Spider silk: an innovative material that may revolutionize the world of fashion

Spider silk is thought to be one of the world's most hard-wearing materials.

In 2030, your little black dress might very well be made of spider silk. The concept may sound a little futuristic, but a large number of companies are already working on fabrics that are very similar to spider silk. The only difference is these textiles are created in laboratories without putting our eight-legged friends to work.

Now that we have numerous sustainable alternatives to leather and a host of other traditional fabrics, one thing is certain: tomorrow's textiles will be produced, or at least inspired, by nature. This is particularly true of materials that have been developed using biotechnologies, which is the case of spider silk. An ultra-durable and hard-wearing material that could soon play a major role in the world of fashion.

Why spider silk?

The spiders' webs that we see in nature, and sometimes in our homes, are composed of threads that are directly secreted by spiders' silk glands. As you might expect, this thread is not initially created for the production of T-shirts, but to enable arachnids to move around, build shelters and construct traps for their prey. In short, nature has ensured that it fulfills a variety of important roles.

With this in mind, it is easy to see why scientists set out to study the mechanical properties and DNA of this silk with a view to reproducing them for the textile industry. It turns out that spider silk is one of the hardest-wearing materials in the world. This notably means that it is stronger than steel, but also more extensible, lighter, more durable and, of course, biodegradable. No wonder the world of fashion is keen to get on board.

Spider silk… but without spiders

One major obstacle was the enormous amount of specially raised spiders that would be required to make industrial quantities of silk. And that is not to mention the question of animal welfare. Not surprisingly then, most companies in the field are focused on synthesizing an artificial silk that imitates the qualities of spider silk. This is the case of Bolt Threads, which has developed Microsilk, a biodegradable silk with a reduced environmental impact that is directly inspired by the composition of fibers produced by spiders. The start-up, which is also behind the much-noted mushroom leather, Mylo, has worked with Stella McCartney and adidas on a tennis dress in this cutting-edge fabric, and also produced neck ties in natural spider silk.

Pieces made with spider silk, or rather "imitation spider silk", have become increasingly common in recent years, even if they remain a novelty. AMSilk, the German developer of Biosteel Fiber, another spider-silk inspired fabric, has used its innovation to produce shoes, ready-to-wear garments and Omega's Nato watch straps. A spider silk Moon Parka, jointly created by Spiber Inc. and The North Face, also caused a sensation in late 2019, just a few months before the onset of the global pandemic.

All of these innovations are evidence of the fashion industry's growing interest in this highly durable material, which may figure large in our wardrobes in the years to come.

Christelle Pellissier