Spider silk is incredibly strong—five times stronger than steel—and it has been used in far-ranging applications, including wear-resistant lightweight clothing, ropes, parachutes, biodegradable bottles, surgical bandages and more.
The problem is that, unlike silkworms, silk spiders are cannibalistic and nearly impossible to farm for large production.
Now, a Japanese startup called Spiber is exploring how spider webs could transform the textile industry. The biotech company started by making a spider silk replica in the lab and has expanded its technology range to include alternatives to wool, cashmere, denim, synthetic leather and even fur.
Spiber’s trademarked fiber, called Brewed Protein, has been used in limited edition collections with brands including Japanese streetwear label Sacai and outdoor apparel specialists The North Face Japan. Spiber is also exploring opportunities in the automotive industry.
Brewed Protein is molecularly identical to spider silk. Spiber studied thousands of different spider species, as well
as other silk-producing species, and compiled a database of silk varieties, says Higashi.
The fibers are made by fermenting water, sugar and nutrients with specially modified microbes in steel tanks, similar to those used in beer making, to produce protein polymers. The polymers are then fed through a nozzle and spun into a fiber.
With plans to open plants in both Thailand and the U.S. in the coming months, Spiber predicts it will be able to produce thousands of tons of Brewed Protein by the end of 2023.