Dan Widmaier is not really a fashion guy “by any stretch of the imagination,” he clarifies -but that hasn’t stopped the chemist from taking on the apparel industry.
His company, Bolt Threads, has engineered a sustainable and versatile material from synthetic spider silk that may one day be used to make iPad covers, car seats, and even name-brand clothing.
According to Widmaier, synthetic spider silk is the fabric of the future. That’s because the silk fibers that insects and spiders produce in the natural world have the elasticity of a rubber band a level of tensile strength comparable to steel These characteristics combined make spider silk two to three times tougher than Kevlar, used to make bulletproof vests.
Scientists have tried to recreate this naturally occurring phenomenon in a lab for 30 years, since material made from these fibers could revolutionize clothing design.
Widmaier entered the race to find a solution while completing his doctoral studies at UC San Francisco. He has since teamed up with minds from Nike, Avidas Pharmaceuticals, Google, and universities like UC Berkeley, to deliver the world’s first commercially available synthetic spider silk.
Bolt Threads is on its way to produce its first metric ton of the stuff this year. The company can also form new varieties of silk by altering the DNA of the genetically modified yeast to tweak the formula. They’ve made 3,000 different silks at small-scale to date.