Follow the Spiders

Obscure Harry Potter references aside, what can we learn from spiders? According to some impressive research and development, they hold the key to incredible synthetic fibres. A recent Designboom report on Adidas new prototype shoe, with an upper made from biosteel® fiber, caught my attention. AMSilk, a German company producing silk biopolymers, is the proponent of this exciting new fiber, with their website expounding its applications across the aerospace, automotive, sports, and textile industries. Seeing exciting new materials as advanced but recognizable consumer products is when the layperson can truly understand their applications, and be inspired by their opportunities.

That's why I was so excited late last year, when I heard of the collaboration between The North Face in Japan (Goldwin Inc.) and Spiber, the prototype entitled Moon Parka™. Spiber is a fabulously interesting company, rooted right here in Yamagata. Also having taken spider silk as the starting point for their r&d some eleven years ago, their processes involve genetic sequencing to produce specific and varied proteins. Spiber synthesizes these proteins into functional materials, including textiles. The Moon Parka™ prototype uses Spiber's QMONOS™ cloth, and is designed after The North Face's Antarctica Parka. There is a sense of the known and the unknown - basic expectations met and magical potential suggested - in the design and presentation of the Moon Parka™. We are presented with the familiar shapes and lines of a high-performance parka; the suggested bulk, the concealed fastenings, the enclosing hood. However, the secretive magic of the new material is quieter, more subtle. The colour is key. According to their website, the shade is the natural hue of the web of the Golden Orb spider, and boy, is it effective. It is strikingly precious-looking, and the glowing sheen is unlike anything we are used to from fabrics of petrochemical-origin. The stand-offish effect of static display (such as recently at The North Face worldwide flagship in New York) rather than modelling or wearing, creates distance, and thus mystery. Of course, for commercial advancement, new materials must have quantified improvements over their precursor. Is it lighter? More breathable? Stronger? Does its production have less environmental impact? In order to push closer and closer to realizing a manufacturable product, the Moon Parka™ prototype was made in 2015 using a current garment production-line process. It is currently set for a commercial launch in 2017. In considering this garment's journey from a sequence of amino acids, right to the final sewing and finishing, my final thought brings me full circle to how I felt when I first saw Moon Parka™; I want to touch it!

Right now, Moon Parka™ is on display as part of a special exhibition, Spider's Thread - Spinning images of Japanese beauty (蜘蛛の糸)at the Toyota Municipal Museum of Art in Aichi Prefecture. The exhibition ends December 25th 2016.

Lisa WynneComment