At the 2011 Haute Couture Paris Fashion Week, Iris van Herpen changed the game when she debuted the first 3-D printed fashion gown. Her garment was a cutting edge piece with rigid, intricate white fabric scrunched to resemble a Rorschach test. This groundbreaking moment was named one of Time magazine’s best inventions of the year.

On November 7, 2015, the 32 year old Dutch designer had her first major exhibition of her work, “Iris van Herpen: Transforming Fashion”, open at High Museum of Art in Atlanta. The museum continues to exhibit 48 of her revolutionary outfits from 2008 to present day, along with videos from previous fashion shows.

While 3-D printing may seem new, it has been around since the 1980’s. At that time it was primarily used by architects and industrial designers. The printer creates the object layer by layer, generally used to make models and prototypes. A flare-up of interest in the technique began once the technology became more affordable and home printers started to emerge.

The Future of Fashion

Since then, 3-D printing has become a hot new tool in the fashion industry. Major designers are creating geometric cutout gowns, stiff and shiny trims and garments that resemble skeletons or medieval armor. The creations are limitless. These innovations are typically seen on the runway. However, some designers have brought it to ready-to-wear.

With technology being adopted by more apparel makers, it has the potential to trickle down to the masses. This could be as revolutionary as the sewing machine. Small and emerging designers could potentially cut traditional production and just print their materials or garments. While at the same time being more eco-friendly by eliminating pollution and waste that comes with the hand sewing production, since 3-D printing prints exact measurements without wasted fabric.

With designers being able to create garments that fit the exact measurements of the consumer, businesses would benefit greatly. They would be able to charge more since they are making the garments to specifically fit each consumer. For example, Nike recently made a 3-D printed running spike for the 2016 Olympics in Rio. So for every runner who gets blisters on their feet from their shoes not fitting correctly, it would no longer be an issue. This could change the way people purchase shoes.

The Process

How would this work though? Who would have designed that shoe? Would a consumer design it themselves? Or would you provide designs? To avoid legal issues, your customer could come to you to pick from a set of designs. Then proceed to take measurements (possibly by using similar technology and technique that doctors use to scan patients feet for custom orthotic insoles), followed by the printing production. But only time will tell how the process ends up happening.

There may be a lot of and, ifs, or buts when it comes to the idea of fashion businesses getting into 3-D printing, but at the rate technology is advancing it’s almost inevitable to happen. As of yet, the printing process is unable to make any soft fabrics. It is aimed at hard accessories such as; hardware, jewelry, footwear, and eyewear. Although it might be a slow moving movement for the time being, when it does reach local designing, be ready to embrace all the changes and endless possibilities that comes with it.