Shapeways Shifts Fashion - Coco Rocha for PCMag
The term 3D printing has always brought to my mind the fantastical, like the Star Trek food replicator, so I took a tour of Shapeways’ 3D printing factory last month for a firsthand look at what 3D printing is really all about.
The basics of 3D printing have been around over 20 years but were only really viable for the extremely wealthy and large corporations. Much like the democratization of computing in the last 30 years, today the process of 3D printing has been opened up to nearly everyone with a design and a shipping address. That’s where Shapeways comes in; it provides a platform for those who want to share and sell their 3D-printed designs without having to own and operate their own 3D printer.
Materials as varied as ceramic, plastic and metal are often used in the 3D printing world. During my tour of Shapeways I got to watch a printer creating a variety of objects in a plastic called Nylon 12. Layer by layer, lasers cut through a powder that is then fused together to make a solid, and all unused material in the process is salvaged and used again.
It doesn’t matter how complex or simple the item is, the price is only determined by the materials that are used. That fact alone makes this process radically different from any other; imagine a carpenter telling you that no matter how complex the carving, you’re only paying for the weight in wood. Or a clothing designer telling you that however much time is spent sewing, you’ll only pay for the weight of fabric and thread.
Which brings me to the area that fascinates me: how could 3D printing revolutionize the fashion industry? Well, for one thing it would radically change the way designers look at supply and demand.
The present system in place often requires a gamble on the designers’ part and they frequently end up with too much or too little inventory. The idea of supply-on-demand, which is the business model for Shapeways, really eliminates that gamble; if someone orders the piece, it’s produced. These machines are also extremely versatile. The same 3D printer can manufacture entirely different products (a cup or a necklace) in the same run. This would mean that 3D printing could turn the usual routine of waiting six months to see runway clothes in stores into seeing pieces at your front door just days after the show.
I was also impressed with how easily customization is achieved using this method. There is no added cost incurred to print 100 slightly different shoes than there is to print a run of 100 identical shoes. The fact that fashion customers will have an increased level of input in the design process in the near future results in clothing that means so much more to us as individuals. Imagine buying a pair of 3D-printed shoes that were custom in every way to your feet. Imagine that you were able to adjust even tiny aspects of the design. The customer would have a much deeper connection with the product and that, as we all know, is invaluable.
What I’d like to see in 3D printing is an increased number of wearable materials. Although Nylon 12, a material commonly used in mascara and lipstick is safe for close contact with humans, I wouldn’t exactly call it comfortable.
I know that we are right on the cusp of a serious revolution in the way we buy, sell, and manufacture clothing, and I think if the right industry leaders jump on these opportunities this could be a golden time in fashion. One designer I especially admire for pushing forward her design and manufacturing methods is Iris van Herpen, who has been pioneering the use of 3D printing in fashion for a little while now with startling results. Her work, a hybrid of architecture, sculpture, and old-fashioned tailoring has proven that outrageous shapes and designs in fashion, though once incomprehensible to bring to life, are now possible. I would love for more designers to explore the fantastic 21st century tools they have at their fingertips. Never before in history has the divide between imagination and creation been so small.
Beyond 3D printing alone, it’s clear that there are many opportunities for fashion and technology to merge in a much deeper way in the future. Fashion, the untouchable princess that she is, will become far more personal to each one of us. I for one am very excited to watch this all unfold.
Coco Rocha is one of fashion’s most ubiquitous faces; she’s modeled for Marc Jacobs, Prada, Zac Posen, Chanel, Banana Republic and Balenciaga to name a few. Recently, she starred as a mentor on the reality television series, “The Face." An avid techie and early adopter of social media, Rocha positioned herself as the world’s first digital supermodel. Time magazine listed her Twitter account among the 140 best Twitter feeds, and her social media presence has garnered her almost 10 million followers worldwide.