Silk is the animal fabric that many people don’t even consider – but the truth is that over 6,6 thousand silkworms die to produce just one kilogram of silk.
Sometimes silkworms are boiled alive in their cocoons in order to harvest the silk – and so-called ‘peace silk’ or ‘ahimsa silk’ is not always the solution.
Investigations in India have found that male silkworms were kept in a refrigerator, brought out for breeding and then discarded when no longer able to mate.
The use of silk isn’t eco-friendly, either: recently, the Pulse of Fashion Industry Report found silk to be second most polluting material (after cow’s leather) when analyzed for cradle-to-gate impact (from the obtaining of raw materials to the final stage when the product reaches the consumer).
The solution to these issues could just be the fruit of a new innovation: synthetic spider silk.
Bolt Threads, a material innovation company in California, has created a replica of the extraordinarily resilient silk produced by spiders – nature’s very own weavers of silk thread.
Farming spiders for silk has never been a viable option – arachnids are too territorial to be farmed in groups, as it can lead them to cannibalism. But Bolt Threads has found a way to tap into spiders’ impressive abilities and replicate them without involving a single actual spider.
Strength and durability, combined with softness, are the defining characteristics of the arachnids’ creations, which Bolt Threads have mimicked in their Microsilk material.??
The brand develops proteins inspired by natural silks through bioengineering, where genes are added into yeast. The yeast is then fermented with sugar and water and the liquid silk proteins are extracted.
This is similar to the protest used to make rayon and acrylic – only more eco-friendly. The challenge has always been to transform the raw material into actual, usable yarn – it was proving to be too thin.
After years of research, Bolt Threads was able to solve this issue and present a resilient and durable yarn, which is as soft and supple as real spider silk.
This material is also renewable: the main component is sugar, which comes from plants that are replanted – unlike polyester, which is the usual vegan replacement for silk, and made from petroleum.
And of course, this material has the power to rival traditional silk, which is not only harmful to silkworms and the environment but also quite difficult to care for.
As usual, Stella McCartney is the first to pioneer this ground-breaking material: the fur- and leather-free designer worked with Bolt Threads on a Microsilk dress featured in an exhibition at New York’s Museum of Modern Art.
Without a doubt, Microsilk will make more waves in the future – watch this space.