How Do 3D Printers Work In Fashion?

How do 3D printers work in fashion? What are their benefits to the fashion industry? We asked these and other questions to Naomi Kaempfer of Stratasys. Here’s what she had to say

By Chere Di Boscio

How do 3D printers work?

What can be made with a 3D printer?

What materials are used in 3D printing?

These are just a few of the questions the techno-curious are asking about 3D printers, and no wonder. With fashion designers increasingly turning to technology to enhance design processes, inject creativity and break new ground with their designs, 3D printing has gradually woven its way into the fashion world.

But how do 3D printers work in fashion? What kinds of styles can they produce? Will they be useful for both designers and consumers?

We caught up with Naomi Kaempfer, Creative Director of Art, Design and Fashion at Stratasys, to discuss the benefits that 3D printing can deliver for design houses, and how the very latest developments in 3D printed fashion are shaping the industry’s future.

Since joining Stratasys in 2014, Kaempfer has spearheaded activities across the Art, Design and Fashion sphere. She’s been responsible for exploring innovative new applications for 3D printing across the creative disciplines. She also develops key collaborations with designers and artists to push the creative envelope.

If anyone knows about how 3D printers work in fashion, it’s her!

How Do 3D Printers Work In Fashion

First, why is 3D printing becoming increasingly important within the fashion industry?

If you look at the history of fashion, technology has been inextricably linked to its evolution, transforming processes industry-wide – from design and manufacture right through to the way in which garments are sold.

Today, this relationship is developing at rapid pace with 3D printing sat at the very cutting-edge of this movement, shaping the future of fashion manufacturing.

Put simply, 3D printing technology is enabling designers and fashion manufacturers to create patterns, prints and 3D printed elements that simply cannot be realised by any other means. This creates a world of brand new opportunities and affords them a design freedom that just doesn’t exist outside of this technology.

And talking about opportunities, can you tell us about the new 3D printer that your company recently unveiled?

Absolutely. Stratasys has already spent many years manufacturing advanced 3D printed elements for top fashion brands and designers, such as Julia Koerner, Noa Raviv and threeASFOUR, to build into their garments. Being able to print direct-to-textile is now the next step in this journey and represents a huge leap forward in terms of what’s possible in fashion production.

In a nutshell, our recently launched J850™ TechStyle™ 3D printer allows fashion designers and manufacturers to produce 3D printed designs directly on to textiles and garments. They can use practically unlimited colours, transparency, and flexible printed materials.

How do 3D printers work in fashion, anyway?

Fundamentally, 3D printing technology involves creating shapes or objects with computer-aided
design and slicing these into cross-sections that can be produced, layer by layer, to create the
finished objects.

Previously, these standalone 3D printed elements would have to be manually combined or worked into a given garment. But now, we can construct patterns and objects directly onto textile, building 3D printing into fashion production from the outset and effectively turning fabric into a blank canvas for new visual and tactile effects.

How will 3D printers benefit fashion designers?

These capabilities also open up unlimited possibilities for fashion manufacturers to create high-value personalised garments and limited editions, all while reducing time-to-market. Essentially, this new solution is leading the charge in bringing 3D printing into haute couture and luxury fashion, for everything from clothing to bags, accessories and footwear.

How Do 3D Printers Work In Fashion

Who are you targeting and for what sort of projects?

This technology is something completely new for the fashion market, so these early stages have naturally involved working with some of the industry’s leading high-end brands and design houses to fully explore the creative potential here and showcase what’s possible.

So far, demand has been huge, and this is only the beginning. As the market continues to mature and 3D printing becomes ingrained in the fashion world, we will be able to extend the reach of this technology even further, filtering its benefits down to every corner of the fashion market.

What types of fabrics and garments can designers print to?

For a manufacturing solution to truly work across such a dynamic and diverse landscape as the fashion industry, versatility is key. That’s why our new 3D printer works to print directly on to a huge variety of fabrics and garments. These include: denim, cotton, polyester, linen and suede. And at volumes ranging from single pieces to the tens of thousands.

Even in these early stages, we have already seen the technology used to create everything from decorative patterns on jeans and dresses to graphics on shoes and bags. There are countless more potential creative applications still to be explored.

Can you give us any details on the designers you’re already working with?

We recently unveiled our SSYS 2Y22 collection at Milan Design Week, which reflects the last two years of the COVID-19 pandemic and the innovation and influences of this time on fashion and design. The collection includes new 3D printed works by seven top design teams. These include renowned names such as Karim Rashid, one of the most prolific designers of his generation, and KAIMIN, who has worked with the likes of Bjork, Lady Gaga, and Beyonce – to name just a few.

Together with these designers, we’ve built a collection we’re particularly proud of. Karim Rashid has produced a series of luxury handbags and dresses, with each piece in his repertoire reflecting the signature style of art graphics and geometry.

What specifically did those designers create with 3D printers?

If you’re asking: how do 3D printers work in fashion, well, KAIMIN has the answer. They designed three new pieces – a body suit, a dress and jacket – in collaboration with Travis Fitch. They reflect inclusivity and draw inspiration from the New York parametric urban architecture.

Jasna Rokegem of Jasna Rok Lab also worked alongside Travis Fitch to create Trypophilia. This is a series of garments reflecting the physical bodily locations and language of different emotions. Other designers such as Assa Studio pursued different avenues, producing items such as an Origami-inspired customisable clutch bag and a 3D printed Evolve shoe that studies its wearer and records their movement data.

We also partnered with Dyloan and the D-house in Milan, a leading center for evolving fashion technology. So it’s been an exciting collection to bring to fruition.

That’s quite impressive! And speaking of Milan, can you tell us more about Stratasys’ recent presence at Design Week there? As well as at Première Vision, Paris?

In bringing the SSYS 2Y22 collection to life, we have seen the amazing creations that can be produced with 3D printing. It’s been fantastic to be able to share that on a wider scale for the first time in Milan and Paris in recent weeks.

We’ve not only been able to demonstrate the kind of solutions that are emerging at the very forefront of fashion technology and shine a spotlight on the designers’ incredible work, but we’ve also had the chance to connect with creators who will be using this technology well into the future.

Having a platform that allows people to interact with 3D printed dresses, jackets and handbags was incredible. The opportunities 3D printing presents to designers, fashion brands and manufacturers everywhere are endless.

The events also provided key opportunities for us to talk about some of the lesser-known benefits of 3D printing. We could also talk about our new printer specifically, such as its sustainability profile.

On that last point, sustainability is obviously something that all companies want to subscribe to. But is there a genuine case here?

Of course, without question. By nature, direct-to-garment 3D printing fosters mindful manufacturing and low volume production. This is a stark contrast to mass production methods that have typically been synonymous with the fashion world.

By using only the exact amount of resin needed, 3D printers work to reduce waste and avoid oversupply.

Critically, however, this technology also takes strides against ‘fast fashion’. Instead, it promotes a longer product lifecycle by enabling used clothing and accessories to be repurposed with the addition of 3D printed elements. These include customised designs and one-of-a-kind personalisation.

Finally, where is 3D printing technology headed within the fashion industry?

We have still only just scratched the surface in terms of what’s possible with how 3D printers work. Considering the reception that we’ve seen so far for this technology, we’ll undoubtedly see expansion into other segments of the fashion and design industries in the not-too-distant future.

We also envisage this expanding beyond just high-end and premium applications. It will soon get into more high-street consumer brands, delivering the benefits of 3D printed fashion far and wide. In short, watch this space!

Chere Di Boscio
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