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How a College Professor Is Using an Online 3D Printing Course to Inspire a New Generation of Designers

Learning to sew might just be a thing of the past.
CMU x Fashionista
CMU graduate Zachary Stoner's 3D printed shoe, inspired by the current social climate.

CMU graduate Zachary Stoner's 3D printed shoe, inspired by the current social climate.

College prep can be a total rat race: Not only do you have to worry about test scores, essays and extracurriculars, but deciding the school and major that is going to set you up for a successful career also takes a ton of research — and then you need that gut feeling to commit.

Central Michigan University has been setting students up for success for 125 years. With more than 200 undergraduate programs to choose from, CMU has seen how the traditional learning system has progressed and they've worked tirelessly to progress along with it. While the school has a nationally recognized (and highly ranked) Fashion Merchandising and Design program (yes, in the middle of Michigan!), for Fall of 2017, it's evolving and offering an online Bachelor’s degree to complement it.

We spoke with Dr. Michael Mamp, Associate Professor of Fashion Merchandising and Design (and graduate of the school!) about the new online offering, as well as the very first semester long class designed around 3D printing and fashion, and what this means for the industry as a whole.

You mentioned that you use 3D printing in your on-campus courses and you’ll be integrating it online as well. Can you explain this methodology?
The interesting thing about 3D printing is that we think about it as a very high tech and emerging technology, but 3D printing has been around for at least 20 years or more, in very rudimentary forms. The fashion industry however has been very slow to adopt it as a new technology. Truthfully that’s not unusual for the fashion industry; we’re kind of a big, cumbersome, lingering giant and we don’t adapt and we don’t adopt new technologies and new formats in a fast way like some other industries, so we’re a little behind in fashion in terms of the adoption of 3D printing. This is why the introduction of 3D printing for fashion product development at CMU is so unique; it puts us ahead of the industry curve.

So, is sustainability behind the rise of 3D printing in fashion?
With the advent and rise of fast fashion at brands like Forever 21 for example, so many of these goods and this idea of mass consumption are just spiraling out of control and that stuff goes into a landfill. So, what’s cool about 3D printing is that 3D printing is an additive process versus a subtractive process. So, if you think about the traditional way that a garment is made, that’s a subtractive process. You put out a piece of fabric, you put patterns down and you cut away what you don’t want. And that stuff that you don’t want goes in the trash. Versus 3D printing, which is an additive process, where you’re only using what you need to print or make the object, and the materials that you’re making it from if you do have any waste can be recycled or reused.

The MakerBot Innovation Labs

The MakerBot Innovation Labs

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Is this why you want to ensure your students have an edge when starting out their careers?
Many companies are starting to use this. At the Kohl’s design studio in New York, they utilize a 3D printer to print prototypes of home goods. Shinola, which is based in Detroit, is using a 3D printer to model and design bags and watches, so I knew that 3D printing would be an emerging skill that companies would be looking for; therefore, I wanted to train our students on 3D printing and challenge them with how they could incorporate 3D printing into the fashion design process.

We do projects related to jewelry design, accessory design, footwear prototyping and now we’re starting to branch into embellishments. So, think of a dress that was covered in sequins or paillettes or something like that. Again, all of those sequins are made from a subtractive process, so if we can 3D print those elements versus making those in the traditional manner, we’d have a lot less waste from those elements. I teach a class, and it’s the first course truthfully anywhere in the world so far – definitely anywhere in the United States – that is called 3D Printing and Fashion. And we have a MakerBot Innovation Center that houses 30 3D printers. When the student takes the course, they can upload their files to the innovation center and then they get printed and the student picks them up. 

Dr. Mamp in action.

Dr. Mamp in action.

What is it about 3D printing that you think is truly helping to inspire creativity in your students?
My thought process is how do we prepare students for 21st century careers? And our approach to education – especially if you’re pursuing fashion design or product development – has always been this real traditional, learn how to sew, learn how to make a pattern, learn how to cut that pattern and sew a garment. And I’m not saying that those skills aren’t important; those skills are important and obviously they’re applicable to the fashion industry. But that idea, that model of fashion design education that I just described is actually a 19th century idea of fashion education. That’s how we started teaching people in the 19th century in order to provide workers for the Industrial Revolution. So the thing about 3D printing is that I have students who take my 3D printing course who say “Oh, I’m not a designer” because “I don’t know how to sew.” But modeling in a 3D software like Rhinoceros, which is what we use, doesn’t require that you know those traditional skills, it just requires that you know the software and that you can think three-dimensionally. So, students who have never thought of themselves as creative or who have never thought of themselves as a designer oftentimes do my best work.

It’s breaking the paradigm and sort of shifting the idea of what it means to be a designer in fashion because the truth is we spend all of this time teaching people how to sew but then we send everything to China to be made. So what is the point of that? And I’m just saying that 3D printing is a new approach. It opens up their creativity in new ways that is pretty amazing. 

And, if a student wants to learn how to design with 3D printers, do they need to physically attend CMU or is there another option?
CMU has had an on-campus program for Fashion Merchandising and Design for quite some time. So, as we’ve thought about continuing to evolve and grow, it seemed like the next logical step was to develop an online offering. We’ve developed concentrations for online that are different than our on-campus concentrations, so our online concentrations will be Visual Merchandising and Fashion Product Development.

Our [online] courses are very dynamic in that they include narrated lectures, videos, lots of different approaches utilizing multimedia, live chat sessions with the students as well so that they can dial in and ask questions at certain times, and also when there is an opportunity for online to be synchronized with our on-campus offerings within the same class, we could do some live-streaming and chat sessions as well. With the 3D printing classes, I’ll teach the same class online and I’ll record all of my demos and all of my tutorials and all of my lectures, and the student can then work through doing the assignments and designing their objects, upload their files to the MakerBot Innovation Center website and then when it’s printed here for them we will package it and ship it to them.

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