part, which includes details of the infamous Silk Road, how the materials spread to Europe and how it’s helped to shape the world we know today.

With the secret of sericulture finally revealed, silk production inevitably spread westward. Even since Roman times, silk was a highly sought after material by Europeans, but reproducing it proved unsuccessful. Around the 6th Century however, the Persians mastered this production method. This was followed closely by the Byzantine Empire, who forged their own monopoly on the materials manufacture thanks to two Nestorian Monks.

Furthermore, silk also spread rapidly through Africa, when the Arabs conquered much of the Persian Empire during the 7th Century. Their vast sericulture production techniques were adopted quickly, resulting in its spread to the continent, as well as Sicily and Spain. All of this trade extended the Silk Road to a mammoth 6,400km long stretch through Asia, the Middle East and on into Africa and Europe. 

This trade route proved lucrative for many Venetian merchants during the 13th Century and eventually convinced many Chinese and other Asian/Middle Eastern silk manufacturers to settle in Italy in order to provide a steady flow of silk for the Italian mass market. This eventually led to Italian dominance in silk production throughout the region. Even today, this silk is highly regarded, especially in the region of Como, where they have a Silk Museum dedicated to the illustrious history of the textile industry.

          Marco Polo, Famous Venetian Merchant, travelling along the Silk Road

          Marco Polo, Famous Venetian Merchant, travelling along the Silk Road

The strength of Italian silk in Europe remained dominant until the 17th Century, when King Francis I invited Italian producers to France in order to establish a French silk industry. It’s important to note that silk remained a luxury material throughout Europe during medieval times,  being reserved mainly for aristocrats and royalty. As a result, both the French and long standing Italian silk industry jockeyed for dominance in the European continent. However, neither of them would remain assertive for long.

During the 19th Century, Japan emerged as the top silk manufacturing nation in the world as Europe’s production flat lined with the Industrial Revolution. Despite a halt during World War II, Japan reasserted its sericulture authority for decades, only for China to re-establish itself as the globes leading producer during the 1970’s. 

Today, silk still plays an important role in many nations’ economies, especially China’s. In 2009, the Chinese market contributed almost 81.95% of the 126,995 metric tones of silk produced that year. Additionally, India, Japan and Korea continue to supply large amounts to the global market. Our own ethically produced silk originates in India, while it’s tailored in the Himalayas. Find out more about the Ethical Silk Company and our products here, or why not check us out on Facebook, Twitter or Pinterest.

Thanks,

Eva


The Secret of Sericulture:

This week on the #EthicalSilkCo Blog we decided to delve deeper into how silk has been made throughout history. The term sericulture is used to describe the process of creating silk garments and fabric from the raw fibres created by silk worms. For thousands of years, the Chinese had a monopoly on the production of silk and guarded their secrets of sericulture very closely.

In one of our previous blog posts, we examined the rich history behind silk and found that it originated in China. The Yellow Emperor’s wife, Lady Hsi-Ling-Shih, is credited with the creation of silk production around 3,000BC. Silk was a highly prized and valued fabric even in its early inception, with only the higher classes of society being granted access to the material. It’s therefore no surprise to find that the Chinese sought to protect their new found economic gem, resulting in sericulture becoming a closely monitored and almost secret art.

Silk has been beautifully crafted by the Chinese for thousands of years

Silk has been beautifully crafted by the Chinese for thousands of years

As you can imagine, producing silk is a lengthy process and demands certain skills. To produce high quality silk, two conditions were necessary; perfecting the diet on which the silkworms would feed and also preventing the moth from hatching. The Chinese developed covert methods for both. Temperature was a key element - eggs began incubation at 65ºF (18.3º Celsius), gradually increasing to a balmy 77ºF (25ºC). At this stage, the eggs would hatch and the infant worms would feed every 30 minutes on fresh Mulberry leaves. These worms would be stored in trays by the thousands and stacked on top of each other. In less than one month, these worms would reach an astonishing 10,000 times their original weight! In addition the worms would change colour and shed their skin several times.

Having reached this milestone, the silkworms would have accumulated enough energy to enter into the ‘cocoon stage’. The worms produce a jelly-like substance which hardens when it comes into contact with air. This material is designed to protect the growing silk worm from drafts, noises and strong odours. The silk worms typically take between three and four days to construct their cocoon until their appearance resembles white puffy balls of fibres. With temperature conditions adequate for the silk worms, the Chinese would leave them for approximately eight to nine days, before beginning the extraction process.

Mulberry Silk cocoons

Mulberry Silk cocoons

First the worms were steamed to kill them, after which the cocoons were placed in hot water to loosen the tightly intertwined fibres. It’s important that we remind our readers that The Ethical Silk Company does not use this process in the production of our silk, instead opting for an animal cruelty-free technique developed by Ahimsa Silk! Each of these filaments are between 600 - 900 meters long and once the final silk threads are woven together, the silk can then be used to produce fine garments. 

We have already mentioned how important silk was to the Chinese economy and as a result, Chinese authorities controlled the sericulture secrets with strict rules and regulations. If you were found to have passed on the production secrets, or smuggled silkworms outside of China, you would be punished with the death penalty.

The Imperial Chinese guards were tasked with sericulture’s protection

The Imperial Chinese guards were tasked with sericulture’s protection

Consequently, many risked their lives for this lucrative material. In 550, Emperor Justinian appointed two monks to travel to China with the task of stealing the sericulture secrets. These spies were able to smuggle silkworm eggs in a hollow bamboo cane. Soon after, silk production began within Constantinople and the sericulture secret which had been heavily guarded for 3,000 years were finally uncovered. Inevitably, from here the production of silk spread as more nations and empires discovered the practice. Silk was still a hugely valuable commodity and despite losing the secret to others, China remained at the forefront of silk production with its fabric because of its high rated quality. 

Nevertheless, silk production spread to other areas around the Middle East and Europe rapidly, but we’ll keep that story for another day. If all this information has made you feel like treating yourself to a luxurious silk garment, don’t forget to check out our online store. You can also follow us on Facebook or Twitter to keep up to date with all our blog’s and latest news!

Thanks,

Eva

Sudha’s story and the importance of women’s empowerment

One of the core principles we are proud of here at The Ethical Silk Company is our commitment to being, well, ethical - as ethical as possible in our production of silk (check out last weeks blog, with our in depth look at Ahimsa Silk) and also in our tailoring. The Presentation Sisters in Theni, South India run our current tailoring unit. They direct a Women's Federation, which aims to empower women by organising them into self-help groups. This unit, the Nano Nagle Tailoring Unit, is where The Ethical Silk Company products are made.

The Nano Nagle Tailoring Ladies

The Nano Nagle Tailoring Ladies

Last year, I received some fantastic news and it is something that really reminded me of the reason why we chose to work with this organisation. One of our tailoring ladies, Sudha, had opened up her own tailoring shop in Theni itself! Sudha had previously been involved in making our products over the last 3 years and to say she was sorely missed is an understatement – as well as doing a fantastic job for us, I had the pleasure of personally meeting this lovely lady during my initial trip to India.

But despite this, I can’t help but feel like we have achieved something fantastic. By giving this woman the tools to empower herself, she has made it possible to become self-sufficient and provide for her family – not to mention the potential to create opportunities for others, as Sudha has also employed two other women who were at the centre! The flip side of this is that we’re looking to have our products tailored in another Fairtrade tailoring unit. The ladies in Theni are so busy with their own work and business that it’s getting difficult to maintain the production of the tailoring shop, the tailoring unit's work, and the increasing demand for The Ethical Silk Company products. Rather than compromise their growing business we’re looking to relocate our tailoring.

Sudha while at work in the Nano Nagel tailoring unit, 2009

Sudha while at work in the Nano Nagel tailoring unit, 2009

Sudha's story is an example of the good we can do as consumers by making more ethical purchases and supporting Fair trade companies around the globe who do great work to ensure workers are treated fairly.

Although I was very sorry these ladies are no longer working on our products, the whole aim of working with the Women’s Federation was essentially to promote women’s empowerment. What better way to show accomplishments of reaching this goal than a brand new local business, run by a woman, that employs local ladies.

Hearing news like this really lifts the spirits and from all of us here at The Ethical Silk Company, we wish Sudha and the ladies in Theni all the best in their growing business.

Eva