Much of the hard work in fashion happens behind the scenes. Designers produce intricate samples to show buyers long before new items appear in retail outlets. Because of manufacturing constraints, items are often one of a kind or designed for the mass market, with few options for short runs of a specific piece.
Logistics largely determine how quickly new clothing lines go to market and at what price point. But this is slowly changing, as 3D printing has begun to disrupt the industry, particularly in haute couture fashion houses.
The technology replaces sewing machines, swatches and patterns with software. It marks a distinct shift in how products will be distributed and consumed in decades to come, potentially turning fashion into a greater commodity than ever before.
Shorter Lead Times
Independent designers, with limited market penetration and less cash flow than large houses, are often frustrated by the manufacturing process. Factories require minimum runs of a product and insist upon a production timeline that has designers working seasons in advance.
With 3D printing, designers have the capacity to make their own product quickly and in whatever quantity they choose. The process is less wasteful, using fewer raw materials and eliminating the need for discount sales of unsold inventory.
Although still in its infancy, the technology has the potential to change consumer behavior. In the future, people will custom-order pieces that fit their exact measurements. The switch will apply not only to clothing, but footwear, jewelry and accessories as well. Designer Joshua Harris told Fashionista that he envisions a 3D printer for home use that would take old clothing and create something new, not only for convenience, but because of the need to reuse or conserve materials.
Evolving Into New Fibers
The Met Costume Institute featured many 3D printed pieces in its Spring 2016 exhibition. While the outfits are striking, they may not yet be wearable; 3D runway pieces are stiff and constrain movement because of the limited kinds of materials currently available. The industry is still looking ahead to a time when natural fibers such as silk and cotton might be used in a 3D printer. Because of this limitation, large-scale 3D printing of fashion is still a concept for the distant future.
When the technology catches up to the creative forces in fashion, there seem to be limitless possibilities for new styles and individual customization. From home-based businesses selling clothing on the Internet to everyday consumers who want to adjust the size of their running shoes, 3D printing may be a widely used tool in the future.
You can read more about high fashion's impact at the consumer electronic show here.