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Silk production – a 100 percent regenerated product by re-imagining waste

Mantero Seta: tracing the environmental footprint on virgin silk production to ensure that the environmentally harmful steps of virgin silk production are avoided

Despite the environmental impacts, silk as a raw fiber is low waste, as many by-products are integrated into the local ecosystem; mulberry fruits are eaten; wood can be used for fuel. However, as is often seen in the fashion industry, large quantities of waste can be produced in the form of deadstock and offcuts. Mantero Seta has realized that this is a shortfall within their field and has discovered ways to make use of textiles that would otherwise go to waste. 

The industrialization of silk production requires silkworm cocoons to be produced on farms under intensive conditions, relying on mulberry agroforestry as the main food source. The cocoons are then treated with steam or hot air to dry them out, requiring energy, which is often produced from fossil fuels. Industrial sericulture relies on maximizing crop output by using pesticides and fertilizers. There is a risk that runoff will enter local waterways and pollute local water sources and soils. Additionally, the conversion of quantities of mulberry leaves to usable raw silk fiber is low, approximately 5 percent and with high wastage of end product, this efficiency further reduces. Silk production consumes large amounts of energy as farms are kept at a regulated humidity and temperature to ensure optimum yield. For most countries, silk is not a local resource, so they have to rely on processing and transportation. This, alongside the required cleaning chemicals for the raw material, can lead to pollution. 

Lucia Mantero, the fourth generation head of Mantero Seta, has described how they «have been working on achieving certification to put our company on a level that has a social for real». In prioritizing keeping their production within Italy, their ‘Made in Mantero’ products emulate a level of respect «towards people who work for us and the environment». They have maintained this ethic in their production process, reducing chemicals and using metal-free dyes. They use a system that reduces CO2 emissions and photovoltaic panels in order to fulfill some of the company’s energy needs, hoping to further reduce their reliance on fossil fuels. With more than 100 years of traditional silk production behind them, family-owned textile company, Mantero Seta, wants to be a pioneer in the creation, production, and distribution of textile fabrics. With modern textile innovation comes a demand for products that meet consumer and client pressures for sustainability.  

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Young entrepreneur Riccardo Mantero who founded the company

Waste is one of the biggest environmental impacts of the fashion industry, and Lucia believes that, for Mantero Seta, it «was almost within the typology of our business». With the expectations of luxury and a large turnover of products, clients can be demanding. «Even a small difference in the printed material could be considered as second quality, which means that we’d have to reprint the whole run». They have also found that, when working alongside clients on a commissioned material, they «want to see different options to approve and design». This means that Mantero Seta have to produce multiple options for them to choose from. If a client doesn’t want a printed fabric, the agreement is often that we have to destroy the fabric. Now, instead of incinerating the waste material, they have found a way to produce a regenerated material with 100 percent silk by-products that fit their company values; Re-silk. Using development and innovation, they are ensuring that the environmentally harmful steps of virgin silk production are avoided. After many trials and not being satisfied with the outcome, Mantero Seta managed to produce a material that was different from silk, despite its composition, yet «gave the same perception of luxury that we want our products to be known for. The material that we have produced is different from silk, which is normally shiny, feminine, and summery. This fabric is warmer and more adapted to men. With this yarn we can obtain a voluminous fabric to use in garments like coats and jackets». Innovating this new material has allowed Mantero Seta to diversify their products; «this is a big opportunity for us as we’re reimaging this traditional material to open up new categories of clothes that we wouldn’t be able to make out of virgin silk». Yet they know that this is a working progress and have been working on creating new qualities in their Re-silk fabric to meet the needs of their clients.

In order to repurpose their silk, the production methods alter to collect and sort the deadstock to make sure that it is usable. Once collected, the material is broken down into a simple fiber which can then be spun and bleached with sustainable and Global Recycle Standard certified techniques to remove impurities and dyes to make a neutral-colored yarn. Afterwards, fibers are processed in a similar way to the virgin silk yarns in order to fulfill client demands. However, the production process is not 100 percent efficient, with approximately 60-70 percent output, something that Mantero Seta is working on increasing.

They aim to increase production to an industrial level; however, this has proven challenging as there is a risk of defects in the material, which could cause them to have wastage of fabric. «We always pay attention to the re-silk fabric as we don’t know what the result will be. We put effort into finishing the material to meet the quality that our clients are expecting, at whatever scale». For now, they will be producing in small batches and continuing with innovation in this area. 

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COLOR TESTS ON RE-SILK FIBER

The production of Re-silk goes further than reducing silk waste; they are «skipping the starting phase of silk production, which is the cultivation of the cocoon» which saves the lives of silkworms and removes a high energy consumption step. By not relying on mulberry trees for the silkworms’ feedstock, there is the potential for reducing the impact of fertilizers and pesticides on local ecosystems. Also, in not relying on the production of virgin silk, there is a reduced need for transportation as the new raw product for Re-silk can be produced in Italy. The processing of silk deadstock has a low environmental impact in comparison to it ending up in landfill or burnt and allows the maintenance of a circular economy. They have adapted to create multiple input streams as «leftover stock is a problem for everyone in our business; we are using and collecting from our own warehouses and product development department. We are also asking our suppliers to send back their deadstock». 

Perfecting Re-silk has been «a long process because at the beginning we thought that we would be able to regenerate all types of silk. We realized that not all silks could be regenerated as the textile produced was not of a high enough quality. It took us trials to understand which typologies of fabric we could use; printed, woven and dyed». With a textile as delicate as silk «you can never be sure of the final result, so we are trying to understand how each type of silk reacts to the processing in order to industrialize it efficiently. This is the beauty of this process, knowing that we cannot always know what our material will do». This potential for variation within the material has proved challenging to accept by some of their clients. «We have to work alongside our clients to get them to understand where this product comes from. Otherwise, abnormalities in the product can be seen as a defect (even though they are a characteristic of this fiber). By understanding where the textile comes from and the way that it is produced, our clients can see that defects are normal». Despite this, Re-silk has been well-received by the majority of its clients. «In general, when we presented the material to our top clients, they were really interested in the idea of reusing deadstock. I imagine that in their minds, they are thinking of ways to use their own stocks. I know that they ask if it’s possible to get a re-silk made from their own wasted fabrics. This is what keeps their attention». 

The sustainable innovation that has accompanied the formation of Re-silk, positions Mantero Seta as a company looking towards the future. Whilst previous client pressures meant that they adapted their products so that they could become GOTs and Bio certified, there was little discussion about the company’s responsibilities. «We want to create a more sustainable future for our company – from innovation and production to the way that we ship our products». They are aiming to combine both traditional and more modern knowledge by «mixing the younger and older people that work here. This creates a tandem between a senior and junior so that we can maintain traditional technique whilst still looking towards the future». For a company excelling in its field, Mantero Seta can use their platform to show that change is possible. «We have the chance to change the luxury industry by providing innovation within this sphere. We know that our clients won’t compromise on luxury, so instead, we are working with their expectations to show that sustainability and quality can exist side by side».

Whilst Mantero Seta will not be in a position to industrially produce their Re-silk fiber for a while, what they have shown is that, even within the luxury fashion industry, changes can be made to reduce the environmental impact of a material whilst also maintaining the quality desired by their clients. On this road to becoming a fully sustainable company, Re-silk is just the start of this journey.

IMAGE GALLERY

Mantero Seta
Via Riccardo Mantero 15
22070 Grandate (CO) – Italy 
[email protected]

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