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Will 3D Printing Change Fashion?

August 19, 2013 Fashion Design and Merchandising, IADT General 0 Comments

3D Printing In FashionInterested in taking fashion into the future?

3D printing presents a huge opportunity for fashion designers, manufacturers and merchandisers. Fashion and luxury goods may be designed and produced seamlessly – without assembly or waste. As 3D printers become more sophisticated and more affordable, this type of production becomes much more logical.

Some independent designers and companies have already begun incorporating 3D printing into their collections. Familiarize yourself with the 3D printing process and what this means for designers:

How It Works

A 3D printer uses one machine to create a 3-dimensional object by adding thousands of layers of material together. The printer reads strings of digital code that tells the machine how to distribute the layers. This allows the 3D printer to create the shape you want.

Depending on the 3D printer, you may be able to produce objects from different materials including metals, sandstone, ceramics and plastics. This list is constantly expanding as the technology advances. Most recently, Continuum Fashion used 3D printing technology to produce a shoe collection, a wearable bikini and an avant-garde black dress, reports Elizabeth Canon of Fashion’s Collective.

What does this mean for designers?

Some designers and companies that have already begun working with 3D printing include:

  • Andreia Chaves: Discussed in Canon’s article, Chaves is a Brazilian designer who created a prototype for a shoe using 3D printing. Chaves then used a hand-made leather making technique from Italy to cover the skeleton of the shoe with geometric mirrors and finish the product. As Canon notes, “Even without creating an actual object, 3D printers can be used to cut precise patterns and molds that can then be used to create any object.”
  • Shapeways: A community-marketplace that leverages on-demand printing and allows customers to order products that are delivered by mail. Members of the site can make, buy and sell their own products – which are not limited to fashion merchandise.
  • Iris van Herpen: Described as a pioneer of 3D printing in fashion by super-model Coco Rocha, van Herpen incorporated 3D printed dresses into her 2012 and 2013 collections.
  • Thingiverse: Similar to Shapeways, Thingiverse is an online community that allows users to share digital designs for download. Sites like this may allow users to trade 3D printing designs for fashion products – which, in the future, may include designer outfits or runway reproductions.

Using 3D printing, designers may be able to rapidly create objects. This may allow for custom services on-demand. This is also an opportunity for independent designers to circumvent the need for minimum manufacturing orders.


However, there is one major drawback to this innovative technology: counterfeiting.

Especially as sites like Thingiverse gain in popularity, designers must ask themselves: how long before consumers are sharing digital designs for fashion just as they share music and video files? It may not be long before you are pirating fashion.

Navaz Batliwalla, reporting for BusinessofFashion.com and BON Magazine, notes that 3D printing technology can be used not just to copy, but to create new or personalized products – which may extend what is currently possible with existing mass customization platforms (such as Nike i-D and Burberry Bespoke). Batliwalla interviewed Ruth Marshall-Johnson, lifestyle analyst and senior editor of the think tank directory at WGSN trend forecasters, who believes: “It may be more about downloading a pattern from Prada and printing it in a color or material you choose. I can see the more innovative brands working with 3D printing on marketing projects and one-off campaigns alongside their normal lines.”

3D printing may make products much more accessible – and for much less. This is especially true for high fashion, luxury goods and vintage items. As long as you have the digital code for the design, you may be able to print it.

And, as 3D printing becomes more affordable, it is not too much to assume the technology may make its way into homes – meaning individuals in the future may be printing their own products, from high profile designers, at home. This raises issues for Intellectual Property and brand copyright – especially if personal owners make adjustments to the design or pirate the design code.


What do you think?