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Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Modeconnect Fashion Writing comp: round 1

I wrote a submission for Modeconnect's International Fashion Writing competition, which made it through to round two and has also been published (click here).

3D print technology set to challenge the fashion industry

Fashion thrives on the constant threat of change. A seasonal trend storms its way into the heart of the industry to be forgotten a few months later – leaving behind a few stand-out pieces which will go on to define a moment in culture. These classic, timeless or iconic garments are loaded with importance; they might have been worn by a celebrity, or perhaps referenced a culturally significant issue. Fashion can be lusted after or cherished for many different reasons – yet rarely is it remembered for how it was made. The way in which garments are produced has not significantly changed for many years. From high street to haute couture, the techniques used are often traditional and their developments can be mapped out on a trajectory of textiles built from the same starting points.

In the last few years however, a particularly disruptive new process has made its way into fashion studios around the world. Computational design involving 3D print technology looks set to challenge the fashion industry through a series of contentious innovations. The question of how the industry will integrate this pioneering process remains critical.

3D printing allows for the manufacture of computationally designed objects. The object’s design information, an impossibly detailed, three dimensional CAD drawing, is sent to a machine, which translates the design into a printable file. This machine either uses a nib to print layer upon layer of molten plastic to create the object (like building with layers of Lego), or alternatively melts grains of plastic together with a laser to form the object (like building sandcastle). Although the processes sounds complicated, 3D printing is remarkably accessible to a broad range of industries. Its potential has increased recently, finding new creative as well as industrial applications and capturing the imaginations of progressive fashion designers around the world.

Although the pieces created range in a variety of textures and aesthetics, due to the fixed nature of printing materials, a lot of 3D printed fashion is stiff artefacts & accessories rather than flexible garments. This kind of design is often referred to as wearable art. Dorry Hsu’s collection Aesthetic of Fears (image 1) illustrates the amazing level of intricacy that can be printed, whilst Pia Hinze’s piece Neobaroque (image 2) shows how 3D printing can allow for the production of shapes which could not be made with any other method. Items like this aren’t readily wearable, as their impractical rigidity and eccentric style make for a very limited audience. This might explain why so far only the most outlandish celebrities have taken to wearing 3D printing pieces. We are still a long way off seeing this kind of fashion on the high street.

An increasing number of luxury fashion brands however, are taking on the wearability challenge of 3D print technology. Recently, Pringle of Scotland’s A/W 14 collection saw 3D printed elements and embellishments paired with their trademark knit.

The work of practicing textiles graduate Laura Martinez (image 3) also illustrates this approach. Collaborating with architect and material scientist Richard Beckett, Pringle of Scotland’s collection illustrates the multidisciplinary nature of 3D printing in fashion. Highlighting the increasingly apparent tensions between computational production and hand-crafted design, new skill sets are becoming necessary.
Traditional methods of production such as tailoring or embellishment onto fabric will always be used. They could be combined with contemporary, 3D printing techniques; however many people working within this new field insist that wearable technology can only progress through the continued development of 3D printed materials. Computational fashion runs the very serious risk of being led by engineers, scientists and architects rather than experienced fashion designers.


Regardless of the technical innovation, an awareness of the body is a vital in pushing the wearable limits of 3D print technology into the mainstream fashion industry. Studios such as Digits 2 Widgets spend time producing varieties of stunning and impressive 3D printed fabrics (image 4), which are useless if they cannot work with the human body.
3D scanning and printing might one day mean that we can all simply print our own clothes – this is absolutely the dream and could revolutionise the industry. The exclusive nature of tailored clothing and haute couture would be dismantled if body scan data is used as the template for garments printed by a machine. The 3D printed couture of Dutch designer Iris Van Herpen’s has already started shifts in this direction.


For now, however, fully 3D printed garments are not yet produced in one piece. Studios like XYZ Workshop have embarked upon printing pieces in parts which are then put together (image 5) with striking results.
Tech – of all kinds – seems to be this year most tenacious fashion trend. As more experimental processes and applications are developed, more outrageous pieces are presented on the fashion week runways. But 3D printing may have even more radical impacts, rather than simply altering the appearance of fashion, this technology may actually influence the structure of the industry as well. This is where things might get really exciting.