3D printers are becoming increasingly common, as are the items that can now be printed using the machines. As the technology continues to improve and prices continue to fall, we should prepare ourselves for a new revolution in the way in which products are manufactured. One area where the most exciting developments are taking place is in the world of fashion. Printing out your own items of clothing may sound futuristic, but you may be surprised to know that it is already happening.
The 3D-Printed Bikini
Do you like the idea of a bikini that has been printed out using a machine? Well now you can get one for yourself if you are willing to spend a few hundred pounds. The small startup Continuum Fashion recently announced its first 3D-printed bikini, along with a range of other printed items of clothing including shoes and dresses, which has caused a real stir in the fashion industry.
Continuum Fashion, a startup using funding from Kickstarter, is run by Jenna Fizel and Mary Huang. The bikini is called the N12, and it is seen as one of the first real items of 3D-printed clothing that is available for purchase by consumers. The groundbreaking product is created from solid nylon, called Nylon 12, and upon close inspection consists of tiny circles of plastic that are stuck together in an intricate pattern.
The company is in its early days, but it has caused a huge buzz and there is every reason to believe that it could shake up the entire fashion industry. Designers will no longer have to create items of clothing that will sell in huge volumes, and instead they will be able to print off items to order, which could allow them to experiment more freely.
The cost of Continuum Fashion’s items of clothing are still out of reach of most consumers (the bikini costs upwards of $250 and a pair of shoes will set you back three times as much), but this will surely change as the technology improves and prices continue to go down.
3D-Printed Shoes, Football Boots & Dresses
It is not just bikinis that are being printed out by enterprising businesses. Kerrie Luft, a British designer, recently designed a whole range of shoes using the technology, which were displayed at Selfridges in Oxford Street in March 2013. She initially began using 3D printing to visualise her designs without having to create a costly mould, which is another benefit that the technology can have for designers. Her striking designs are now proving to be a hit, and even Björk has ordered a pair.
It is not just individual designers who are experimenting with 3D printing. Nike made headlines in February 2013 when it unveiled its Vapor Laser Talon American football boots, which are the first boots to come with cleats that have been created using a 3D printer. The company used selective laser sintering (SLS) technology to fuse the plastic together. Some of the advantages are that the final boot is very light, and it was also very quick to create the cleats. In the future, it is not hard to imagine companies like Nike printing out personal boots for individual players.
Architect Francis Bitonti is another entrepreneur who has been experimenting with 3D printing. In March 2013 he revealed a fully 3D-printed dress, which was designed by Michael Schmidt on his iPad and was then printed out in separate pieces before being fitted together.
The Future of Printed Clothes
So far, 3D printing in the fashion industry has been limited to a few individual items, and although these are exciting developments it has yet to go mainstream. But what could the future hold? One designer caused headlines recently when he came up with a vision of the future that involves every household containing a clothes printing machine.
Joshua Harris came up with the concept based on the fact that by the year 2050 most of the population will live in cities, and space and resources will be limited. He designed a machine into which you can feed your old clothes, and the materials are then separated out and printed into new items of clothing, thereby cutting down on the use of raw materials.
Other predictions for the not-too-distant future involve a very different trip to the clothing shop, where upon arrival you will be digitally scanned and items of clothing will then be printed out to your exact specifications in the moment. If this becomes a reality then no one will ever have to worry about their wardrobes being boring again because everyone will have a wardrobe that is full of completely unique items.
3D Printing is Here to Stay
Right now, 3D printing remains an experimental technology used by enthusiasts and small companies who are experimenting with its limitations and possibilities. However, it is being widely predicted that 3D printing will become far more common in the coming years. This is not so farfetched when you look at just how far the technology has come in recent years.
As well as items of clothing, there are countless other products that could soon be printed out. These include replacement parts for common household products, types of food and even entire buildings. If you have your own 3D printer the range of items that you can already print is increasing all the time. For example, Nokia recently came up with a 3D-printing development kit so that anyone with their own 3D printer can print out their own cases for their Nokia phones.
3D printing could have huge implications for the fashion industry and beyond. The environmental benefits are also exciting as it could lead to less wastage and a reduction in the amount of energy used in the manufacture and transportation of goods.
3D-printing is just getting started. Who knows, in a few years you may be printing off your own clothes every morning with a style that matches your mood. We don’t know quite how the technology will develop in the next few decades, but one thing is certain: the 3D-printing revolution is well and truly underway.