The Unsung Hero of Fashion: Revolutionary Textiles from Japan

Brewed Protein™ knit
A knit fabric made using yarn spun from Brewed Protein™ fibers. (Image courtesy of Spiber Inc.)

   The appeal of Japanese craftsmanship is the way traditional techniques are combined with cutting-edge scientific technology to create unparalleled products — and textiles are no exception. Recently, the fashion industry has been focusing on creating environmentally friendly, sustainable and ethical products. To support this, the Japanese textile industry has been dreaming up a range of futuristic new materials.

Reinventing Existing Textiles with Recycled Materials

   Recently, organza fabric woven completely from thread made from recycled plastic bottles has been making appearances in fashion collections and at global events.
Organza is a thin, sheer fabric with a stiffer texture, often used in wedding dresses. It's usually made using polyester thread. It can be very difficult to work with, as it's made from extremely thin threads that are easily broken. However, Japanese textile manufacturer Suncorona Oda has developed a version made with recycled fiber that's as beautifully supple as conventional organza, thanks to the company's own fiber-separation technology. The manufacture of this organza involves highly skilled craftsmen such as weavers and dyers from all over Japan.

A dress of organza made with recycled material. (Image courtesy of Koizumi Tomo.)
Sheer organza woven from delicate threads. (Image courtesy of Suncorona Oda.)

Dreaming Up New, Futuristic Materials

   Japanese bio-venture company Spiber has developed a whole new textile concept that's drawing attention from around the world. The idea for this new textile came from spider webs, which spiders use to catch insects much bigger than themselves. Spider webs are made up of strong, stretchy proteins. Inspired by spider webs and other living things in the natural world, Spiber developed a protein material called Brewed Protein™ using its original microorganism fermentation process, which uses biomass from plants as its main raw material. This new material can be used to create environmentally friendly products, as it doesn't rely on synthetic fibers or plastics derived from petroleum. Spiber is currently working on research and development into using the fiber in a range of fields, from clothing like T-shirts and sweaters to medical items and cosmetics. Their Brewed Protein™ is gaining attention as a new material that brings us a little closer to the future.

A device for fast and stable synthesis of genes designed to meet users' needs.

Brewed Protein™ polymer powder can be processed into a variety of forms depending on how it will be used.

MOON PARKA is an outdoor jacket that uses artificially constructed proteins.
(These three images courtesy of Spiber Inc.)

Japanese Traditions and Ideas out in the World

   Kimono is a symbol of traditional Japanese culture. Of all the fabrics used in kimono, Nishijin-ori (Nishijin fabric), named after the area in Kyoto where it is traditionally made, is particularly famous. This beautifully patterned fabric is woven from dyed silk threads, and has garnered attention from all over the world. However, Nishijin-ori is usually woven just 32 cm wide, which makes it difficult to use for other clothes, or as a textile for interior design. This is why HOSOO, a company with a long history of making Nishijin-ori, has spent a year developing a loom that weaves the fabric to a width of 150 cm, the global standard measurement. This new version of Nishijin-ori is well suited for use in items like dresses and textiles for interior design.
   With traditional kimono made from natural materials like silk, there's a custom of undoing the threads that hold the garment together and returning it to a single sheet of fabric, which is then remade into a new kimono — so the same fabric is passed down from generation to generation. This Japanese tradition of taking care of possessions shows a true spirit of sustainability.

A variety of different threads are used to weave patterns into the Nishijin-ori fabric. Here, the fabric is used to decorate the walls of the Four Seasons Hotel Kyoto.

A craftsman looks after the 150-cm-wide loom, listening carefully to it and making fine adjustments to the threads.
(These four images courtesy of HOSOO.)

   Japan has many types of textiles renowned the world over, ranging from traditionally woven fabrics to those made using cutting-edge technology. These were born from Japan's spirit of craftsmanship: the desire to rise to the challenge and solve any problem through repeated innovation and invention. These high-quality textiles made with cutting-edge technologies are drawing attention from around the world.