3D Printing: A Phenomenon Taking Its Place In High Fashion

In honor of fashion weeks around the world coming to an end for this season, the use of technology in the realm of fashion and luxury has increased in many facets of the industry. Particularly, looking at trends in the runway, one of the most prevalent topics is that of advanced textile and structural technology, created by 3D printing. It’s been nearly a decade since 3D printing became a production phenomenon that began to be used in fashion. However, in reality, even though 3D printing has been around since the 80’s, it isn’t until recently that fashion brands, particularly luxury brands, are starting to incorporate this technology into their runways. 

Some examples we have seen in the industry during the past years include Balenciaga’s 2018 Fall/Winter collection, where pieces were 3D printed considering each model’s measurements. Other luxury brands within LVMH have implemented this technology by using it to make their prototypes. In 2015, we saw one of the most iconic 3D printed fashion pieces debut the runway, a suit designed by Karl Lagerfeld. Rocio, a luxury handbag brand, also implemented 3D printing technology in their most recent collection at Paris Fashion week, vowing to support more sustainable production practices and manufacturing techniques. 

What is 3D printing in the case of luxury and textile? 3D printing can be used to create textiles and patterns that are more detailed and can speed up the process, while bringing more accuracy to the finished product and enhancing creative freedom. But there are even further benefits to 3D printed textiles, which is that they can be produced with more sustainable materials that would be difficult to handle if they were handmade. Not only this, but waste created during the production process in the fashion industry is largely diminished when each piece can be produced upon order, with short lead time, and completely customized in terms of size and any other modifications wanted by the client. So, why haven’t more luxury designers dived into this technology in their collections?

Considering the business model of luxury companies, where an inherent value comes from the history and production cycle of the piece itself, is it a good idea to sell and market 3D printed pieces? There are two important viewpoints to consider, which is that of sustainability vs. artisanship and craftsmanship, which also go hand in hand. Yes it is more sustainable in terms of waste and materials to use technologies such as 3D printing, but brands would lose the sustainability factor and value that ‘handmade’ brings. So then the real question is, how can brands create sustainable processes that take advantage of the benefits of technology while still incentivizing and protecting the art of craftsmanship? We must consider that what luxury brands want to avoid is to further dilute their brand by creating products that lose the genuine sense of high quality and could potentially be seen as mass produced. 

The answer then may be to create a synergy, a balance between the inherent benefits of 3D printing in regards to reduced waste and customization for the consumer, while at the same time ensuring handmade processes that add value to the product and the sustainability chain, while being able to justify the price points of these products. As many innovative advances and a further call for sustainable production, particularly regarding materials, it may be inevitable for companies, and even beneficial to move into the 3D printing textile market, while not completely leaving behind some handmade processes that make pieces unique and enhance quality, and at the same time support the essence the brand has built itself upon. 

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