The word “printing” generally brings to mind jammed paper and flashing “low ink” alerts – but those were the printers of yesterday. With 3D printing becoming more mainstream, its applications are expanding at an amazing rate. Scientists and architects have been creating models with 3D printing for many years, but it has begun to show much greater potential. From hearing aids made on 3D printers to 3D printed buildings, this technology is revolutionizing many industries; and fashion is no exception.
At the Spring Exhibition of the Met Costume Institute, Manus x Machina, visitors were awed by an array of somewhat futuristic high-fashion garments. Even more amazing than the garments themselves was the fact that many of them were made using 3D printing technologies. Miraculous creations were showcased, such as a complex polyamide top from the 2010 Spring/Summer collection of Iris Van Herpen to a cross-hatched, layered suit from the 2015-16 Autumn/Winter haute couture line of Chanel. These stunning, if out of the ordinary, creations may seem exotic now, but be prepared to see many more like them in the near future.
As of yet, 3D printed clothing is almost exclusively the domain of haute couture (illustrated by the fact that they were part of a museum display). As this technology is embraced by more clothing designers and manufacturers however, it will eventually trickle down to the consumer. Manus x Machina’s curator Andrew Bolton sees 3D printing becoming “as revolutionary as the sewing machine.” It would mean that the average consumer could 3D print their clothing to fit their exact measurements.
Traditionally in the fashion industry, getting something fit to your exact measurements comes at a costly price tag. Garments made specifically for you and fit your body precisely are called couture, and generally translates to very rare and expensive clothing that is hard to obtain. 3D printing will revolutionize the industry simply by making custom fit clothing accessible.
Bolton also brought up the fact that 3D printing is more eco-friendly than traditional manufacturing methods. 3D printing allows you to print the clothing to your exact measurements, this means little or no waste. Where as with current clothing manufacturing the waste can be astronomical.
Before you start looking for a 3D printed dress however, bear in mind that this technology is still in its infancy. 3D printers have the ability to print pretty much anything, however the wearability of the printed garments is another matter. The first designs were very stiff and felt like body armor. The good news is that the technology continues to grow, and as it grows you will see garments become more flexible and wearable.
3D printing hasn't come close to replicating anything like cotton yet, so right now more focus is being placed on creating accessories that don’t necessarily have to be pliable. We are already starting to see 3D printed jewelry, hardware, eyewear, and footwear be produced and sold. That will continue to be the focus of the first manufacturers who adopt 3D printing.
You may not be wearing a 3D printed coat by winter, but who knows how long before you simply buy a dress design online and whip it up on the printer. We can't wait for the day that all you have to do is fire up the printer to get a custom Chanel piece. That's the future we want to live in.
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