Spintex: get inspired by spiders’ silk to revolutionize fashion
your guide to sustainability: we learn from nature
26 september '22
Reading time: 9 minutes
Discover Spintex, a bio-inspired company that learned from spiders how to design a sustainable, durable and high-performance fiber. Will spiders’ inspired silk revolutionize the fashion industry? Read more to explore its potential and great advantages.
Words by Francesca Stabile
Picture by Spintex
The huge environmental and social footprint of silk
Silk has always been considered one of the top luxury fibers in fashion, due to its great quality and durability. Coming from Chinese ancient techniques, silk is considered a natural, long-lasting and biodegradable fiber, whose value is worth about 20 times more than cotton's, which is equal to a market value of almost $17 billion in 2021. However, what is little known, is that silk appears to have a larger environmental impact when compared to other natural fibers and synthetic fabrics too, according to the Sustainable Apparel Coalition’s Higg Index.
First of all, silk cannot be considered as a vegan fiber, as it derives from boiled cocoons created by caterpillars, which are then killed and removed to produce the silk filament - for just one pound of silk fabric, about 2,500 silkworms’ are killed. However, the environmental footprint doesn’t stop here, as its production is incredibly energy intensive due to its high temperature processing, involving both water and hot air. In addition, chemicals are often involved in the process to clean and dye silk, contributing to the toxic impact of the fabric. The silk industry has been linked also to child labor in India and Uzbekistan: according to the Human Rights Watch, it is estimated that 350,000 children work as bound laborers in conditions of physical and verbal abuse.
Learning from spiders to build a sustainable alternative
In 2018, Alex Greenhalgh, Martin Frydrych, and Fritz Vollrath founded Spintex, a bioinspired company following the principles of biomimicry to create much needed sustainable spinning and silk materials for use in fashion and high-performance applications. The vision of Spintex is indeed to design the next generation of sustainable fibers, not only replacing silk but all existing polluting fabrics, including petroleum’s derivatives.
So, where did they get their inspiration from? The answer is spiders. According to them, “Nature offers great inspiration for new textiles possibilities, with none more impressive than the spider”. It’s not a mystery that spider silk is often cited as one of the strongest biological materials in the world. A spider building its web and catching an insect, is equivalent to a man building a net the size of a football stadium, strong enough to catch 747 airplanes.
Picture by Spintex
Spiders mix only two compounds to create silk, water and protein, whose combination becomes dry as it comes out from the abdomen of the spider’s body, and ultimately forms a thread. The silk is indeed stored in spiders’ bodies as a liquid gel which is “shear-sensitive”, which means it can transition into a solid through a physical force without the need for heat or chemical inputs. Spinnerets, spiders’ specific organs, allow the viscous, protein-filled solution to turn into a very stretchy and strong finished silk.
Spintex has been able to deeply understand this process and has developed a solution that mimics a spider spinnerets’ ability to spin fiber at room temperature without harsh chemicals and with water the only by-product.
Picture by Spintex
Which are the benefits?
Spinning artificially paves the way to more sustainable practices, due to its incredible advantages and impact when compared to silk and plastic fabrics. The overall process involves room temperature which uses 1000x less energy than equivalent fibers. “Uniquely produced, our fibers are biodegradable, being made from protein, and cannot bioaccumulate”, say the co-founders. Furthermore, no toxic chemicals are involved, which reduces ecotoxicity and health hazards to people and ecosystems. Spintex’s fiber is high-performance and lightweight, whose properties allow for endless forms and functions.
Spintex has been able to create an incredible artificial fiber that could potentially replace all existing fibers due to its high quality, great durability, and low environmental impact, giving the chance to the fashion industry, as many others, to accelerate the transition towards more sustainable supply chains and processes. By mimicking spiders’ processes and nature’s principles, the company has developed a design that contributes to solving a huge human challenge sustainably and in solidarity with nature.
Spintex was awarded the Ray of Hope Prize in 2021, which consists of $100,000 in support of their groundbreaking work. According to Biomimicry Institute, “As they scale, their goal is to expand upon their textile capabilities, creating high-performance textiles with properties, such as stretch and embedded color, all while creating biodegradable and non-bioaccumulating textiles”, and we at Staiy can’t wait to see the results of this great project.