Sapeurs in the Congo
To what extent will 3D printing change manufacturing in Fashion?
Fashion has always been at the forefront of utilising technological advances. Raging from earliest evolutions in the spinning of yarn and weaving epitomised by mechanical processes during the industrial revolution and the first programmable weaving machine, ‘The Jacquard Loom’. The invention of the sewing machine, developments in chemistry resulting in new dyes and eventually man made fibres.
All of these served to enforce the power of fashion. The human implications of all these developments have had enormous bearing throughout history whether it be trade along the Silk Route, the rich wool trade in northern England or the use of slaves to grow cotton in the Americas have all played their part in shaping society through fashion.
Today garment manufacturing alone makes an annual trade of $700 billion, according to the World Trade Organisation (Moore 2013) with approximately 60 million people working in these factories that more often than not are in poor countries usually in the Far East.
Despite the high level of mechanisation garment manufacture remains hugely labour intensive, hence the economic reasons for most manufacturing to be in poorer countries, especially in the Far East.
The latest development in technology that is making waves through society is that of 3D printing, and following its efforts to revolutionise a more diverse spectrum of materials for a variety of other uses.
Whilst examining the progress 3D printing has made so far I intend to contrast the positive and negative effects that have occurred and potential threats and benefits for the future. Further detailing the effects within fashion and debating current theories of the potential of 3d printing in the future.
3D printing also known as additive manufacturing is not a new form of technology, in fact has been around since the late 1980sbut is more recently making a stir in society for the new purposes it has found to be used for. Originally designed to be used by engineers and architects, 3D printing works in a number of different ways with the use of a whole manner of different materials.
The mobile phone had a similar introduction to society as being viewed as if it were something straight out of a sci-fi novel. Starting off as the expensive and rather impractically oversized ‘brick’ that was once carried by city types, it has evolved into the multi-tasking device we know it to be today.
3D printing is no longer a new technology and returning to the mobile phone analogy, it has moved on from its ‘brick’ phase to evolve into a high-developed piece of technology able to print 3D objects in numerous materials.
In 1986 an engineer in California called Chuck Hull filed US Patent 4,575,330, entitled ‘Apparatus for the Production of Three Dimensional Objects by Stereolithography’. Literally printing in stereo or three dimensions, through, what he describes as an ‘additive process’ as opposed to traditional manufacturing techniques, which cut away material and are therefore ‘subtractive’.
Diagram of ‘Apparatus for the Production of Three Dimensional Objects’, Hull 1986
Hulls’ early 3D printer was in essence a computer-controlled robot that ‘drew’ on a light reactive material using an ultra-violet pen. The material is a liquid ‘photo-polymer’ which solidifies when subjected to ultra-violet light, [the same chemical mixed into dental fillings that uses a UV ‘torch’ on the polymer filling which is then ‘cured’ or solidified] the first or bottom layer then sinks below the surface of the liquid photopolymer and the ultra-violet pen repeats the process as each layer solidifies and sinks.
The robotic pen is responding to CAM/CAD software which takes a three-dimensional design and slices it into many multiple layers or cross sections of the design which allows it to programme the robot to draw the slight variations in each layer that combine to make a complex 3D object.
As an engineer Hull realised that the technique would not be restricted to liquid photopolymers but to any “material capable of being solidified” or of “altering its physical state”. Through his newly formed company – 3D Systems- he filed format patents in anticipation of new developments / materials as well as software patents on STL format [STereoLithography].
3D Systems was not interested in an end product manufacturing system at that time; it set up as a company offering ‘rapid prototyping’ where design concepts could be modelled and prototypes produced relatively quickly and of course cheaply. However with continued technological advances being made, combined with a growing awareness in the business world the possibility of producing high end, quality manufactured pieces through an additive process is increasing.
How it works
A clear description of how the process works is given by Iancu (2010) who explains that, “3D printing (also called 3-D Modeling) takes digital input from three-dimensional data and creates solid, three-dimensional parts through an additive, layer-by-layer process… 3-D Modeling is used extensively by designers, engineers and hobbyists for concept development and product design to accelerate the design process and reduce the time to market”.
Originally this process revolutionised how engineers and companies made prototypes but recently there has been a transition into using it for manufacturing, but as Hessman (2013) notes, “the speed of the machines prevents adoption into high volume production, which, at least for the moment, prevents Ford from printing production parts outright.” Ford being mentioned because, “the company began investing in the technology in its earliest days back in the late 1980s,” using it for its prime purpose of prototyping.
Iancu (2010) argues that, “While rapid prototyping dominates current uses, 3D printers offer tremendous potential for production applications as well.” However 3D printing may speed up the prototyping process radically, for companies such as Ford manufacturing items outright would in fact be much slower. The exception noted (Hessman 2013) would be that of luxury items, “Lamborghinis, Bentleys and the like- that by nature are low-volume, high quality products and include a great deal of customization”. This would transpire to many other luxury items as well which would be ideal for the customer who can afford to spend the added time and money in order to have a high quality end product.
Equally this could apply to the high-end fashion market, which tends to be low volume, high quality. It would also fit into the more avant-garde, conceptual section of the market that appreciates new techniques and trends.
Briefly exploring the existing and potential positive and negative effects of 3D printing after being developed to produce different products from what it was originally made for.
With 3D printing being the feature of so much press and relatively new to most people unaware of it’s technical engineering history, it’s safe to say it’s become more of a trend, being used because it’s new and rather exclusive. For example a 3D printer was featured in Will.i.am’s music video ‘Scream and Shout’ printing a model of his face.
Scream and Shout video by Will.i.am
As Dragotti discusses the future of 3D printing in fashion, “could well be a matter of hype: designers love to get media attention and 3D printing technology is presently trendy”. Which goes to show those who are using it for it’s natural benefits and those you just want to say they’ve used it. As Adams concurs that, “The hype guys want to show you the desk ornament…The ones that are really serious about this, we keep our heads down and really work on product integrity (Hessman 2013). That way we’ll make sure that when we introduce a part, we’ll introduce it with the highest level of integrity at a point where it creates value for our customers.”
This relates to the previous argument made on luxury items. At the moment with 3D printing naturally still quite expensive and the realistic view that the manufactured goods made by 3D technology would be luxury items due to its low volume and high quality; it seems those who can own 3D printed goods at this time are only those willing to pay extortionate amounts in order to be an ‘early adopter’.
My own experience from visiting the Design Museum during ‘The Future is Here’ 3D print show relates to this view. One representative from a product design company using 3D printing to make small products and accessories stated to me that he agreed that many customers wanted their products purely to own something that had been 3D printed: “This pen, for example… we haven’t finished amending some the issues, the grip shape etc but people still want to buy it so we will amend the quality later”.
However it is unfair to say that all high quality 3D printed goods are expensive or that those products made that aren’t expensive are of lower quality, especially when it comes to fashion. Many designers that have been experimenting with 3D technology have created fantastic products.
Brian Hicks (2013) examines the amazing products being made using 3D printing, all of which have been made for fashion, “The trend is growing both for the convenience of the process as well as for the styles it naturally creates. Toronto-based Hot Pop Factory, for example, markets an entire line of 3D-printed jewelry”.
Hot Pop Factory 3D printed Jewellery (Hicks 2013)
Of course it is not just accessories being printed in fashion; the developments to creating wearable garment structures are growing day by day. Designers Michael Schmidt and Francis Bitonti created the “world’s first full articulated 3-D printed gown” (Mau, 2013) but of course to make hit headlines it had to be worn by notorious fashion icon, Dita Von Teese. Resulting in an immediate social trend spread worldwide.
Dita Von Teese in first fully articulated 3D printed dress (Mau, 2013)
On the other hand, 3D printing in fashion has a lot more to offer than being a new trend. Environmentalists could be a target audience for 3d printing because of it being eco friendly. Already “its pretty sustainable and green because less raw material is wasted” (Mau, 2013) but organizations such as PETA could be major followers of the idea of making new organic materials. Much the same as the potential of lab grown leather, that is being explored by Modern Meadow (Mau, 2013). Already this new technology is being fused with fashion’s historical affinity for organic materials, designer Bitonitold Eliza Brooke (The crunch 2013) that he’s, “currently working on 3D-printed handbags finished with stingray leather”. But what if that leather could be 3d printed?
Delamore, in an interview with dezeen magazine stated that with the progress that has been made medically to form biomaterials such as new skin; the technology could be used within fashion also; “Perhaps these advances will be picked up and brought into the fashion world. I’d imagine that if you get into printing protein and things like that, printing silks and those sorts of materials would be the next step.”
Already Ecouturre stresses that, “3D printed fabrics may be the future of sustainable textiles” (InsideFMM, 2013). Already they have created, “Seamless, flexible textile structures using software that converts three-dimensional body date into skin-conforming fabric structures”. The process the technology uses of fusing (recyclable) powdered thermoplastic into shapes under ultraviolet light, “leaves behind virtually no waste… In addition, the process localizes production, which means less shipping, less labor and reduced fabrication time”.
Therefore as well as the potential animal-free fabrics yet to be achieved; already there is an eco friendly alternative to be proud of. The thermoplastic textile alternative to current manufacturing methods reduces waste (because it doesn’t produce as much), and eliminates the shipping cost because it can be made locally.
However it is not just fashion and pop culture that 3D printing has had a positive effect on. 3D printing has been transferred to make breakthroughs in many other different fields.
Positives Breakthroughs in Other Fields
Already 3D printing has been developed to produce extraordinary results aiding scientists to replicate hidden fossils and human remains; in 2003 Nelson’s team successfully made a “facial reconstruction of an Egyptian mummy housed at the Chatham-Kent Museum in Chatham, Ontario.”
Further achievements have been made medically printing skin graphs and emergency implants. Dominic Eggbeer is a medical implant supplier that uses 3d printed implants to reconstruct patients’ faces after accidents, “A motorcycle accident left this patient’s face crushed. Their head was scanned and I worked with surgeons and technicians to design a multi-part implant. Surgeons then used the implant to guide their reconstruction of the patient’s face…3D printing is the only way for me to make such complex implants. And I can print them fast- ideal for urgent trauma cases” (Printing the Future, 2013).
However we can not ignore the potential power that 3d printing has from being a current trend because it is due to it’s growing reputation that it is now being used in schools and different forms of education, “Five years ago, most students arrived with no idea of what 3D printing was,” says Delamore. “Now they see it as another tool” (Dezeen). As Philip Delamore explains, designers of accessories were the first to get really excited about the potential of 3D printing, “They’re much closer to product design and architecture, both of which have a long history of using this technology”.
For some designers who see 3D printing as a technique that extends the abilities of their work, going back into education has been the only way to retrain themselves in order to progress. Catherine Wales who was classically trained in garment cutting at Yves Saint Laurent as well as Emanuel Ungaro, went back into education to do her MA in Digital Fashion at the London College of Fashion. In the telegraph she explained that she, “was attracted to the fact that 3D printing has the potential for mass-customisation”. Designers like Wales obviously foresee 3D printing becoming a much a bigger part of the fashion industry in the near future and have trained themselves to use it so that they can be a part of that future. But will the rest of the industry be ready? If the designers of tomorrow are learning how to use the technology of tomorrow; what about the workers who have to make the garments? As Moore (2013) questions, “If today’s workers can learn today’s technology, I don’t understand why tomorrow’s workers could not be equally adept at learning tomorrow’s technology.”
Loss of jobs
Whilst that is said, there seems to be no future plans for workers in factories to learn about 3D printing if it were to be used as a garment manufacturing technique. Reinforcing the threat that if 3D printing does become the mainstream way of manufacturing it, “jeopardizes jobs for around 50 million women, spread across every continent, and in most countries of the world. That’s a full fourteenth of the world’s population - one woman in every seven - out of work” (Moore, 2013). Fibre2fashion states that in comparison 3D printing offers, “several benefits over traditional manufacturing like low manufacturing cost, lesser involvement of workforce, reduced raw material wastage and energy consumption, and above all it extends unlimited creativity to designers” (Moore, 2013). However these positives would be realised by shoppers in the US and EU but the negatives would affect 50 million workers worldwide.
Garment workers in Vientiane- Moore, 2013
The term ‘fast fashion’ given to the production of manufacturing cheap clothing in a short turn around has always posed moral dilemmas. Contrasting our demand [as consumers in the Western world] for cheap yet fashionable clothing at the expense, some would argue, of the poorly paid, often mistreated, workers including children. Indeed it has made front-page news in recent months with the horrendous deaths of workers crushed when the badly constructed factory they were working in collapsed (BBC, 2013). However the opposing argument is that without these jobs, these workers would have no livelihoods.
One worker interviewed by Mau (2013) in a Chicago fashion retail store admitted, “I am worried about the jobs that could be lost by having machines make clothes, because, evil or not, poverty-stricken countries at the very, very least benefit from their people being employed somehow”.
One of the more publicised negatives of 3D printing has been that of printing firearms. This presents many arguable issues around the potential of what could happen with the guns themselves but also the legislation that deals with them. John Donohue, a law professor at Stanford made a statement discussing potential people that 3D printed guns could have an effect on such as “Teenagers, people convicted of felonies or who have drug and alcohol problems, and criminal enterprises … This is a step in the wrong direction if it makes guns more available to them.”
The Liberator Gun by Defense Distributed (2013)
On the other hand, many think that the high scandal that has been made over the issue is nothing more than a scare tactic made by the press. Of course it is a matter that needs to be taken seriously especially in terms of the law but in terms of, “the projected fear, that 3D printing will allow amoral people their sole opportunity to access high-grade weaponry” as Moore (2013) states it is much less plausible. If people were going to make a homemade gun than they will with or without a 3D printer as they have been doing so since the 14th Century and at this stage, “It is still cheaper and likely less time-consuming to purchase a gun than to print one yourself”.
Mainly it is the law surrounding the producing, selling and owning of a 3d printed gun that is causing real dispute due to organisations such as ‘Defence Distributed’ that offer blueprints for 3D printing gun parts for free. On 5th May 2013 Defence Distributed, “released the files for the Liberator pistol,” causing uproar from Americans and press the worldwide that culminated in censures and investigations from the US Government.
In the article, Congressman Says He’ll Propose Ban On 3D-Printable Gun Magazines for Forbes.com Andy Greenberg writes that, “The law in its current form bans the possession of firearms that can’t be spotted by metal detectors or X-ray scanners” but as Law professor Adam Winkler argues in Would a 3D printed gun really be legal (2011), “Currently there are no legal implications (to making your own 3D-printed weapons, so) this is a case where the technology could quickly outpace the law”.
From what angle is realistically the best way to enforce safety with printed guns? Do you change the existing laws, or better manage the 3D printers themselves or deal with the end gun product that has been made? So far congressman like Steve Israel are trying to create new guidelines for this technology.
Unfortunately the legal questions surrounding 3D printing do not end there.
3D printing has many legal issues when it is used as a production or manufacturing technique of an object for sale. The main questions being about ownership of designs, profits and quality.
Michael Weinberg (Moore, 2013) explains that, “You can’t copyright the cut of a dress or a shirt - unless sculptural, or couture - isn’t copyrightable. Aspects of it may be patentable or have trademarks, but clothing was considered by the framers of copyright law primarily for domestic use.” Which is where the issues of ownership and profit come in. The main appeal to 3D printing is that it allows complete consumer personalisation. However Mau (2013) made the point that “this introduces almost as many potential problems as it does opportunities”. For example if you were to print a shoe, “who would have designed that shoe? A luxury brand? Would you design it yourself? Would you take the design from a designer and then customize it yourself? And then, who actually owns that design? And who profits from it?”
Then there are the issues of quality. When brands spend so much on quality control what happens when a faulty product has been made but it’s been printed by the customer and when customisations can be made and alternative materials can be used, “Who’s at fault if that doesn’t work out?” (Mau, 2013).
Furthermore there are then the issues of counterfeiting, which legal experts are already predicting will cause numerous lawsuits (Mau, 2013). Would it be possible to stop people from taking parts from designers? For example as Susan Scafidi suggests, people could easily print out, “a silver Prada triangle and stick it on some cheap generic handbag” (Mau, 2013).
Overall 3D printing has had an array of successes within different fields. The current hype related to it is a fantastic source of business for designers already selling 3D printed goods. The use of the technology to make accessories was an immediate success as well as its eco friendly potential it could soon offer the fashion industry and its already recyclable materials. The benefits to archaeologists and medical scientists are remarkable, unearthing priceless findings as well as changing people’s lives. Finally, being brought into education as a new technology for students to learn to reinforce its success in the future.
Of course there are negatives and the potential threats that 3D manufacturing present could be great. The 50 million jobs it could affect or even eliminate are a major problem yet to be fixed as well as the legal implications concerning laws, trademarks and counterfeits. However the negative outcomes of 3d printing technology are all threats that haven’t happened yet. That’s not to say they shouldn’t be dealt with appropriately but in comparison to the positives, the benefits of 3d printing are happening now and more are still to come.
3D printing in Fashion
The fashion industry’s views towards this potential new way of manufacturing are mixed. Some are positive, like Iris Van Herpen and Catherine Wales in thinking it will be the new way forward, completely freeing the design process to create completely radical new never before made pieces. Others are more sceptical and see the power of machines that can make other machines let alone clothes, as a huge threat that resembles something out of a sci-fi horror story rather than revolutionary piece of technology. But whether for or against this new technology both sides predict that 3D printing will work in fashion.
Christian Louboutin worried that, “When the cost of 3-D printing is reduced, it’s going to create an entirely new generation of businesses” (Mau, 2013).
Mau reports that, “with 3-D printing, designers have the potential to produce in as wide or limited quantities as they want and have their orders fulfilled within weeks,” which in an industry that manufactures vast quantities of unnecessary waste and has practically made a new industry from sample sales and overstock sales, this potential future could be a great backlash to factories that have caused it; “Some of the most common complaints we hear from independent designers about the fashion industry relate to the long lead times and huge minimum orders imposed by factories.”
On the other hand there is another side to the argument that 3D printing may be neither a revolutionary future nor potential threat because it would not be used successfully in fashion. So far the materials that can be used are far too limited to what can be manufactured in a factory today. As London College of Fashion’s Delamore explains, “3D printing wasn’t designed for designers – it was designed for engineers… Primarily, it came from the car and aerospace industries, and the materials were developed for engineering applications. Designers are always inventive in terms of picking up new technologies and playing with them, but 3D printing uses materials that were meant for other purposes.”
Realistically 3D printing will always be a collaboration between engineers and designers. The fashion industry will never have total control because it is entirely dependent on 3D printer engineers developing new materials that designers could use because it is a technology that wasn’t built for fashion. Until there are designers that can be experts in both fields, “This kind of collaboration between fashion designers and the materials industry will be essential in future…Designers will become materials experts, and vice versa. No one has thought about that too deeply yet, but it’s important,” remarks materials and society professor Mark Miodownik at University College London.
Dutch fashion designer Iris Van Herpen who has become the main face of 3D printing in fashion after using the technology in her 2010 show ‘Crystallization’, has said the process has given her ‘unlimited freedom’. As she told CNBC, “I could just suddenly put any structure I had in my head in the computer”, and she did not have to compromise with any designs she made like she would when designing in a 2D format.
Crystallization 3d printed collection by Iris Van Herpen, 2010
However as jewellery designer Kimberly Ovitz explained about her collaboration with Shapeways to produce her 3D printed collection (Mau, 2013), “Basically we had to learn 3-D modeling. [There was] a guy in their marketplace that’s really good at 3-D modeling that helped us, [and then] they transferred it over to their system and showed me how one was printed.” This further shows that unless the designer is also an expert with 3D printing machines and using the complex 3D designer CAD programmes that engineers are used to, they have to rely on collaborations with those that can.
Kimberly Ovitz 3D printed jewellery at Shapeways, 2013
The main question yet to be answered is, “Will 3D printing eliminate fashion manufacturing?” If this were to happen it would be the final stage in which 3d printing dominated the fashion industry as it the aspect that faces the most complications. However the positives of such a progressive change are not to be sniffed at. As Dhani Mau reports, “The implications of 3-D printing on the fashion industry cannot be understated. It has the potential to do great things: create shorter lead times for designers, offer the ability to produce things in smaller quantities, and create easy personalization.” If not more importantly saving time and money, “Rapid prototyping in 3D would eliminate the millions of dollars that get spent on sampling during product development,” (Pithers, 2013).
Dragotti makes the argument that this will blur the lines of hierarchy between the different markets that fashion have so strongly separated; potentially couture, prêt a porter and the mass market sharing a common production technique. Today, “the fashion industry heavily relies on two pillars: trademarks and exclusivity. The personalization allowed by 3D printing technologies could change the meaning of exclusivity, thereby increasing even more the importance of the trademarks. In a world where everyone can afford a tailor-made (rectius: a 3D printer-made) dress, trademarks and brands will be crucial to identify the creations of top designers,” (2013).
Considering the question at hand, “Will 3D printing eliminate fashion manufacturing?” answering with complete certainty cannot be done. There have always been outlandish predictions of technology in the future, and the time where people print out the latest fashions at home could happen, but realistically there is not enough proof that it will happen any time soon. Europe has printed two-dimensionally since the fifteenth Century but no one has as of, “yet to invent a cheap 2D printer that doesn’t cost a fortune in ink cartridges or go wrong every five minutes” (print preview 2012). So it’s questionable to predict that 3D printing won’t have similar problems when it comes to mass manufacturing and domestic use.
Moreover there is the comparison to digital and analogue film cameras. Digital cameras revolutionised photography but it did not render analogue cameras obsolete. Today people still use both and there is still the need for darkrooms and people to process film for customers. Therefore it cannot be said with any amount of certainty that consumers will one day print everything they need at home. As Mau explains, it’s “all hypothetical. Depending on what technology ends up being possible, 3-D printing may not even end up being a very efficient way to produce fabric clothing–at least not for quite sometime” (2013).
With the materials not being as developed as the technology, Altringer elaborates that, “Until we can actually print in comfortable, breathable fabrics, it will remain a pretty far off concept. I think we have plenty of time to think about these things and how it would work before this is actually really a mainstream thing” (2013).
Where does 3D manufacturing work in fashion?
As The Crunch (2013) correctly theorises, “If 3D printing disrupts mass fashion production, it will do so because it will have become cheaper and more efficient than current manufacturing methods. Ready-to-wear, however, with its smaller production runs, financial insecurity and impulse toward the artistic, is the ideal space for 3D printing to take root now.”
It is true that 3D printing can work in fashion as designers are already using it today, but that is not to say that it would be successful in all aspects of the industry; mass fashion production or fast fashion being one of them. So what aspects of fashion would 3D printing technology work in?
Conceptual Design & Wearability
The fashion pieces being 3D printed today are rather more conceptual than wearable, as Brooke concurs, “This is art. It isn’t wearable, but it suggests that 3D printing has the finesse necessary to break into an industry known for its attention to quality craft.”
However Brooke states in her analysis that, “Printers are getting closer to producing good fabric-like materials, using interlocking structures to create weaves and stitches… once more fashion designers start using 3D printing, it will make a case for 3D manufacturers to develop more breathable, wearable materials. This is, of course, a chicken and egg situation, as designers aren’t going to want to migrate to 3D printing until they know it’s as good if not better than their current methods” (2013).
On the other hand it’s about collaboration and 3D printing companies already want to join together with designers. Van Herpen’s collections using 3D printing are from her collaboration with Belgian company Materialise where she formed a partnership with architect Daniel Widrig. Originally printing in polyamide they have since developed a new textile called TPU 92A-1, “that is being billed as the first printable material that is flexible and durable enough to be worn – and to be put in the washing machine” (dezeen 2013).
In an interview with CNBC, Van Herpen reported that, “Every time we launch new materials, the quality is so much more impressive than previous materials”. In agreement with this view, Herman predicts that, “How fast [it catches on] will depend on how creative [designers] are, and how fast the industry will follow as new materials come into the market and become more wearable and affordable,” (2013).
Nike had the recent success of having “made a significant dent in the “40 yard dash” time, the standard measure used by scouts to assess an athlete’s speed and ability” (Dezeen 2013). This significant performance was due to them producing a new football cleat with 3D printing that featured a laser-sintered footplate and studs. “Using 3D-printing technology meant Nike was able to prototype the boot and make alterations in a much shorter timeframe than normal – it allows design updates to be made in days rather than months,” (Dezeen 2013) therefore allowing the boot to made lighter and giving the wearer the ability to run faster. Hence why Porter predicts that “3D printing will probably infiltrate fashion through streetwear rather than haute couture because [high-end] fashion isn’t looking for something to replace what’s there at the moment,” (2013) where as in sportswear when it can make vital alterations 3D printing can have greatly successful outcomes.
Small Designers are a market with the potential to benefit hugely from 3D printing technology
Kimberley Ovitz explains that 3d printing technology is a huge potential benefit to, “smaller designers that can’t deal with volume and minimum issues. It kind of eliminates all that because you can do as intricate a design as you want and as many prototypes as you want. There’s not as much of a waste of raw materials” (Mau 2013). Not all small designers can most likely afford to 3D print their designs but with the prices reducing it won’t be long before this potential market group see 3D printing as a significant tool. Eli Bozeman from digital prototyping company Occom Group says, “It’s only a matter of time before all fashion products at least get their start this way. It’s far more efficient and allows you to get something much sooner with fewer costly design iterations (2013)”.
The original aim was examining the progress 3D printing has made since its introduction in 1986 with both positive and negative aspects along with the potential benefits and threats it has yet to incur.
Eventually leading to the theories of the future of 3D printing in fashion, both possible and improbable that would hopefully result in a more plausible argument based on my own opinion and judgement.
Beginning with the origins of 3D printing and it’s founding father Chuck Hull; who in ’86 patented the apparatus that printed in stereo through an ‘additive process’ different from other technology that subtracted material this new technique built up thin layers upon layers, hence its later name ‘additive manufacturing’.
More recently the technology has transitioned into other fields than it was originally created for. Although the idea of using the process for manufacturing causes too many problems for companies such as Ford, the idea of making Luxury items has been put forward.
Exploring the benefits and threats of using 3D printing technology highlighted the current hype and media attention it is receiving for its more innovative uses currently being picked up on by curious designers. Resulting in business for companies selling 3D printed products, some the time for the mere fact that it was 3D printed rather than the quality of the product itself. However most of the time for the ingenious new products that have been developed, a lot of which have been in fashion.
Already the materials developed for 3D printing are remarkably eco-friendly with reduced waste and recyclability but also for the potential it could have to develop animal friendly skins.
The technology has also made remarkable progress in medical science, being able to 3D print incredible implants for chaotic injuries much similar to science fictional ways of healing patients. Archaeologists and other scientists, being able to unearth and replicate delicate fossils and learn from them without damaging the originals.
After so many creative things being printed its understandable that 3D printers have been brought into schools to teach students of all ages to use this technology.
However serious potential threats have been theorised. The main theory being the loss of 50 million jobs if 3D printing became the main process of manufacturing fashion around the world.
The other potential threat being the availability to print firearms, with the designs already being available for free. This raised issues of law enforcement and questions surrounding whether laws need to be changed. All of these issues being left unsolved.
Other legal issues question ownership of designs, the profits made and who gets them and the quality of the end products. Counterfeiting also being a major predicted problem. All of these questions have yet to be answered and have enforced the importance of trademarks and branding.
The future of 3D printing in the fashion industry is not completely predictable. There are numerous different aspects of fashion that 3D printing could work in and others it would not.
For a long time I think it is safe to predict that the use of 3D printing will be between collaborations of designers with engineers or architects or a party that can use 3D design programmes to develop what will be three-dimensionally printed because at the moment it is too difficult to do alone, hence the previous collaborations between designers such as Iris van Herpen and Daniel Widrig from Materialise. However that is not to say that with 3D printing now becoming more common in education that future designers won’t be able to work the technology themselves.
The most pressing question being, will 3D printing eliminate 50 million jobs? If it does, it’s not happening any time soon. The materials being used now are not nearly close enough to challenging the quality of fabrics we have available today even despite them developing new materials all the time. This transition to 3D manufacturing is also not a cheaper alternative to how clothing is made in factories now and until it is, 3D printing will not take over from the 50 million workers who can make cheaper, better quality garments. As Weinberg stated to Moore (2013), “3D printed clothing is not going to compete with most of the clothes at your local mall on price anytime soon, if ever.”
The extent 3D printing will change manufacturing in fashion could therefore be not at all; it completely depends on what technology is made possible. However, I most definitely agree that 3D printing has a place in fashion, in fact more than just one.
Luxury and conceptual fashion pieces that are usually limited editions and focus hugely around quality are a perfect domain for 3D printing and designers such as Iris Van Herpen are already successfully using it to create garments more art than clothing.
The natural qualities of producing lightweight products have proved to help sportswear such as the Nike football cleat and could no doubt be further developed.
Finally the technology can benefit smaller designers where money is a high concern because of the ability to cut out volume and minimum order issues. As a result manufacturing on a much smaller scale.
So watch out, the machines are coming.
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