Silk made by farming worms might soon become a part of the past thanks to Japanese startup Spiber, the Biomanufacturer raised USD 314 million recently. Founded in 2007, the startup created a new technology called “Brewed protein,” which is a platform that can be applied to create animal-free, bio-based, and biodegradable look-alike of wool, silk, leather, and/or many other petrol-based materials through the fermentation of microbes and without the need to use animals or harming the environment.
The USD 314 million investment was raised from funds from local public-private fund Cool Japan Fund and global investment firm Carlyle. The company will use this funding to industrialize its animal-free materials to become a leader in the global bio-engineered prime manufacturing material market.
“At Carlyle, ESG (Environmental, Social, and Governance factors) is fully embedded into our investment and value creation processes, as we seek to optimize the sustainability outcomes of each of our portfolio companies,” Carlyle Managing Director Yusuke Watanabe said.
“Spiber's mission and philosophy match Carlyle's view to provide solutions that create long-term, sustainable value and impact as in our investments in Jeanologia (an eco-focused textile startup in Spain) and Beautycounter (an American beauty brand). We are honored that Spiber has chosen Carlyle as its cornerstone investor.”
Spiber will start its operations from a recently acquired plant in Thailand this year and will open a new United States-based production plant in Iowa in a joint venture with agricultural giant ADM in 2023. The company is currently valued at USD 1.2 billion, Spiber plans to go public through an initial public offering (IPO) in the next few years.
Why vegan silk?
Silk is derived from silkworms who make their cocoons out of a material used to produce the expensive fabric. To make silk, silkworms are removed from their cocoons prematurely causing their death. Silk production also contaminates the environment by using a large amount of water at every step.
Silk is typically made by killing silkworms but can also be made from spiders however the arachnoids are hard to exploit since they will destroy their webs when forced to live in close proximity.
Spiber's technology produces luxurious silk without the need to exploit insects or the environment. Before raising its USD314 million investment, Spiber worked with outerwear brand The North Face to create some products with its innovative silk.
These days, animal fur or leather are becoming obsolete and new, highly fashionable materials are being crafted from different plant sources such as pineapples, apples, cactus, and even old party balloons. When it comes to leather, not only are animals out of fashion but synthetic vegan varieties from polyurethane are quickly being replaced with more environmentally friendly alternatives.
While Spiber is working to save silkworms and spiders, researchers at the University of Cambridge have developed vegan spider silk as a replacement for single-use plastics. This substitute of spider silk–which is one of the strongest materials in nature, was created by recombining plant proteins into materials that mimic silk on a molecular level.