Although it sounds like a sci-fi dream wrapped in an Onion article, Bolt Threads—a San Francisco-based startup that wants to disrupt the retail industry by mass-producing spider silk—is very much a real thing.
Real enough, in fact, that it not only convinced high-profile funds including Formation 8 and Founders Fund to invest more than $90 million, it also just unveiled its first product: a spider silk tie made from genetically modified yeast fermented in tanks.
Priced at $314, as TechCrunch reports, it doesn't come cheap. That said, the price tag includes the tie itself plus some built-in conversation starters. In addition to the aforementioned tanks of yeast, the tie is a good vehicle for casually referencing scientists’ previous failed attempts at mass producing spider silk (a valuable material that is tougher than regular silk and can be machine washed.)
For example, it allows you to say things like:
“Did you know that a spider silk farm in Madagascar was able to produce 80 feet of silk despite the fact that the spiders started eating each other?”
Or, “It’s too bad those Canadian scientists who genetically mutated goats to produce spider silk proteins in their udders didn’t realize the production process would be so costly.”
For those thinking, ‘Great, sounds like a fair trade-off, I’m going to SXSW and need some help with the small talk, where can I order one?’ — if only life worked like that. While the tie is being unveiled at Austin festival, the company has only produced 50 of them so you need to enter a lottery to “win” the opportunity to buy one.
Silly marketing stunts aside, Bolt Threads' ambitions are more serious. Ultimately, it wants to use the DNA of spiders and other organisms to synthesize high-performance materials. To this end, it secured a deal with Patagonia to help develop new fabrics for the outdoor gear retailers. Spider silks’ properties, which include incredible strength, durability, flexibility, and the ability to conduct heat, make more sense for athletic gear or winter jackets than they do for ties.