Inside the technology used to create The North Face's Moon Parka, constructed from synthetic spider silk.
Leave the petroleum at home. The North Face, Spiber and Goldwin have jointly developed the world’s first commercially constructed apparel product made from proteins created through a microbial fermentation process that don’t depend on petroleum. And they did it using synthetic spider silk to craft a prototype Moon Parka.
What's the story?
The Moon Parka serves as a leap into next-generation materials. Eliminating petroleum in a commercial application opens up, for the first time, the opportunity for companies to use protein-based fibers—in this case, synthetic spider silk—on actual manufacturing lines, a major step in replacing petroleum-based products with protein-based products on a larger scale.
What is the Moon Parka?
Japanese-based Spiber created the silk, teaming with Goldwin and The North Face to take the synthetic spider silk material and turn it into an outerwear jacket.
“The piece is an exciting foray into new areas of innovation for The North Face, bringing fresh ideas into the market and capturing the imagination of people around the globe,” Joe Vernachio, vice president of global product for The North Face, tells SI.com.
The outer material and embroidered logos come from protein types best suited to outer material and embroidery thread, the companies say. The synthetic spider silk proves high in mechanical strength and elasticity, opening up a new world of materials for apparel manufacturing.
“The Moon Parka is the world’s first piece of clothing made from artificial protein material,” the companies say in press material. “The prototyping process gave us great insight into the challenges that we still face on the road to mass production.”
The push for artificial protein materials will only grow, especially as these companies plan to bring the Moon Parka to market “as soon as possible,” likely as early as this year.
With most sports apparel made from polyester, nylon and other synthetic polymer materials, switching to protein-based, renewable fibers has a significant sustainability component.
“Beyond the product itself, the potential applications of the manufacturing process are also inspiring,” Vernachio says.
Spider silk never looked so wearable.
Tim Newcomb covers stadiums, sneakers and technology for Sports Illustrated. Follow him on Twitter at @tdnewcomb.