Will 3D printing revolutionise fashion ?

We live in an age that is witness to what many are calling the Third Industrial Revolution: 3D printing, more professionally called additive manufacturing. It has the potential to move us away from the era of mass production and bring us to a new reality of customisable, one-off production. 3D printing or additive manufacturing is the broader term for tool-less manufacturing methods which enables manufacturing of components from 3D model data, usually layer upon layer, as opposed to conventional manufacturing methodologies.

This term is also used generically as a synonym for rapid prototyping. The scope of 3D printing is endless from instruments and toys to robots and mechanical parts, there’s almost no limit to what a 3D printer can create.

Architects and scientists have been using 3D 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 started to experiment with 3D printing around 2010. It is already being used to create new types of art and fashion. It enables designers to produce designs that are complicated, even impossible, to manufacture and this inevitably fuels creativity and innovation. It allows innovation in technique and material and ideas can materialise within minutes, contrary to the traditional manufacturing process. If designers fail with 3D printing, they can easily try again.

Recent successful examples, which have got considerably media coverage, have been the work showcased by Francis Bitonti/Michael Schmidt and Iris van Herpen at Paris Fashion Week.

Other examples include companies such as Hot Pop Factory who are printing jewellery. Retailers such as New Balance are printing shoes. Designers such as Ron Arab are printing sunglasses. 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.

Platform for business exchange: There is a need to create a B2B and B2C portal for designers to sell their 3D designs securely and also to act as a knowledge sharing platform for the industry to grow. With a clarion call from our government for a ‘Make in India’ initiative, 3D printing technology is going to be one of the key areas the industry in India needs to understand and invest in. Since this technology is still in its very early stages, great results are to be expected.