3-D printing also known as additive manufacturing, the process for making three-dimensional objects or models is nothing new.

Although treated as a futuristic concept, the momentum for 3-D printing is propelling it into the mainstream. The Post Office has launched its own 3-D printing service which is being trailed at there New Cavendish Street delivery office in London to offer both custom designs and ready-to-print objects. Also Asda, has this week unveiled it’s ‘ASDA 3DME’ service which allows customers to create 3-D models of themselves or others. Whilst this is all a bit of fun, 3-D printing is set to revolutionise the fashion industry and the manufacturing process over the coming years.

 3-D print and fabrics

Currently the easiest material to use as “ink” in 3-D printers is simple robust plastic. Electroloom founded by entrepreneur Aaron Rowley with the help of a grant from Alternative Apparel, is set to change this. Working out of their California based office the team at Electroloom have spent the last year creating a machine that can print everyday garments like t-shirts and jumpers made from yarn that more closely resembles cotton. Natural fibres like cotton and fur are currently more easily destroyed during the printing process, so while Electroloom prototype and search for a solution, they are using synthetic materials, or a mix of natural and synthetic.

In the future we can hope to see a full range of fabrics including cotton, wool and silk which will be used as the base for 3-D printed garments incorporating stitch details.

The future

We’ve already seen the fashion-come-art creations from Iris van Herpen’s, a gown created by Francis Bitonti and Michael Schmidt for burlesque icon Dita Von Teese and plenty of jewellery and accessories but this is more art than everyday wearable fashion.

In the future we can hope to see a full range of fabrics including wool and silk which will be used as the base for 3-D printed garments. This would have a profound impact on the fashion industry not only from the customers perspective but also for the manufacturers.

For one, it would be much easier and quicker to create prototypes. This would result in shorter lead times or shorter seasons. The process would be far more sustainable allowing designers to produce only the items that sold. This would massively reduce waste and January sales could perhaps become a thing of the past. It would also enable young designers to enter the market with less risk and more moderate financial backing as there would be no minimum order quantity. With the help of 3-D body scanning garments could be custom fit for every consumer with the possibility of customisation making every item personalised and a one-off.

Imagine a world where everyone has the potential to become a designer, where the sewing machine becomes a thing of the past.

Iris van Herpen’s said “I think it’s comparable to the first computers and the laptops we have now, but it takes a lot of time before an evolution like that is made.”

Watch this space as we’re keen to see how this impacts on NPD in the future.

Jade Fenton

Senior Designer