Unique materials, technology and 3D printing could dramatically change the future of fashion.
So you walk into a store and the salesperson takes a 3D scan of your body then uses it to design custom clothing that can be printed especially for you. Sounds like science fiction, but this is the future of fashion and it’s unfolding before our eyes.
A new wave of textiles being developed and brought to market create a fashion realm where customization comes standard, environmental inefficiencies are nearly eradicated, and innovative fabrics are available for the masses. To make things appealing on the outside requires the right combination of math, science and technology on the inside.
The namesake of Bradley Rothenberg studio envisions a future where design studios and retail stores create fashion using only 3D printers. For many, Rothenberg is best known for his 3D fashions for the 2013 Victoria’s Secret show.
In addition to tailoring a garment to a person’s exact body type, 3D printers let designers push the materials possibilities beyond fabric.
“We can decide where we want the different textile properties: perhaps see-through in one area and stiff and structured in another,” said Rothenberg, whose studio develops textiles using mathematical algorithms and a range of 3D-printing materials.
“For the last 150 years – more or less – textiles have been made in pretty much the same manner. There’s knitting and there’s weaving,” said Rothenberg.
“This industrial process [3D printing] is a new way to think about textiles and fashion,” he said.
According to Rothenberg, there is a huge amount of waste in the textile fashion industry. He explains that the current process for developing garments results in excess material scraps and transportation inefficiencies. This creates an environmentally unsound practice in comparison to 3D printing.
“3D printing is an additive process,” he said. “You’re not starting with the material and cutting away; you’re starting with a powder and hardening that powder selectively. All the powder that’s not used for that piece can then be reused into another print. It’s called additive manufacturing because you’re building the material up. Theoretically, there should be zero waste associated with this process.”
Creating fashion out of 3D-printed materials creates a new frontier for the retailer, but also for the consumer.
In-store 3D scanning and printing brings the physical experience back to retail. Where digital shopping has been gaining momentum (2014 showed total digital commerce accelerating at a rate of 14 percent year-over-year according to comScore), this tactile approach to creating 3D-printed garments and accessories puts the consumer directly in touch with the product.
Last fall, United Nude presented a limited-time 3D printing in-store experience. In partnership with 3D systems, United Nude created the ‘Float’ shoe, where the customer got involved using an interactive touchscreen connected to four Cube 3D printers.
Last spring, Rothenberg collaborated with BRIT + CO to create a jewelry line for their temporary pop-up shop. Necklaces and bracelets were digitally generated around 3D scans of customers taken in-store using a Microsoft Kinect scanner.
“Right now, because of the price point of 3D printing, it’s still an expensive process associated with high end, luxury goods,” he said.
“I think in the future, as we move forward, that’s going to change because the technology is going to become more accessible and less expensive.”
Last year, Nervous System design duo Jessica Rosenkrantz and Jesse Louis-Rosenberg had their 4D custom dress added to the permanent collection at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.
Rosenkrantz told the Observer, “This dress may never be worn, but the project is in part about a web application.”
She said that application – Kinematics – lets anyone design a product that can be made very efficiently, requires no assembly and perfectly fits the body.
E-retailer Mack Weldon also uses alternative materials, creating underwear and T-shirts threaded with X-STATIC XT2 silver technology. This fabric innovation combines pure silver, pima cotton and Lycra for soft, anti-microbial fabrics.
“We wanted to develop a product that had a very high cotton content with performance attributes,” said Michael Isaacman, co-founder and head of product and merchandising at Mack Weldon.
“It feels and wears just like cotton – only better.”
London-based Cute Circuit design team Francesca Rosella and Ryan Genz create textiles that are manufactured in Italy and contain small conductive ribbons woven into the material.
They integrate interactive properties with their clothing through a connected app that allows the wearer to choose different designs. They can even connect with their Twitter feed to show live Tweeting as a pattern.
“When we first started designing fashion with wearable technology, everybody said ‘What’s that?’” said Genz, Cute Circuit CEO.
“It’s great to see the new generation adopting the new technology.”
This rapid development of technology has the capability to move the fashion industry forward at an exponential rate.
Deepa Sood, founder and CEO of smart jewelry company Cuff, believes tech-infused textiles are the next big thing. Her stylish and “smart” pieces marry jewelry materials with hardware intelligence.
“The textile company [OMsignal] that partnered with Ralph Lauren and made that biometric shirt – I think that’s where this is going,” she said.
“You’re going to make pieces that have inherent utility. They’re not just gimmicky and they’re in pieces that might straddle different sorts of bays in a store,” said Sood.
Companies like OMsignal and Hexoskin are creating fabrics housing technology that inherently make clothing “smart.” They have made it possible for shirts to now have the capability to read your biometrics and report back to you on your daily metrics.
“Aesthetically pleasing design blended with empathy by entrepreneurs who care about the human condition is the future of ‘wearable fashion,’” said Redg Snodgrass, CEO and co-founder of Wearable World and ReadWrite. “Clothing will not just serve us superficially, it’ll help us live healthier lives.”
By using technology to connect the wearer with new textile processes such as 3D printing, smart clothing and alternative materials, people are rediscovering the way they express themselves through clothing.