From cars to buildings to jewellery to internal organs and prosthetics to shoes to pizza and pancakes and chocolates, 3D printing has permeated through every sector in every industry, so why not clothes?
Thus far, only a handful have attempted to print 3D clothes, primarily because the fabrics for 3D printing consist of materials such as flexible plastic, rubber and other materials more suitable for manufacturing parts of objects. However, recently this year, Danit Peleg, a designer in Israel, 3D printed her entire collection using a flexible rubbery interwoven textured material, and another group of biomedical engineers at California Polytechnic State University started experimenting with their own version of a 3D printer that printed fabrics similar to cotton and successfully raised a kickstarter campaign. Their hope, similar to Mary Huang of Continuum, who was one of the first to 3D print shoes several years ago, is for consumers to be able to 3D print their own clothes and shoes, and be able to print whatever they fancy anywhere they happen to be.
3D printing in the garment industry has become, in essence, the modern equivalent to the sewing machine. So does this mean that fashion houses and boutiques that sell clothes and shoes will all disappear and everyone will be 3D printing their own clothes and shoes in the future? My guess is most likely not. Sewing machines revolutionalised the garment industry in the 1800s and early 1900s and it was the hope that everyone would be able to own one in their home to make their own clothes, but we all know how that turned out. The fact is, most consumers, like myself, are lazy. Although I have fondness for DIY craft projects, especially those on etsy and lovecrafts, I prefer if someone else made it for me; someone who has the patience and time to perfect every stitch. Oftentimes, I find it easier to even have a stylist friend to choose clothes for me, because if left to my own devices, I would probably choose the same looking black ensemble I have in multiples in my closet, and it's always nice to get an external perspective from someone who can access you objectively to inject a little colour to your wardrobe.
Although currently software programmes such as CAD has made it easier for the lazy consumer to design their own clothes and jewellery, I find that when I talk to most people, they rather prefer showing people existing photos of what they like, then asking the designer to make all the adjustments. I tend to think that although there is an aspect of convenience, and 3D printing of clothes and shoes ultimately had changed the production line of how clothes and shoes can be produced, most likely the technology will be absorbed by the textile, fashion and eCommerce industries to create less waste, but the trend is still moving from the digital online marketplaces to brick-and-mortar shoppes. Why? Because people like the experience of going outside to socialise, to meet with friends, to hang out to have a drink or grab some lunch and stroll into a concept boutique out of curiosity before deciding to purchase something. Shopping is an experience, as many retailers have discovered, and although America's strip malls won't be entering the annals of London streets anytime soon, there is something akin to talking a walk in the park or going on a weekend trip with mum that is closely associated with the shopping experience.
Of course I have to admit here that I do most of my necessary shopping online, and I prefer experiences of an adventurous nature, that is mountains away from the flash and dash of labels, crowds and tills, but the general shopping psychology is that of a kind of bonding time between friends or family members or even, as a substitute for therapy in US, Asian and UK cultures. Whereas, at the turn of the century, we had local tailors who designed everything that had been customised for us, and we mainly socialised in café societies where we would meet with our friends; in our contemporary society, shopping, consumerism and the internet have replaced those café societies and literary salons, where people would meet to discuss personal details of their lives, comment on the politics of the day or to catch up with friends. Eating, shopping and browsing appeal to 4 of our senses: touch, smell, taste, and sight, and the more stimulation people are inundated with, the more likely they are willing to buy.
So where are the fabric and textile and fashion industries going? In 1939, some designers predicted that by 2000, we would all wear belts that would control our temperature. That isn't so far off from what is currently being attempted today, in 2015. Recently startups such as Athos have produced SmartClothing that monitors a user's muscle expenditure and activity rate, akin to a personal trainer. Google has followed suit and created Project Jacquard earlier this year, hoping to innovate "digitalised fabric" in which could potentially utilise nano electric fibers (currently being developed by UC Berkeley scientists) that mimic biosensors.
Although many "high tech" fabrics could be more akin to a marketing ploy than ones that actually insulate body temperatures, let's remember that that is what fabrics are naturally supposed to do- fabrics such as linen, bamboo and cotton for keeping cool in summer, and padded acrylics that insulate heat during the cold months. However, digitalised fabrics could very well prove to do more than simply regulating body temperatures.
All in all, although fashion trends rapidly cycle throughout the decades, I think the one consistent is that people prefer high quality fabrics and materials, but for the majority of the population that was raised on fast-fashion believes that high quality comes at a premium price that is inaccessible for many. However, marketplaces such as etsy are drawing out an interesting and large subset of the population, one that is primarily interested in ethically made goods. More and more, the problems that are faced by the fashion industries have insiders stumped on the solution, and many wonder if it is possible for consumers to purchase high quality, ethically made goods without the high premium that must be paid? Many people believe this is not possible. But of course, I think it is.