Used in a limited edition collection of brands including the company’s trademarked fiber, brewed protein, Japanese streetwear label Sakai and outdoor apparel specialist The North Face Japan.
Now that production is growing and preparing for the full commercial launch of its textiles, Spyber hopes its technology will help solve some of the biggest global challenges we face, “Higashi said.
This is why friends Kazuhide Sekiyama and Junichi Sugahara, the founders of Spyber, decided to create a synthetic material that is molecularly like spider silk. The pair began studying as students at Keiu University in Yamagata Prefecture in 2004 and founded the company in 2007.
Spyber has studied “thousands of different spider species,” as well as a database of other silk-producing species, and silk species, Higashi said.
After successfully creating an alternative to spider silk, the team went on to create a range of brewed protein fabrics by changing the protein sequence, Higashi says.
Spiber fibers are made by fermenting water, sugar, and nutrients with specially modified germs in steel tanks used to make beer to make protein polymers. The polymers are fed through a nozzle and turned into a fiber, says Higashi.
Although it was not an easy journey. In 2015, Spyber partnered with The North Face Japan to create a limited edition of 50 “Moon Parka” jackets to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the moon landing.
But during the design process, the team discovered that spider silk shrinks when wet and had to change proteins to make the fiber suitable for outer jackets.
“It took four years to make a garment that meets their standards,” Higashi said. Parkas has retailed ¥ 150,000 (worth about $ 1,400 in 2019) and small collections have sold out.
A reusable revolution
Higashi says Spyber’s biodegradable textiles are projected to generate only one-fifth of the carbon emissions of animal-based fibers when they are in full-scale production, according to a lifecycle analysis conducted by the company.
Although Spyber wants to further reduce its environmental impact. The company currently uses sugarcane and maize for its fermentation process – grains that use up a lot of land and remove food resources, says Higashi.
To address this, Spyber is developing a process called “biosphere circulation” that will convert discarded clothing made from natural ingredients, such as cotton, into the sugars needed to ferment.
Higashi says scaling will help reduce the price of brewed protein and allow Spyber to expand beyond the high-end designer market.
“We have ways to create solutions to enable more round fashion,” said Higashi “Our goal is to bring these solutions to the world.”