The word “printing” probably conjures up images of 8.5 x 11 paper jammed in a malfunctioning machine. But not for long. As 3D printing becomes more mainstream, its applications are broadening.
Architects and scientists have been using 3-D printing to create models for decades, but it’s beginning to show even more potential. From 3D printed buildings to 3D printed hearing aids, this technology could be revolutionary for a variety of industries. Fashion is no exception, and designers have already started to experiment.
Companies such as Hot Pop Factory are printing jewelry. Retailers such as New Balance are printing shoes. Designers such as Ron Arab are printing sunglasses. These pioneering innovations are exciting, but what’s a 3D printed necklace without a shirt or dress to match? 3D Printing and Fashion just recently met a couple of years ago, but their friendship is off to a promising start.
San Francisco-based clothing company, Continuum is among the first to create wearable, 3D printed pieces. Customers design bikinis on Continuum’s website, specifying their body shapes and measurements. The company then uses nylon to print out each unique order. Founder Mary Huang believes that this intersection of fashion and technology will be the future because it “gives everyone access to creativity.”
This year, architect Francis Bitonti and fashion designer Michael Schmidt collaborated to make a dress for burlesque diva Dita Von Teese. She wore the garment to the Ace Hotel in March for a convention hosted by online 3D printing marketplace, Shapeways. The dress consists of 2,500 intersecting joint pieces that were linked together by hand. The finishing touches — a black lacquer coating and 12,000 hand-placed Swarovski crystals — reflect Schmidt’s iconic glam that attracts a clientele of Madonna, Rihanna, Lady Gaga, and the like.
British designer Catherine Wales is making moves too. She is best known for her Project DNA collection, which includes avant-garde 3D printed masks, accessories, and apparel, all printed with white nylon. The eccentric shapes of her garments reflect that 3D printed clothing is still in its early stages. Today, the materials and technologies used for 3D printing still dictate and affect garment design.
But the technologies that fuel 3D printing continue to grow, and its limitations continue to diminish. For instance, Materialise, a company that prints custom-designed objects for clients, just came out with the printing material, “TPU-92A-1.” It’s cushioning, elastic, and lightweight – designed specifically for use in the fashion industry.
Dutch designer Iris Van Herpen has already put this new material to the test in her Voltage Haute Couture collection, which raised eyebrows at Paris Fashion Week in January 2013. A frontrunner in the realm of futuristic fashion design, Van Herpen has been taking her 3D printed dresses and shoes to the runways since 2010. Still, she admits that there are challenges associated with incorporating a new medium into the manufacturing process. “I always work together with an architect because I am not good with the 3D programs myself,” she said.
If Van Herpen needs an expert’s assistance, is there any hope for the average person to learn how to use, and someday own a 3D printer? Yes, but luckily for factory workers and clothing manufacturers, it may be a while before everyone is printing his or her own wardrobe. Machines for home printing, like Cube, are meant to bring small, simple designs to life. Objects like bracelets and phone cases take around thirty minutes to print. Base prices for such machinery — not including printing materials — are comparable to a laptop, at around $1,300.00.
The idea of custom design has mass appeal and marketability. Who doesn’t want to wear a one-of-a-kind, perfectly tailored piece? Perhaps the teenage girl of the future won’t have to suffer the social agony of showing up to a school dance wearing the same dress as her archenemy.
That’s right. The same technology that could build a city and create a hearing aid could also save our future children from social suicide. If that’s not extraordinary, what is?