In the past year or so, 3-D printing has become one of those things that seems to be on the tip of everyone’s tongue–every day a new article comes out about some crazy new thing you can print (organs, sugar)–and now it’s starting to become relevant in conversations about fashion. Dita von Teese made headlines when she wore the world’s first fully-articulated 3-D printed gown, designed by designer Michael Schmidt and architect Francis Bitonti, at a fashion event back in March. Designers like Iris Van Herpen and Kimberly Ovitz are experimenting with the technology to great effect.
As a 3-D printing “scene” emerges in New York, the fashion industry is starting to embrace it. Shapeways–a company set on becoming the go-to resource for designers’ 3-D printing needs–seems to be at the center of it. They’re the company that Schmidt and Bitonti used to create Von Teese’s dress, and the company Ovitz used to create 3-D jewelry for her last show.
While established fashion brands are a tad slow in beginning to experiment with it (as fashion brands are wont to be), the technology itself is growing rapidly. As a business, it’s growing rapidly as well. An established commercial 3-D printing company, Stratsys, recently acquired Brooklyn-based startup Makerbot–which makes and sells 3-D printers for home use–for a cool $403 million. Which means 3-D printers are becoming more accessible every day.
During a Financial Times panel discussion about counterfeiting several months ago, intellectual property lawyer Harley Lewin (he repped Christian Louboutin on the YSL case) said the threat of counterfeiting was nothing compared to the threat of this new industry: “When the cost of 3-D printing is reduced, it’s going to create an entirely new generation of businesses,” he said. “It’s not far away.”
The implications of 3-D printing on the fashion industry cannot be understated. It has the potential to do great things: create shorter lead times for designers, offer the ability to produce things in smaller quantities, and create easy personalization. On the flip side, 3-D printing could render many jobs in the manufacturing industry obsolete, as well as present some tricky legal issues surrounding copyright.