A chic necktie made of synthetic spider silk may put Spider-Man’s suit to shame.
Bolt Threads, a startup that manufactures synthetic spider silk products, unveiled its first apparel item on March 10. The limited-edition knit necktie is the first spider silk product ever made available for purchase, according to the company. It will retail for $US314.
The material is the culmination of seven years of research from a team of dozens of scientists, engineers, technicians, and designers. Bolt Threads has raised about $US90 million in venture capital funding to date.
For 30 years, scientists have tried to recreate spider silk in a lab. The fibres that insects and spiders produce in the natural world have the elasticity of a rubber band and a level of tensile strength (the amount of pressure a material can stand before it breaks) comparable to steel.
These characteristics combined make spider silk two to three times tougher than Kevlar, the material used to make bulletproof vests.
In 2009, Dan Widmaier, David Breslauer, and Ethan Mirsky launched Bolt Threads because the founders saw a path to spider silk that didn’t involve actual spiders, which are hard to control in the lab (they’re cannibals and eat each other in captivity).
The company combines genetically modified yeast, water, and sugar and turns it to raw silk through fermentation — the same process that converts sugars to alcohol to make beer. The resulting goop has the texture of molasses. A machine then sucks up the goop and pumps it through tiny holes to create the filaments. The fibres are knit or woven into fabrics.
In August 2016, Widmaier told Business Insider that the company can also form new varieties of silk by tweaking the DNA of the genetically modified yeast. They have made 3,000 different silks at small-scale to date, and are on pace to produce their first metric ton.
Bolt Threads’ first apparel product, a unisex knit necktie, looks like it was made for the Gap. It’s lightweight, versatile, and available in pink and blue.
“We wanted to demonstrate the reality of a completely new way of manufacturing textiles, one that has nearly unlimited potential for innovation and also produces a sustainable product,” Widmaier said in a statement.
Bolt Threads will release only 50 neckties. They will be available for purchase via a lottery on the company website that opens on March 11 and closes on March 14.