Spider silk is so lightweight and strong that it's been used to make bulletproof vests and artificial muscles. Now a Japanese company has successfully created artificial spider silk from proteins.
The Japanese startup Spiber and the company that makes The North Face products, Goldwin, teamed up to create the Moon Parka. Their prototype has a shiny outer material made entirely from Spiber's synthetic spider silk called QMONOS. They named the jacket for its moonlike glow, and as a nod to the Apollo program.
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The parka's color also mimics the hue of silk produced by the golden orb weaving spider. Although some rare garments have been woven from real spider silk, spiders generally kill each other when confined, as Popular Science's Daniel Grushkin pointed out.
Spiber isn't giving too many of its process details away, but the company did say in a press release that the proteins are created through a microbial fermentation process. "Our team has extensively studied the diverse genetic designs found in nature," Spiber's Vimeo video says. "We've developed advanced methods to create new, tailor-made protein materials designed at the molecular level."
Why go through all that trouble? Well, growing proteins could be a viable alternative to the petroleum-based materials like the nylon and polyester that dominate performance outerwear. I could see other Earth-minded outdoor gear companies seeking out this new material. And, when it comes to existing natural fibers, cotton kills and wool still tends to work better as a base layer.
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The Moon Parka will go on the market next year starting in Japan. The North Face hasn't released a price yet, but I don't expect it will be easy to afford when they do. To give you an idea, their men's Himalayan Parka made from ripstop nylon filled with goose down, currently retails in the U.S. for $649.
That said, Spiber's site says they've improved productivity while significantly reducing the artificial spider silk manufacturing cost since research began in 2008. Their goal has been to make the silk cheaper than $100 per kilo. In addition to outerwear, the company plans to explore uses for the silk in the automotive and medical device industries.
In the meantime, the parka is touring Japan as a special exhibition in The North Face retail shops. This week it's in Fukuoka. Catch it while you can.