Get to know Spiber Inc.
Could you tell us about Spiber and its history?
Spiber Inc. (Tsuruoka City, Yamagata Prefecture, Japan) was founded in September 2007 by Kazuhide Sekiyama (Director and Representative Executive Officer) and Junichi Sugahara (Director and Executive Officer) with a company mission focused on contributing to the realization of sustainable well-being.
The name “Spiber” was derived by combining the words “spider” and “fiber,” as the founders’ original goal was to use biotechnology to produce and commercialize protein fibers with similar properties to natural spider silk.
The pair began studying spider silk and its commercialization in 2004 while they were undergraduate students at the Faculty of Environmental Information, Keio University. They were inspired to start their research upon hearing that spider silk was the toughest material in the world. A commitment to creating a better society for all humanity had always served as the bedrock of their motivation, and the realization that this unique material could serve as one approach towards achieving this goal drove them to pursue its innovation. In order to accelerate their newly-discovered initiative, they established Spiber as a spin-off of their original university project.
Source: GOLDWIN x Spiber MOON PARKA
In 2015, Spiber first announced the MOON PARKA outdoor jacket prototype in collaboration with GOLDWIN INC., a Japanese sports apparel manufacturer that owns the distribution license for The North Face in Japan. The parka was originally slated to be released the following year. After the announcement, however, Spiber realized that the textile they had developed for the jacket shrank significantly when soaked in water due to a property found in natural spider silk known as “supercontraction”. As this issue could not be resolved via processing or finishing treatments, the company instead decided to modify the material directly by redesigning the underlying sequence of amino acids which are responsible for forming the DNA of the fiber’s protein polymers.
After over 4 years of research and development, they finally released the updated MOON PARKA jacket for limited sales in December 2019.
Spiber has since completed building its first protein polymer production plant in Thailand in 2021, which began mass production operations in 2022. Its second commercial production plant in the USA is currently under preparation in collaboration with ADM, a multinational food processing and commodities trading corporation, and is scheduled to commence production in the near future.
Answered by Spiber's Marketing and Communication team
What is "brewed protein" and what makes it a sustainable alternative?
Brewed Protein™ materials are lab-grown and plant-based fibers, resins, films, and other types of materials that are manufatured through microbial fermentation (brewing). This new class of materials is created using Spiber's proprietary technology platform that enables customized design and molecular engineering of nature-inspired protein polymers. These materials can offer alternative solutions to a wide range of conventional animal-based, plant-based and synthetic materials for various purposes, including textiles applications for the apparel industry, which is our primary focus.
With their soft and luxurious touch, we believe that Brewed Protein™ materials will serve as a powerful and creative alternative to animal-derived protein materials such as cashmere and wool, with the potential benefit of significantly reduced comparative environmental and animal welfare impacts. Based on the findings of our critically-reviewed comparative LCA study, we believe Brewed Protein™ polymer production results in fewer GHG emissions, requires less water, and causes less land-use related harm when compared to cashmere production, find out more here.
Answered by Spiber's Marketing and Communication team
Source: Spiber Brewed Protein
Can you tell us about your collaborations with Goldwin and Pangaia and the work you are doing together?
Pangaia and GOLDWIN have joined Spiber's "biosphere circulation" program, which is dedicated to transforming discarded apparel and textiles, as well as agricultural byproducts, into nutrients for microbial fermentation and production of fermentation products such as Brewed Protein™ materials. This collaboration aims to accelerate the transition from a linear "take-make-use-dispose" model to a sustainable and circular "take-make-use-reuse" model in order to realize our vision of a circular ecosystem of industrial materials that are biobased and biodegradable, and used as nutrients at their end-of-use.
Today, Spiber is committing significant resources to realize this vision in a few key ways:
- Scaling the technology process for transforming “waste” resources such as wool, cotton, agricultural waste, and Brewed Protein™ materials into nutrients for fermentation
- Pioneering material innovation to expand the palette of biobased and biodegradable materials with new performance properties like stretch and water repellency
- Creating tools that will facilitate the design of products that are biobased and biodegradable and used as nutrients at end-of-use.
We are working with Pangaia and GOLDWIN to create tools that will facilitate product design for this new circulation model. Spiber is defining guidelines which set criteria for what biobased and biodegradable materials can be used as nutrients at their end-of-use, and testing and gathering data on the fibers, dyes, chemicals, etc. that are acceptable for this process, and creating a “Positive List” with everything confirmed to be acceptable. For their part, brands such as Pangaia and GOLDWIN are providing feedback on these guidelines and advising and testing them in the real world.
GOLDWIN worked closely with Spiber to create a preliminary guideline-conforming demonstration product, the “Basque Shirt”. This enabled us to identify product design challenges that need to be solved in order to make the guidelines easy to use today. It is critical to know what a product is made from—from raw materials to consumer goods, to enable the product to be circulated at end-of-use. This product development process provided valuable insight into the challenges to obtaining traceability data. Working together with GOLDWIN also shed light on key challenges to overcome in order to design products that can become nutrients for fermentation at end-of-use. Identifying these challenges early on enables us to develop potential solutions, which will be critical for enabling the biosphere circulation program to be adopted by industry.
Source: GOLDWIN x Spiber
We are invested in working together with industry to enhance our research and development efforts. We believe it is critically important for industry stakeholders to work together to truly overcome some of the challenges we face today in order to realize circularity. We are committed to continuing to work together with Pangaia and GOLDWIN, and invite other brands who share this vision to join us to help accelerate the transition to circularity.
Answered by Ali Schachtschneider, Sustainability Division, Biosphere Circulation Section Manager
What is your advice to other entrepreneurs looking to develop innovative technologies and create sustainable businesses?
I do not believe we are in a position to be advising other entrepreneurs in general, but one thing that we can say from our experience as an R&D company that has created a totally new type of material, is that finding the right partners to work with is critical. The fact that we have committed partners who bring their long-term vision, technical capabilities, and patience to make innovation happen has been a critical factor to bring us to the phase we are at now.
When we first started offering our fiber materials to the apparel industry, most of the brands that we spoke to were not accustomed to working with new and unproven technologies, and would sometimes expect to be able to develop a viable product after a few rounds of trial and error. In reality, however, it has taken us many years of development to make a material that can be used in real-life applications, and it would not have been possible without the brands that invested tremendous amounts of time and effort to evaluate our prototypes, identify issues, and to guide the improvement of our products.
Answered by Kenji Higashi, Executive VP of Business Development, Sales and Sustainability
What more can the global fashion industry do to reduce its carbon footprint?
When it comes to the carbon footprint of textile fiber production, a large portion of decarbonization is not technology-limited but rather implementation-limited. There are many innovative technologies and business models available for adoption today, but decision-makers must be ready to take the leap and embrace change. There is a growing suite of solutions for decarbonizing electricity and providing low-temperature process heat generation as well as logistics transportation. Zero-carbon energy is a must.
Adoption of preferred fibers can similarly lead to significant improvements. There is a lot of opportunity for the global fashion industry to come together across the value chain to make these switches from conventional to renewable electricity and conventional to preferred materials. This can be achieved through simple procurement-related actions and by lobbying governments to taking the calculated risk, in some cases, that making responsible choices will pay off.
Answered by Sunita Darbe, Sustainability Division, Environmental Footprint Management Section Manager
Source: Spiber Sustainability
What are your hopes and plans for the future? Any projects on the horizon?
The global shift towards a circular economy is an urgent agenda that must be accelerated.
Biomaterials are the key to achieving this goal, but the production and widespread use of biomaterials—especially structural protein materials—is an achievement that humanity has yet to realize. However, we believe that our company has a mission to contribute as much as possible to Earth’s future, not just for a few decades but also over the course of the next century and beyond. With the recent construction of our Brewed Protein™ polymer production plant in Thailand, which began mass production operations in 2022, we believe we are making steady progress towards achieving our goal of helping bring about a shift to a circular economy.
As mentioned in Q3, Spiber is also committed to developing a regenerative and circular system through the implementation of a biosphere circulation ecosystem for industrial materials. In this system, products made of biobased and biodegradable materials are collected at the end of their use and processed back into nutrients (e.g., cellulose to glucose, proteins to amino acids) for fermentation and the production of fermentation products, including Brewed Protein™ materials.
Given the pressing urgency of current environmental and other issues, it is vital for us to confront resource depletion issues and establish a comprehensive circulation model and infrastructure across the industry. We ardently advocate for a collaborative approach, welcoming industry players to join forces and enhance research and development efforts in pursuit of a more sustainable future.
Answered by Spiber's Marketing and Communication team