You can't tell just by looking at it, but the Moon Parka from North Face is an extraordinary piece of outerwear. That’s because it’s woven from a synthetic spider silk that took over a decade to develop.
Spider silk’s incredible properties have made it a popular subject of scientific research. More flexible than nylon and five times stronger than steel, the material could have revolutionary applications in everything from bulletproof vests to suspension bridges. The only problem is that “farming” the amount of spiders required to produce this much silk is pretty much impossible. That’s why some teams, like the Japanese biomaterials company Spiber, have been looking into synthetic sources to create these remarkable proteins.
Their version of synthetic spider silk, called Qmonos, is made through a fermentation process using bioengineered microorganisms to manufacture the silk proteins. The final product is the result of 10 design iterations and 656 gene synthesis variations made over the course of 11 years. Unlike actual spiders, these engineered cells are capable of quickly producing silk proteins on a commercial scale.
Spiber showcased the technology in 2013 when it unveiled a synthetic spider silk cocktail dress, but North Face’s Moon Parka will be the first example of the material used in a production-ready wearable item. The jacket is just a start, and the company hopes that Qmonos will one day be utilized in the automotive and medical fields. The Moon Parka goes on sale in Japan in 2016, and though there’s no word yet on the price, you can expect it to go for much more than your typical North Face jacket.