Move over, kombucha. If you’re someone who loves to brew their own beer, wait until you hear about this DIY project. The North Face’s Japanese distributor Goldwin has teamed up with biotech start-up Spiber to create “The Sweater,” a garment designed with fabric produced through microbe fermentation.
The Sweater isn’t 100 percent sustainable, but instead is a mix of wool and biomaterial. The design is an effort from the two companies to reduce petrochemical-based materials that are commonly used in the fashion industry with bio-based solutions. If you’re wondering how the hell this works, it’s not as complicated as it sounds.
Breaking it down — The Sweater is the world’s first knit garment made with Goldwin and Spiber’s “Brewed Protein.” Basically, the process starts by designing the genes to make a specific protein, such as silk, and then inserting the genes into microorganisms that start pumping out the protein in fermentation tanks.
The company puts microbes, sugars, and minerals in large tanks, Gen Arai, general manager of Goldwin, told Fast Company. After they cultivate, the microbes are separated from the protein, which is dried and transformed into a fiber. Then a mill spins, twists, and dyes the yarn. In the case of the new sweater, the material has been combined with 70 percent wool because very little of the Brewed Protein fabric exists yet.
While the fabric is produced in a factory, its unique growth process means it’s not synthetic. The Sweater is also free of animal products and plastics — something a lot of synthetic fibers include.
A sustainable future — The idea for the product came to its creators as they tried to mimic natural spider silk (making The Sweater a perfect match to those Adidas spidey shoes). Goldwin and Spiber say The Sweater is a milestone moment in their shared mission to bring innovative, biobased, and biodegradable solutions to the wider market. It's their hope that such projects could eventually lead to the industry using fewer unsustainable materials such as polyester, nylon, and other synthetics.
Early tests also suggest the new material may be biodegradable. The fabric also avoids the use of fossil fuels — right now, synthetic fiber production for textiles uses an estimated 342 million barrels of oil a year. “Brewed Protein could one day replace every petro-chemical dependent material used in consumer goods,” Arai says. “We know it’s possible — it’s just a matter of figuring out production on a large scale.”
Lucky numbers — Getting your hands on The Sweater is like winning the lottery — literally. Due to its lengthy creation process, the Japanese-made pullover will be produced in limited runs. Until 9 p.m. P.T. on November 29, consumers from 11 countries — the U.S., Japan, Germany, Denmark, France, Italy, Portugal, Spain, the U.K., Sweden, and the Netherlands — can enter a lottery determining who receives the opportunity to purchase The Sweater. Winners will be notified via email sometime between December 3 and 10.
This marks the first time that Goldwin and Spiber’s biofabrics will be available in the U.S. Last year, the two companies joined forces to create a capsule of 50 Moon Parkas developed using synthetic spider silk. Much to our dismay, the parkas were only sold in Japan.
Having partnered since 2015, Goldwin and Spiber are venturing into a new phase, which the companies call “Vision Quest,” with the debut of The Sweater. The way they see it, this is a project that unites partners around the world in the quest for a better future.