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Spider silk threads into the sustainable web

With the first garment in the synthetic silk fabric hitting the market in March 2017, will we all soon be sporting spider silk?

Better known as the sticky webs spun by spiders, spider silk is a protein fibre produced in order to allow the animals to glide through the air, catch their prey and protect their offspring. It’s an incredibly strong and versatile material which humans have made use of for centuries.

Scientists have yet been unable to collect large amounts of silk from a spider by force due to its complex structure and the cannibalistic nature of farming spiders. The materials science startup Bolt Threads however, is the first brand to successfully develop a synthetic silk fibre replicating the properties of the spider silk with the launch of their debut limited edition silk tie on March 11 2017.

The construction of the protein and elastic components of spider silk, in combination with its organic roots, create an exceptionally strong but fine, breathable fibre. These properties are particularly beneficial for the production of resistant, light-weight clothing, rust-free panels for motor vehicles or boats and biodegradable bottles. Even though scientists have attempted developing an imitation material over the past decade, the complicity of the silk protein structure, which mixes hard, crystalline elements with more elastic ones, have led to few results.

Bolt Threads was established in 2009 by chemical engineers Dan Widmaier, David Breslauer and Ethan Mirky the product aims to harness proteins found in nature to create fibres and fabrics for practical uses. By designing a mechanism that extracts proteins from yeast, the company has been able to turn the liquid silk into tangible fibres, resulting in the first commercially silk-spider product available for mass manufacture.

The necktie, at $314.15 (£256.57) similar in price point with the silk ties of designers such as Stefano Ricci, delivers a unique combination of stretch, strength, comfort, water-resistant, softness and lightweight qualities.

Even though a necktie is nowhere near a bulletproof vest or a space elevator as yet, the breakthrough of synthetic spider silk indicates an evolution in the development of environmentally friendly fabrics. Whilst previous replica fabrics, such as Kevlar, involve an enormous amount of chemical measures, the production of synthetic spider silk is natural. Despite its still slow spinning process – it takes up to 60 days for Bolt to manufacture one tie –the company promises that this is just the beginning of a new material era.

As the textiles industry is estimated as the second largest polluter in the world due to its vast amounts of water waste and use of chemicals, Breslauer confirms that once Bolt is producing on larger scales, “it will start using silk protein variations that can more readily absorb dye, which would require much less water to process. And it should be possible to make biodegradable silk apparel—medical implants made of silk take advantage of this property, and clothing could, too.” But for now, there are fifty limited edition neckties available for purchase via a lottery on the company’s website: www.boltthreads.com.

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