‘Biofabrication’ – it’s a term you might not be familiar with yet, but if things keep moving the way they are, you’ll be hearing it a lot before too long. As the population of the planet continues to climb and demand for resources continues to outweigh their availability, creative solutions need to be found. Clothing production is a particularly wasteful, unsustainable industry; cotton prices have been shooting up for years, wool’s carbon footprint is under major scrutiny and many synthetic fabrics are made from petrochemicals and other unsustainable resources.
Biofabrication is a peer-reviewed paper, first published in 2009, which outlines how biological models can be fabricated to make clean, sustainable products. It’s since been adopted by a number of research and development groups in order to develop clothing. Two of them – Spiber and Bolt Threads – have recently signed partnership deals with The North Face and Patagonia, respectively.
Spider silk isn’t the only biological synthetic on the market, leather alternatives have already been produced using pineapples and mushrooms, among other things, but spider silk is particularly interesting because of its potential for insulation. As we all learned from one science teacher or another, spider silk has a relative strength which is 5 times that of steel, so there’s no questioning the durability of fabrics woven from it, but can they keep in heat to the same extent as wool or synthetics?The first results of this venture can already be seen – The North Face’s ‘Moon Parka’, which will soon be on sale in Japan. The Moon Parka is made from spider silk, which might not sound particularly revolutionary or environmentally stable, until you find out that the production of the silk didn’t actually involve any spiders. This is possible through the fermentation of yeast cells, after which they are combined with sugar and salt, allowing fabric proteins to form.
Well, unlike wool, this kind of silk offers two main qualities – extreme lightness and extreme durability. Not only is it stronger than steel, it’s stronger and lighter than Kevlar, which means that it offers a great deal of environmental protection from cold winds, precipitation and other kinds of moisture. So, in that sense, it doesn’t insulate at all, the insulating material is housed beneath, but the silk takes on the job of keeping the coldness out and the warmth in.
Beyond this though, the fact that million years of evolution has helped spider silk develop into such a durable, malleable substance suggests that en masse, it could be an extremely effective thermal insulator. Until the Moon Parka and other variants start to circulate on the retail market, we probably won’t know for sure, but the fact that both The North Face and Patagonia have taken such a keen interest in this stuff would imply that its weather proofing and insulating properties are sound, else they might as well just keep using wool, down and synthetics.
Callum is a film school graduate who is now making a name for himself as a journalist and content writer. His vices include flat whites and 90s hip-hop.