What happens when a leading performance apparel company teams up with a cutting edge biomaterials company and a bunch of spiders? The future arrives, in the form of the first man-made spider silk.
The partnership between The North Face and Spiber heralds the future of textile manufacturing with the prototype of the first ever parka made with with man-made spider silk. This is easily the biggest breakthrough in textiles since DuPont launched Lycra 40 years ago.
While the process of genetically engineering silk seems straight out of a Spiderman movie, the potential applications for such a breakthrough range from performance apparel to medical applications like bone reconstruction and wound healing. Designers in a wide array of fields have lusted after spider silk for decades. Stretchy, lightweight, and stronger than steel, spider silk was long believed to be the strongest natural material in existence, only recently dethroned by snails’ teeth.
While we probably won’t be wearing a coat made of snail incisors any time soon, we may well be staying warm in spider silk jackets in the near future. The Moon Parka, which just completed a three-week tour in Japan, is the first prototype of its kind, featuring a coating of synthetic spider silk made of genetically engineered microbes. Spiber’s next-generation Qmonos material is composed of 656 different spider silk variations. Until now, spider silk has never known useful applications because spiders cannibalize each other when confined and forced to mass produce their precious silk.
Spiber has been working on its manmade silk for eight years, and they’ve created over 250 thread varieties that they hope to bring to market in a variety of industries within the next year. The Moon Parka is just one part of a much larger and more exciting web.
As biotechnology enters the textiles industry, we can look forward to stronger, lighter materials with the potential to drastically reduce the pollution and toxicity levels prevalent in the textile industry. As the formula for genetically engineered spider silk microbes continues to be perfected, we can expect to see a host of new life science applications that would make Spiderman proud.
Image: spiber.jp; spiber.se