How 3D Printing Can Be Used in The Fashion Industry

Photo by Kris Atomic

How 3D Printing Can Be Used in The Fashion Industry

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3D printing has settled for good in the fashion industry. We’ve already seen the greatest industry designers present this technology on their catwalks. It has also become increasingly common among the young and wild ones. Where is this all heading? How can fashion make use of this trend? For now, let us reflect on this—when virtually all of us know the entire behind the scenes of the process of manufacturing Dita von Teese’s dress, assembled from 17 sections printed independently, 3,000 links, and more than 13,000 Swarovski crystals, but somehow it’s still too soon for us to be able to 3D-print fully original T-shirts in the privacy of our homes.

3D printing has an appreciable impact on the fashion business. And the industry is well aware of that. The market sees more and more places such as the UK-based Fashion Digital Studio, which was founded by Peter Hill to collect and store knowledge on the most diverse applications of 3D printing in design. All with the goal of harnessing the new and the unfamiliar which for years has been a source of great excitement. Remember when in 2013 Harley Lewin said that the plague of fake goods in the fashion industry is nothing compared to the threat of this new technology? “When the cost of 3D printing is reduced, it’s going to create an entirely new generation of businesses. It’s not far away,” said Lewin. And he was somewhat right. Today, fashion architects use the 3D technology for printing not only embellishments to complement their designs but also footwear and jewelry. Their approach towards these developments is also very different from that of Lewin’s, as they take quite an optimistic view into the future.
Macedonian fashion designer Irina Tosheva is not afraid to experiment with technology, particularly 3D printing.

Macedonian fashion designer Irina Tosheva is not afraid to experiment with technology, particularly 3D printing.

Shoes by Cristina Franceschini, made from Z-PCABS—exceptionally durable and resistant to high temperatures.

Shoes by Cristina Franceschini, made from Z-PCABS—exceptionally durable and resistant to high temperatures.

threeASFOUR debuted its 2014 spring/summer line at the Jewish Museum

threeASFOUR debuted its 2014 spring/summer line at the Jewish Museum

Some professionals, including young Israeli designer Danit Peleg who created the first-ever entire collection that was manufactured using a 3D printer at home, see a fashion revolution coming our way.
A 3D-printed collection Danit Peleg created for her final design project (danitpeleg.com)

A 3D-printed collection Danit Peleg created for her final design project (danitpeleg.com)

How does this revolution manifest itself?

Shorter lead times time and fast prototyping

Independent designers complain mostly about long lead times and sky-high minimum orders. “This is why sample and overstock sales have practically become their own industry. With 3D printing, designers have the potential to produce in as wide or limited quantities as they want and have their orders fulfilled within weeks,” we read at Fashionista.com.

One of the most valuable advantages of 3D printing in this context is the possibility of quick sample making. It is said that the first company to ever use this method was Reebok. The company printed the first prototypes of running shoes already in 1997. Using their own printers, the company was and still is able to pass their designs forward to testing more quickly, which in consequence leads to the final products finding their way to distribution much sooner. Their competitor, Puma, boasts that due to the use of 3D printers for prototyping, the time needed to make samples has been reduced from four days to just one and that communication between design teams located around the globe has improved significantly.
Sole spikes made with 3-D printing technology (photo: New Balance)

Sole spikes made with 3-D printing technology (photo: New Balance)

Macedonian fashion designer Irina Tosheva mentioned earlier took up the challenge one year ago and decided to test the 3D printing technology while working on her Rizar collection which combines modern style with Balkan culture. When preparing for the fashion show in Prishtina, the capital and largest city of Kosovo, Tosheva chose the Zortrax’s M200 3D printer to print her designs using the company’s Z-ULTRAT filament. It’s available in a wide range of colors including neons and pastels. Out of the 22 shades on offer, Tosheva had to match the rainbow of fabrics in her designs and achieved a near-perfect effect. To complete this enormous undertaking, it took nearly 200 consecutive hours of printing and around 2,000 grams of special materials used in printing. This project, however, was rather speedy and low-cost compared to the amount of time and fabrics a similar project would have taken using other technology.

Personalization

For those who dedicate a significant share of their budgets to buying fashionable clothes or shoes, comfort matters just as much as originality. Where sport is concerned, comfort is becoming an urgent priority. And Nike gets that. This is why they’ve been using 3D printing in their manufacturing processes for some time now (the company was granted a patent for 3D printed shoe technology). The manufacturer believes that in the future, it will be possible to enter a store with a file bearing a shoe model of our choice and have it immediately printed out. And such a 3D-printed pair of shoes may be perfectly fitted to our feet, as it will be made based on our preferences. For now, Nike’s offer includes footwear in which only some components are manufactured with the 3D printing technology. However, Nike’s advertising slogans have been setting a direction they believe is the only right one: “At Nike the future is faster, and it’s 3D.”

Small business, major changes

3D printing is also a good idea for those who are just starting a fashion business, are not treating it as their primary source of income, need flexibility, and mostly market their products online. “The internet has made it possible for people to make a decent income just making whatever they enjoy making and at fairly low volume—at least compared to big brands—and if you’re good enough at it you can attract enough business to do reasonably well and 3D printing definitely offers new opportunities in that area,” explained on Fashionista.com Beth Altringer, who teaches and does research in small group innovation at Harvard, and works as a consultant for luxury companies such as Swarovski and Gucci Group. Jewelry designers such as architect Roberta Conti constitute a sizable group of these retailers.
Jewelry made by Italian architect Roberta Conti (http://www.brujita.me/)

Jewelry made by Italian architect Roberta Conti (http://www.brujita.me/)

Understanding both the needs of your audiences and the rules governing the success of a business is one thing, but having a tool such as the 3D printer in our hands is definitely the element of the gameplay that will allow us to avoid numerous risks associated with running a business. Some experts add one more thing to this list: that 3D printing will force out industrial-scale fashion manufacturing. Will this ever happen? Is it possible that one day we’ll be printing our clothes in the comfort of our homes instead of buying them? For now, these concerns are reflected only in creative concepts such as the one by Joshua Harris, in which a clothing printer is mounted on the wall to replace the good old closet we open every morning before we leave for work.

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