Have you ever wondered what a dress made from spider silk would look like? Yes, the same stuff that gets all in your face if you happen to walk into a cobweb. Irritating, isn’t it? But wait till you find out what the fashion industry plans to do with it, and the use of these annoying threads will blow your mind.
The coveted fabric- Spider silk
Humans have been trying to find ways to get their hands on spider silk since generations. Compared to the fragile cloth produced by silkworms, the material created by spiders boasts of incomparable tensile strength and flexibility, along with being light-weight. There are records of people using it for bandaging and small garments in the past, but for the most part, it remains a dream for the commoner. The largest piece of fabric made from pure spider silk is a golden cape that was created by harnessing over a million golden-orb spiders, captured from Madagascar.
Why can’t we use it?
You might be wondering, if people love this silk that comes out basically from a spider’s butt (kinda gross), then why don’t they just keep capturing spiders and making more of it? Well, two reasons, you see. Firstly, these creatures can become cannibalistic in captivity, and if you put a lot of them together, they’ll just turn it into a gladiator battle to the death. So unless you can arrange for separate cages for each of the million or so spiders you collect, forget it. Moreover, it’s not like you can just take a spider, kill it, and extract its silk; the material in its body is a liquid, and the spider applies physical force to it so it becomes a solid thread when ejected, a process which cannot be replicated in a lab. So the real question is- Will we never be able to access this special fabric that is spider silk?
The Innovation By Bolt Threads
There’s no need to despair, because like always, science comes to the rescue! A California-based Biotech startup by the name of Bolt Threads has succeeded in creating a synthetic version of the spider silk, using, wait for it, yeast. As weird as that sounds, it’s true that the company applied the properties and DNA of the natural silk spun by spiders to genetically modify certain yeast cultures and combine them with water and sugar (I wonder if this is a recipe for bread), enabling them to produce large amounts of silk proteins. The company calls this innovative, durable, and eco-friendly material, Microsilk. They debuted their creation with a synthetic silk tie a few years ago, and are aiming for something bigger and more beautiful by partnering up with our favorite sustainable designer, Stella McCartney. One of these is a Biofabric Tennis Dress that was made in collaboration with Adidas, and is fully biodegradable. The main attraction, however, is the one-of-a-kind gold shift dress which was unveiled at the New York MoMA in October 2017.
And It Doesn’t Stop Here
Others are also joining in this futuristic vision of using spider silk, and two of the names that are closely competing with Bolt Threads are the Japanese Spiber and the German AMSilk, who are using the bacteria E. coli. as the silk-producing medium instead of yeast. Adidas has paired up with AMSilk on a project for spider-silk sneakers, while Spiber has already released 50 jackets made from the synthetic protein. These Moon Parkas were commercially manufactured and made available to some customers through lottery. Must’ve been quite a race, huh?
Now, you might ask, “what’s the point of spending so much money, time, and effort in bringing out a new kind of textile? Don’t we have enough already?” Yeah, we do, but none are quite as valuable as spider silk. It is vegan, environment-friendly, durable, strong, waterproof, and incredibly flexible. So many qualities combined in one had made it a fascination for scientists, and with the creation of synthetic spider silk, a revolutionising tool at the hands of the fashion industry!
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