Friday, November 19, 2010

3D printing in fashion

I stumbled across something truly mind-blowing today, while doing research for a presentation on eco-design we all have to do for my textiles class. I feel like a bad person saying this, but I've never been very interested in the green fashion movement much, so I wasn't excited to find a topic for this. (As someone who wants to do bridal, more is more! Or at least, expensive fabrics and ostrich feathers and all those wasteful things are on my top priority as long as it makes it beautiful). So I googled "eco textile technology" hoping to find something techy, since that would captivate my interest more, and after finding pretty much nothing I switched over to images to see what I could find. And there it was:

3-dimensional textile printing. Now, 3D printing has been around for a little while now, but mostly for the architecture or industrial design industry. Essentially, a nylon-6 polymide (a "technology nutrient" as it is called, because it is completely recyclable) is "printed" through a vacuum printer head in a 3D printing tray, while a computer slices up the product to be "printed" into zillions of paper-thin 2-dimensional layers. Each layer is then printed, one on top of the other, in this polymer material until the 3D end result is achieved. The magic is in the way you can create any shape in the world - because it is printed in layers, you can have hollow spaces, curves, angles, and anything in between. The process is called rapid prototyping; my school owns a 3D printer for the industrial design students to create models for their designs before they are made into final products, for example.

However, this has only recently begun to touch the fashion industry. Obviously, rapid prototyping can be used to create shoes, jewelry, and other such small accessory products. But as a literal textile, in the way we define textiles in fashion, it is just beginning.

Currently, the furthest this has gone in "wearable" garment fashion is this chainmaille-like textile. The polymide, printed out as a powdered thermoplastic material, is printed in flexible links that are shaped during the printing process, so there is no need for a needle and thread. Unlike the typical production process for garments, which is more or less the making of the textile (fabric), the cutting out, and the sewing, here all that is rolled into one. Virtually, the entire garment is printed, finished. (And in case you're wondering what on earth the above image is, it's the new exhibit on 3D printed textiles at Disseny Hub Barcelona, from the Freedom of Creation design company.)

Iris Van Herpen, for her spring 2010 collection at Amsterdam International Fashion Week 2010, used this new technology in the most fashion-forward way yet. She teamed with architect Daniel Widrig to use 3D printing to create the elaborate, complex shapes encompassing her models in what she titles, "Crystallization". The splashes of water were also printed in the rapid prototyping process.

While it may not be at its most wearable yet, this really is a huge leap in the fashion world for the green movement. This virtually no-waste process made of completely recyclable materials creates seamless garments in a matter of hours - a slight nod to a more futuristic "bespoke tailoring", or the creation of customized garments for individual clients. I might just keep the green movement on my radar now.


  1. I'm not a techy really, but this are AMAZINGGGGG!!!!! You could really use this as a part of your senior line!!

  2. WOW. Get into this. Dr. Dorsey has a model of DNA made of thousands of layers of cellulose layered with a special printer like this.


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