The Sweater is the latest apparel born from the longtime partnership between Spiber, a Japan-based biomaterials startup, and Goldwin, a sportswear manufacturer. While the fast fashion industry relies on petroleum-based fibers such as polyester, nylon, and spandex, Spiber has developed Brewed Protein™, a novel sustainable alternative inspired by spider silk.
Previous Brewed Protein items include a T-shirt and a parka sold exclusively at The North Face Japan. But, for the first time, this latest release will be available worldwide. Like other Brewed Protein clothing, availability is limitedーpurchase applications for the Sweater will only be accepted before November 29th.
What is Brewed Protein?
The DNA sequence that codes for Brewed Protein isn’t found in nature. Instead, it’s the result of a data-driven approach to create a protein with specific, controllable properties. This was partly accomplished by a team of researchers, fondly known as the “Material Hunting Team,” according to Ayana Nakajima, Spiber’s Communications Coordinator. The team tracked down spiders in the jungles of Japan to gather information on the silk proteins in the natural world.
Brewed Protein is produced by genetically engineered microbes in a fermentation process exactly like brewing beer. In nature, spider silk is well known for its softness and strength. These properties are also inherent in Brewed Protein. The fibers’ comfort and durability, along with their sustainability, give these polymers a significant edge against petroleum-based materials.
Spiber isn’t just tackling fast fashion. The protein powder is like a biological building block that can be sculpted for different applications. Different types of spider silk have different strengths and elasticities, so the same goes for Brewed Protein — automobile parts and medical devices made from variations of the ingredient might be on the horizon.
Spiber Meets the Scaling Challenge
This is not your typical biotech startup. Based in the Yamagata region of northern Japan, their headquarters is bordered by beaches, mountains, and rice fields. Founded thirteen years ago by graduate students at Keio University, Spiber is strongly supported by the Japanese government. Now with their first product available worldwide, the homegrown startup is scaling up to meet the demand for commercial production. The company’s new plant is currently under construction in Thailand. According to Nakajima, this facility is expected to increase Brewed Protein production by a hundredfold.
Spiber isn’t only growing its capacity in-house. In a new partnership, synbio meets Fortune 500 as Spiber joins forces with food processing giant, ADM. Spiber will leverage ADM’s existing plants and deep expertise in fermentation technology to eventually increase its production capacity by a 1000 times current levels.
Biology is finicky and tough to predict. If Spiber can truly scale their platform, it would not only be a landmark in commercial biomanufacturing, it would also fulfill the longstanding synthetic biology dream to leverage the unique properties of spider silk for society.
I’m the founder of SynBioBeta, and some of the companies that I write about are sponsors of the SynBioBeta conference and weekly digest. Thank you to Desiree Ho for additional research and reporting in this article.