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Designing a BoltSpun tie: Conversations with a material

On March 10, we launched the world’s first ever human-made spider silk consumer product, a knit silk necktie. Why a tie?

Our friend and silk expert Fiorenzo Omenetto models the tie with panache

We chose a tie because we wanted to create an iconic product associated with the history of silk. Emperor Shih Huang Ti’s famous Terracotta Army in 210 BCE is depicted wearing a silk necktie and Louis XIV of France was known to don colorful silk ties, inspired by Croatian soldiers. The BoltSpun silk knit necktie honors this history, with a nod to modern tastes.

We launched our tie at SXSW because it’s where technology meets creativity, making it the perfect venue to launch this tie, which is the result of the meeting of design and science. Knit ties have been popular since the 1950s and are casual ties, a symbol of the audience at SXSW. The knit tie is making a niche comeback, a revival of something old, and is a fitting ode to the rich history of silk.

The aesthetic design pattern of the BoltSpun knit necktie is inspired by the microstructure of the protein beta sheets the material is composed of. Because creating a new material is serious work, but we’re not too serious to have fun with it.

The design of the BoltSpun knit tie was not a unilateral decision; it was an integrated conversation between science, design and this newly created material. As our VP of Product Development Jamie Bainbridge says, “The process of design is a problem solving process, and that process has constraints. That’s the beauty of it. If you didn’t have constraints, you would call it art.”

Our scientific processes are not segregated from our product design processes – we intentionally created a strong feedback loop between them. Each person who comes into contact with the material, from biologist to apparel designer, can adapt their process in accordance with what the material needs. Jamie explains, “Everyone is having a conversation with the material. It guides you.”

Our design process is very unique. Most apparel brands choose a product to design, then choose an appropriate material for that product. We, however, begin with the material, and design a product that best takes advantage of its material properties. The fibers, yarn, and fabric guide us, telling us how they to be worked with.

Each of our teams passes that information along to the next team, relaying the conversation they had with the material. The open process of relaying conversations with a new material is not common in many labs or design studios, and is an integral part of our ethos at Bolt.

Jamie continues, “You see, the challenge is that this fiber is extremely different than any other fiber we (read: humans) have ever worked with. It has behavioral patterns all its own. When you speak to polymer chemists, they tell you it’s unlike anything else. As a material, it has a completely different set of behaviors.”

Pause and let that sink in. We made a tie, which may seem to be an unlikely application of such a revolutionary material. But this tie, this material, has a set of behaviors all its ownAnd now, you can wear those novel material behaviors around your neck.

It’s not just the future of ties, it’s the future of textiles.


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