A spider-inspired Japanese startup is inventing a new generation of textiles.


now, A Japanese startup, Spyberis exploring how spider silk can transform the textile industry. Spiber’s head of business development, Kenji Higashi, said the biotech company started out by making cobweb replicas in the lab and has since expanded its fabric range to include more sustainable alternatives to wool, cashmere and denim.

The company’s trademarked fiber, Brewed Protein, has been used in limited-edition collections by brands including Japanese streetwear brand Sacai and outdoor apparel specialist The North Face Japan.

Spiber, which is currently scaling up production and preparing its textiles for full commercial launch, hopes its technology will help “solve some of the big global challenges we face,” Higashi said.

Spiders spin liquid proteins into silk to make their webs. Silkworms have been bred to produce silk for thousands of years, but spiders are cannibals Makes farming impossible.

So Spiber founders Kazuhide Sekiyama and Junichi Sugahara decided to create a synthetic material that is molecularly identical to spider silk. The two started experimenting as students at Keio University in Yamagata Prefecture in 2004 and founded the company in 2007.

Spiber studied “thousands of spiders” and other silk-producing species, and collected a database of silk breeds, Higashi said.

Brewed Protein Polymer Powder is fermented with water, sugar and specially designed microorganisms.  This refined powder can be processed into various fabrics such as leather, silk or spun yarn.

After successfully producing a cobweb alternative, Higashi says, the team continued to develop a variety of brewed protein fabrics by altering the protein sequence.

Spiber’s fibers are made by fermenting water, sugar and nutrients with specially modified microorganisms in steel tanks to produce protein polymers, similar to those used in beer making. The polymer is fed through a nozzle and spun into fibers, Higashi says.

But it was not an easy journey. In 2015, Spiber worked with The North Face Japan to produce a limited edition of 50 “Moon Parka” jackets to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the moon landing.

However, during the design process, the team discovered that webs shrink when wet, and they had to modify the protein to make the fibers suitable for outdoor jackets.

“It took four years to produce clothing that met the standards,” says Higashi. The parka sold for 150,000 yen (worth about $1,400 in 2019) and the small collection is sold out.

recycling revolution

fashion is one of them most polluted industry oh my god. produced around 2.1 billion metric tons According to management consultant McKinsey & Company, about 70% of that CO2 comes from production each year, and textile manufacturing uses large amounts of fiber. raw material and water.
Spiber uses robots in its factories to help produce cobweb-inspired textiles.Spiber uses robots in its factories to help produce cobweb-inspired textiles.

Higashi says that lifecycle analysis conducted by Spiber shows that Spiber’s biodegradable fibers, once fully produced, are expected to generate only one-fifth of the carbon footprint of animal fibers.

But Spiber wants to further reduce its environmental impact. The company is currently using sugar cane and corn for its fermentation process, Higashi says.

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To address this, Spiber is developing a process called “biosphere cycling” that converts discarded clothing made from natural materials like cotton into sugars needed for fermentation.

approximately 40 million tons of textile waste It is produced annually, most of which goes to landfills or incinerators. Keeping these fabrics in circulation could create a more sustainable alternative, Higashi says.

global expansion

Spiber isn’t the only company inspired by arachnids. In 2016, adidas introduced AMSilk’s Biosteel fiber. sneak And in 2017, California textile innovator Bolt Threads announced Microsilk, a thread inspired by cobwebs. gold dress Designed by Stella McCartney
In addition to collaborations with North Face Japan, Spiber’s Brewed Protein has been used by Japanese designers. Nakazato Yuima Several of his collections and streetwear brands Sakai For a limited edition t-shirt. Higashi says Spiber is also exploring opportunities in the automotive industry.
In 2021 fashion designer Yuima Nakazato presented her Paris Fashion Week haute couture collection featuring a blue glossy fabric made from brewed protein fibers and silk.In 2021 fashion designer Yuima Nakazato presented her Paris Fashion Week haute couture collection featuring a blue glossy fabric made from brewed protein fibers and silk.
According to the company, Spiber Raised about 100 billion yen ($783 million) comes with grants from government agencies and the Startup Development Fund from investors including financial firm Carlyle and Mitsubishi UFJ Morgan Stanley Securities.
This funding allowed the company to expand beyond its pilot plant in Yamagata. It could open a smaller plant in Thailand later this year and a larger plant in the US next year. tandem Together with Archer Daniels Midland Company, a food processing multinational. Higashi says this will enable production of thousands of tonnes of brewed protein by the end of 2023.

Higashi says the expansion will lower the price of Brewed Protein and help Spiber expand beyond the high-end designer market.

“We have the means to create solutions that enable a more circular fashion,” says Higashi. “It is our mission to bring these solutions to the world.”

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