Could 3D printed clothing be the future of fashion? As consumers raise concerns about the current state of fashion and its impact on the environment, the same goes for possible solutions to these issues. Brands all over the world are trying to incorporate 3D printing into their collections, as awareness grows about the waste that often comes with the fashion industry. Could 3D printing fashion become the new norm, in the future?
What is 3D Printing?
3D Printing involves turning movable/flexible material into clothing. Initially, 3D printing fashion was a slow process. One of the first attempts to make 3D printed clothing took seven whole days! Additionally, flexible printing material was initially unavailable for use in fashion, making the process difficult. However, 3D printing fashion is now much faster. Additionally, flexible material such as TPU 92A-1 exists for 3D printing. TPU 92A-1 material can be washed and ironed like normal cloth. Another type of flexible printing material for 3D printed clothing is FilaFlex.
Most 3D printed clothing is printed via a selective laser sintering process. Selective laser sintering, developed in the mid-1980s by Dr. Carl Deckard and Dr. Joe Beaman at the University of Texas at Austin, is one of the first additive manufacturing techniques. It has been adapted to work with materials including plastics, metals, glass, ceramics, and composite material powders. 3D printing through the selective laser sintering process created the ability to make intricate designs and high levels of detail, which is a requirement with fashion and clothing.
Currently, 3D printed clothing often does not consist of the entire garment structure. Instead, it is used as adornments, features, or accessories like buttons or cuffs. This is because 3D printed clothing, despite its advancements, is still not as smooth and flexible as regular fabric material, such as cotton or Lycra.
What impact could 3D printed fashion have globally?
The benefits of 3D printing include helping to reduce many negative environmental aspects of the fashion industry, such as textile waste. Normally, 15-30% of fabric is wasted in regular tailoring methods. These textiles emit methane (a harmful greenhouse gas) while breaking down, and take over 200 years to do so! An increase in 3D fashion globally could lead to a decrease in textile waste in the long run.
Typical factory-created fashion is also water-intensive, with 2,700 litres of water required to produce one cotton t-shirt alone. An estimated 20% of overall water pollution comes from the textile industry! 3D printing could use materials that are less water-intensive than cotton, and this material used would typically be recyclable and easily reusable, helping to reduce the amount of clothing thrown into landfills.
Additionally, having at-home 3D printers can help reduce the impact of large factories manufacturing clothing. Many fast fashion factories currently cause damage to nearby communities, such as polluting drinking water and damaging the local ecosystems.
Major brands such as Nike, Adidas, and Victoria’s Secret are incorporating 3D printing into their collections. This includes Adidas designing 3D printed midsoles, and Victoria’s Secret using 3D printing technology for their lingerie runway shows.
Another attempt at 3D printing fashion includes printing swimsuits. Continuum Fashion attempted to mainstream 3D printing clothing through 3D printing swimsuits such as bikinis back in 2011. These were presented as alternatives to classic swimsuits. Another one of their collections, strvct, consists of fantasy-inspired 3D printed shoes!
One designer, Julia Daviy, created a 3D printed fashion collection called the Liberation Collection. It is the first ever 3D printed fashion collection to be released within the U.S. She also released a 3D printed bags and accessories collection called Morphogenesis Bags. Julia considers that the fashion industry (as any other) needs not just “organic materials,” but also organic zero-impact processes. One can learn more about Daviy’s work by following her at @juliadaviy on Instagram, or going to her website https://juliadaviy.com.
Another designer, Danit Peleg, also created 3D printed fashion collections. One of these collections, Liberty Leading The People, includes 3D printed jackets, skirts, dresses and tops. In 2017, Danit gave customers the opportunity to order and personalize their own 3D printed garments on her website, https://danitpeleg.com. She also started offering digital files of 3D printed garments that can be downloaded and then printed at the customer’s nearest 3D printer in 2020. Danit believes that 3D printing opens up fascinating new opportunities in fashion and wants to inspire future generations of designers to dream big. She also believes that this new technology can drastically reduce waste and pollution, thus providing a more sustainable, hopeful alternative for the future.
How can 3D printed fashion be implemented in Canada and KW?
Some Canadian brands, such as Casca, are trying to implement 3D printing fashion as a sustainable alternative to fast fashion. Casca’s design philosophy is centred around the idea of having “less things that do more.”
One pair of Casca shoes is meant to replace several pairs of typical shoes. In order to do so, Casca created SmartFit™ 3D-printed custom insoles. After the customer selects their desired footwear product and size, they click “add SmartFit™” before checkout. After that, the customer downloads the Casca app and follows the on-screen instructions. When the scan is complete & confirmed, Casca crafts the custom, flexible and high-rebound insoles via 3D-printing along with the ordered footwear and size. After the ordered footwear arrives, all the customer has to do is remove the standard inserts and replace with their one-of-a-kind SmartFit™ footbeds.
In order to further reduce waste and consumption, Casca produces footwear in small batches and only reorders when styles have sold out. Casca hopes to fully decentralize the supply chain by manufacturing 100% custom-fit shoes in-store by 2029.
Another Canadian brand involved in 3D printing fashion is Daniel Christian Tang. Luca Daniel Lavorato, Mario Christian Lavorato and Heng Tang, the namesakes behind Daniel Christian Tang, create their pieces using architectural modelling software in tandem with 3D digital manufacturing technology. Their label showcases bracelets, rings, necklaces and earrings, and they are cast in sterling silver, gold, platinum and rose gold. Their collections, named Hive, Grid, Wavemaker, Flow, and Diamond were inspired by elements of nature and each includes necklaces, bracelets, rings, and earrings.
As brands adopt more 3D printed fashion into their production in Canada, the KW area, and all over the world, 3D printed fashion could eventually become more mainstream and reduce waste caused by traditional processes over time. One day, technologies such as 3D printed fashion will be part of a stylish and eco-friendly new norm to enjoy as part of a sustainable future.