New start-up, Spintex uses a spider-inspired spinning process, called “pultrusion” to develop artificially spun high-performance silk.
With more questions being asked about the cost to the planet of fast fast fashion, particularly following news of the poor working conditions and low pay at fast fashion retail Boohoo, the interest and support for sustainable fashion is growing.
Alex Greenhalgh, CEO and co-founder of Spintex, explained that the idea is: “backed by 300 million years of R&D”. Just as with the spider, the raw materials are protein and water and the pultrusion process expels the water that makes the silk protein microfibres align to produce a low-energy, high-quality fibre.
“Traditional silk production has the second highest environmental impact after leather” said Alex. “What’s unique about Spintex’s process is that it is incredibly environmental”. Unlike the traditional silk industry, energy consumption is low, water is the only by-product, there are no hazardous chemicals, and everything can potentially be recycled. Using biomimicry, or learning from nature, Spintex has turned the ancient silk manufacturing process on its head by rethinking production models.
The resulting Spintex material compares well with natural silks and nylons – it is tough, light, malleable and fine. It has potential for use in the sustainable fashion industry and because of its high performance can also be used in other markets. “We hope it will be used for advanced technical textiles and even for regenerative medicine” says Alex.
Alex and his co-founders, Martin Frydrych (CSO) and Fritz Vollrath, were researchers in University of Oxford’s Zoology Department. The team is backed by a strong advisory board, including scientific advisor, Chris Holland and IP advisor, Robert Harrison. Alex and Martin met working on the European Commission-funded FLIPT project that was looking at ways to spin cellulose like a silk using biomimicry. They developed an in-depth knowledge of the spider’s spinning process and realised the commercial potential of replicating this. Originally, they set up Spintex to create medical textiles but were held back by the regulatory process. It was joining the Fashion for Good accelerator that propelled them into sustainable fashion and they’ve never looked back.
Alex is Oxford born and bred. As a teenager, he won a Nuffield Foundation Bursary in microbiology through Science Oxford (run by The Oxford Trust from 1998 to 2014).
Spintex is a winner of an impressive list of grants and awards – including an EU Horizon 2020 grant, the Panacea Stars 2019 Develop programme winners, Fashion for Good accelerator graduates, and investment from the IndieBio SOSV accelerator and the Startup Funding Club.
Aside from COVID-19, which has slowed down their development timeline, Spintex has some key challenges for 2020: to fine-tune the engineering process, another funding round, to further reduce costs to competitive levels and to scale-up.