In the past week alone, 3-D printers have been used to create milk caps that tell you when milk has gone bad and a real skull, implanted into a baby's head. But when it comes to making wearable clothing, 3-D printing still has a long way to go. Despite the inherent challenges of making textiles with such technology, one Tel Aviv-based fashion student decided to do it for her recent graduate collection, creating five full looks entirely with 3-D printers — and not even industrial ones, but rather the smaller machines made for home use, which are available for anyone to buy.
It's a significant feat. With the exception of Iris Van Herpen, who consistently incorporates at least one 3-D printed dress into her couture collections, 3-D printed clothing that's actually wearable is hard to come by for a few reasons. Firstly, this industry is known for its reluctance to embrace technology, and few mainstream designers are using the machines despite their increasing availability. Those more interested in innovation have used them to make jewelry as well as to quickly create prototypes (which would ultimately be produced using a more mainstream material). The other reason: clothing is really hard to print.
But Danit Peleg, who graduated from the Shenkar College of Design just a few weeks ago, was up for the challenge. "I was always interested in the connection [between] fashion and technology, so my work was about laser cutting and 3-D printing," she told Fashionista over the phone on Tuesday. "I knew from the beginning that my final project would also be [about] technology." However, she admittedly knew nothing about 3-D printing before she began her final project, as it was not a part of her curriculum in school. "I just knew that I found it very interesting." She did plenty of research online and found a lab in Tel Aviv where she was able to experiment and learn more about the process.
Peleg's first challenge — and the main reason why there is so little 3-D printed clothing — was that the materials most commonly used in 3-D printers tend to be very stiff. She eventually discovered FilaFlex, a new filament that is softer and more malleable. She began by creating her pattern on Optitex, a fashion design software, then transferring it to Blender, a 3-D graphic design software. She was able to print sheets of lace-like "textiles," which she then glued together to create the final pieces.
The end result looks much less crafty than it sounds — granted, it took her a full nine months. "It took more than 2,000 hours to print everything, not including the tests and trials I was doing before," she said. "It’s about 400 hours [of printing] per piece." That meant she had to use three printers (though during a two-week crunch time she used six) and keep them running 24/7 in order to meet her school's deadline. "All the other students, they were using fabric, so it was maybe easier for them." But she did it — and the looks, which got chosen for her school's graduate show, actually seem to move quite well. (Which you can see in the above video.)
Though 3-D printing may seem like a modern convenience or a futuristic tool that simply makes stuff out of thin air, it's actually still much faster to make clothes the old fashioned way, by cutting and sewing fabric.
Of course, that doesn't mean Peleg's project isn't a sign of what's to come as machines get faster and more fabric-like materials become available. Next, Peleg wants to help other designers learn how to incorporate 3-D printing into their work, and also to design a swimwear collection using the medium. While she doesn't see herself selling her creations (if she does, she says, they're "not going to be cheap"), she would be more interested in giving away or selling the files she used to make them. "I want to see other people wearing these clothes in different places in the world." As a business model, this could be more indicative of how designs are bought and sold in the future.
See the full collection below.