The appeal of 3D printing can be attributed to the fact that production possibilities are only limited by the designer’s imagination, thus making it a natural fit with the fashion industry. Iris Van Herpen is one notable early adopter of 3D printing, using it to produce dresses inspired by the fractal ‘Pythagoras tree’ for her Hybrid Holism 2012 show (pictured). Right now, New Balance is working on 3D printed plates to enhance the performance of sneaker soles. Another high concept and widely publicised example is the intricate set of 3D printed wings worn by model Lindsay Ellingson at the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show last year.
The technology has such potential, in fact, that some pundits are already speculating that it could do to the fashion industry what illegal downloads did to music – that is, place all the power in the hands of the consumer. 3D printing looks set to disrupt and democratise the world of design, much like the self-publishing revolution brought on by the rise of e-books. “We are living in a world in which fashion and design take on a personal element,” stated internet law expert Professor Jonathan Askin in a recent interview with Mashable. “The same way anyone is now a publisher or a music distributor, now almost everyone can become a fashion creator.”
Of course, the ability to rapidly duplicate designs has got fashion houses worried about counterfeits. The more sophisticated the technology, the easier it becomes to reverse-engineer a product, or even simply steal the code needed to produce it. “In a world where the law is suspect, the law doesn’t exist,” says Askin.
This has all been made possible by companies like MakerBot, who are dedicated to bringing 3D printing to domestic consumers. Larry Dignan at ZDNet believes that MakerBot “has the potential to be the brand that a broader base of users comes to know via an app ecosystem, more affordable printers and outlets like Thingiverse, an online community and 3D printing hub.” MakerBot was acquired by Stratasys, a provider of industrial manufacturing systems, last year.
Says Stratasys CEO David Reis: “There are a lot of synergies between obviously the Stratasys product and MakerBot product… We are planning to align efforts in R&D to share IP and technology. On the other hand, on the go-to market I think they are very unique products.” Stratasys sold 75,818 3D printing and manufacturing systems in 2013, and expects to grow its organic sales considerably in 2014.
The MakerBot Replicator Mini is now available to pre-order. So what’s stopping you from launching your own futuristic fashion label?