May 12, 2016
North Face to use Spiber’s man-made fibres in parkas
May 12, 2016
Outdoor-gear retailer North Face will offer its environmentally conscious shoppers at its outlet in Tokyo’s posh Harajuku fashion district later this year, a chance to own a special edition “Moon Parka,” a gold-colored jacket based on the design of its existing Antarctica parka, made of synthetic spider silk, a super-strong material developed by a Japanese startup Spiber Inc.
The North Face special edition jacket carries a price tag of $1,000, according to a Bloomberg report.
Spiber President Kazuhide Sekiyama, 33, who invented the company’s technology to make artificial spider silk, said releasing what he calls the world’s first commercial piece of clothing made from the bio-fibre protein material is just the beginning.
Spiber and its partner Goldwin Inc., a Japanese sports apparel maker, plan to expand the use of the ersatz silk-made products, possibly for underwear products used by mountain climbers or the Canterbury rugby wear brand. “What makes a protein-based material marvelous is it’s evolving” in the use of apparel or other forms of industrial products, Sekiyama said in an interview in Tokyo.
Natural spider thread, a protein fibre, is known for its superpowers as a material. It’s stronger than steel on a relative basis and more elastic than nylon. Unlike nylon and polyester, spider thread isn’t derived from petroleum, and doesn’t release a large volume of carbon dioxides in the manufacturing process.
Sekiyama studied bio-science at Keio University and made up his mind to research spiders in his senior year while at a summer camp. He launched Spiber in 2007with two of his friends.
Spiber faces hurdles, according to Yoku Ihara, the president of Growth & Value Stock Research of Japan, a retail equity researcher. The biggest problem is proving to manufacturers that its fibre technology can work on a mass scale and offer superior performance and savings versus existing materials.
“Costs on auto parts are already low and competition among suppliers is quite fierce, making it hardly possible for the firm to become a key material supplier in the auto industry,” Ihara said. “Their spider silk could rather be suited to the fashion, medical or space industries, considering the material’s characteristics and costs.”
Man-made spider silk still has a ways to go before being an economically viable alternative for clothing companies. The Moon Parka is a case in point: the North Face jacket using conventional materials costs $736.
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