How 3D Printing Is Changing Fashion


We recently touted the value that tailoring garments can have on how your clothes fit and look–better and better–but there is perhaps another way to get the ultimate flattering fit: 3D printing. The technology behind 3D printing is getting ever more sophisticated, so much so that 3D-printed garments were incorporated into the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show–twice.

3D printing is sort of hard to wrap your head around so bear with us through this brief explanation. 3D printing is another name for additive manufacturing and the process works like this: A digital model of whatever one wants to make is created and brought to life by a printer that prints out one layer on top of another using whichever preferred material–in fashion, it’s most often a strong nylon fabric–to make the finished product. Additive manufacturing differs from traditional subtractive manufacturing because the process involves adding layers whereas subtractive manufacturing takes material away to create a finished product (think about making a chair–you cut out pieces of the wood, plastic, whatever, to create the finished product).

What makes 3D printing so relevant to fashion is how it could eventually affect the way clothes fit the body. You can create exact specifications with that are completed with zero margin of error. Bradley Rothenberg, the studioBRAD designer whose team created Cara Delevigne’s 3D wings (shown above) and Lindsay Ellingson’s outfit (shown below) for Victoria’s Secret, recently told The New York Times, “The other advantage for 3-D printing with textiles is the level of complexity. When you think of constructing with a sewing machine, you’re always thinking in terms of the thread. With 3-D printing you’re not limited to that. Imagine having a knit sweater mixed with a T-shirt mixed with a jacket.”
3D printing was once an extremely complicated and expensive undertaking, but technological innovation has inevitably lead to lowered prices and easy(ish)-to-use machines–you can buy one yourself on Amazon for less than $1,000. But don’t rush to get a desktop 3D printer just yet, 3D printing with textiles isn’t yet as sophisticated as with other materials. The NYT reports that the materials used aren’t super thin, which means making softer and more delicate clothing isn’t currently a possibility.

But, as expected, the materials are improving day after day and the technology is proving useful for many fashion designers looking to take risk. On-demand printing and a quick turnaround ensure that materials aren’t wasted in production and clients can customize products–a positive aspect designer Kimberly Ovtiz mentioned to NYT.
3D printing isn’t going to transform the way you shop or what you buy just yet, but we are definitely on the horizon of even more specialized and unique fashion.