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Francis Bitonti - The Bristol Dress
3D printed with students at a workshop in Brooklyn last January as part of the Francis Bitonti Studio New Skins Winter project.
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The world's first personal 3D printer for clothes.
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The 'Float' shoe which launched in New York last month and was printed on a 3D Systems Cube 3D.
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The 3D printed Open Source Elements Dress is a project which aims to bring designers together from all over the world by submitting individual 3D printed pieces.
3D printed clothing is supposed to be the next chapter in the fashion narrative. The industry has always excelled at staying ahead of the curve and keeping up to date with the latest cultural trends be that recycling, embedded technology or the current buzz theme, 3D printing.
Several fashion designers have made a name for themselves on the 3D scene and brands like Converse and Reebok have been utilising rapid prototyping from as far back as 1997. Now there is a new era of young designers graduating from fashion schools with collections produced on desktop 3D printers and having their pieces worn by the likes of the Black Eyed Peas and Lady Gaga.
But what is the reality of 3D printed fashion? Are we at the point yet of creating clothes which are wearable for average Joe at the day job?
One of the main examples we have seen is the development of 3D printed shoes. Some are perhaps odd but inventive and others leverage the technology into improving sports footwear. However, a lot of designs are not quite ‘off the rack’ wearable yet. Yes, the prints can be worn and are designed to an exact fit but whether you could wear them all day is another story.
United Nude is an innovative brand with a love for 3D printing. This year they launched a new line of 3D printed shoes at their store in New York, which saw live demonstrations of the shoes in production, on display in the shop window. Their designs range from wild and lively concepts to a style called ‘float shoes’ which are created in a geometric formation with parts that slot into one another.
"The fact that the shoe is made out of three parts actually adds to the design," says Rem D Koolhaas, United Nude founder. "To make the shoe more comfortable we added a hand cut rubber outsole. Even though this shoe is wearable, I don’t think it’s to be compared with any more conventional shoes in regards to comfort, but that’s also not the point of this design. This design is about creating something beautiful & interesting and it’s about experimenting, moving forward and about learning.”
Anyone who has looked into 3D printing will know that designers are not just printing ready to wear t-shirts with cotton like textures. Designs are more about structure rather than fluidity and right now clothing resembles an uncanny image of what we have been conditioned to believe the future will look like. Mathematical designs, structures that extend from our bodies, jewellery that is networked, it is all possible and happening with 3D fashion.
Francis Bitonti, the man behind the Dita dress, previously told us, “there’s still a lot of evolution that has to take place and right now we’re just trying to make something soft.” One of the biggest limitations that fashion currently has is the range of materials. At present 3D printed garments are quite rigid and conceptual designs and do not replicate the texture of traditionally manufactured clothes.
However, a printer did surface earlier this year showing that we might be on the way to a form of printing that resembles the types of clothing we are more familiar with. As fun as it would be, it is unlikely that the majority of us go to the office sporting huge headwear or futuristic corsets. The Electroloom is set to be the first 3D printer that allows us to make clothes at home. It has not gone into production yet but the technology looks promising with examples of cotton like tank tops and material samples appearing on social media.
An interesting aspect of 3D printing is that it has opened up the doors for collaboration and customisation. 3D software allows those in the know to design what they want and open source files give freedom to those who want to add their own stamp on pre-made designs. Designer Anouk Wipprecht is currently working on an ambitious project that invites the rest of the world to help create a 3D printed dress. This project is particularly interesting because it is a perfect example of how 3D printing and digitisation can break down traditional barriers of manufacturing.
One of the biggest advantages 3D printing holds is the ability to recycle wearable items. 3D printing already eliminates the need for excess material by optimising products to ensure the same level of structure provided by traditional methods is achieved but with reduced costs and material.
Bitonti told us: “We might not produce something that’s exactly like what we’ve seen form traditional fashion and textiles but I do think that we will produce something that’s better and not just in terms of the product but better in the way it is distributed to people more efficiently and responsibly and I think it will be engineered to a higher level.”
Engineers are very conscious about the idea of a sustainable future and companies like 3D Systems already have machines that possess recycling capabilities. Go to a country like Germany where recycling is a high priority and you will see a lot of supermarkets with machines in place for recycling plastic bottles. Perhaps instead of throwing away old clothes, we will one day have stations for recycling 3D printed clothing.
Right now it is more about exploring the possibilities that the technology holds with materials, structure and putting production into the hands of the wearer. Maybe one day we will be going to the work in Jetsons-esque attire, printing our outfits before we go to bed but until then the fashion world will continue to amaze and inspire us with images of how our future might be fashioned.