Is SLA 3D Printing Future of Fashion Industry?
Though there are still current limitations to how stereolithography (SLA) 3D printing can be used in the fashion industry — it’s safe to say that we are at the brink of a revolution.
I love FDM for its potential to achieve zero-waste, but hate the imperfection of the 3D printing process faced when using it. An alternative that achieves higher quality “impossible” 3D pieces is SLS technology. However, it’s very resource-intensive and dirty.
This leaves SLA 3D printing, which allows a designer to achieve the highest of quality with zero waste, as the clear future system for the fashion industry, especially because it also requires less human supervision. However, because the technology is relatively new, few fashion designers have put in the effort to understand its capabilities.
At the 3D Printing Clothing Lab and Studio I run with my partner, we use large-format industrial SLA 3D printers as part of the first 3D printed clothing manufacturing model in the United States — if not the world. It was in this lab that I created a dress for New York Fashion Week 2018 with a base made from with the ahimsa silk organza fabric and a 3D pattern in flexible resin.
Though fashion designers are already elbows deep in exploring the potential of SLA 3D printing, it’s not quite economical — yet.
Today, 3D printed clothes have the same meaning for the fashion industry as Telsa had for the automobile market five years ago.
Basically, we are establishing a trend and laying the foundation for a new market. But it’s exactly the same as how electric cars couldn’t compete in the market with traditional models: because there was no established production of cheap and reliable components. Only now, with Telsa releasing its Model 3 with an affordable base price of $35,000, does the company have a vehicle that is profitable to manufacture.
Unfortunately, there is a great amount of confusion and misinformation out there with regards to where 3D printing really stands with regards to being able to be used in production for the fashion industry.
At this point, the primary thing holding back the fashion industry with regards to fully embracing the potential of SLA 3D printing is decision-makers inertial, old-fashioned way of thinking about the industry.
For some reason, many fail to recognize that the technology has gotten to the point that it’s scalable. It doesn’t have to be used solely for creating single pieces of art. One case in point is Adidas teaming up with Silicon-valley based Carbon in their Futurecraft 4D series.
For these shoes, running data from athletes are mapped out to establish optimal cushioning and support in the midsole. A design based on this information is then printed using Carbon’s Continuous Liquid Interface Production (CLIP) enabled DLS technology in a UV-curable resin and polyurethane mixture. SLA 3D printing is at the heart of the DLS technology that makes these highly responsive shoes possible.
Carbon printed 100,000 midsoles for sneakers last year and plans to achieve a million items in 2019-2020.
In fact both Adidas and Under Armour have promised a future where customers can 3D print their sneakers in-store might not be high fashion, it’s certainly an aggressive step forward in the way of using 3D printers for fashion on a commercial level.
The other artificial hurdle raised when the powers at be try to stifle the progress of the fashion industry with their old ways is the claim that 3D printing is too expensive to compete in the market place.
Sure, it’s not cheap when compared to mass-market bulk items coming out of sweatshops of developing nations. These sort of garments created in the fast-fashion world, which has already killed the American clothing industry in terms of tastes for quality design and innovation, fuel the unethical system of production that relies on the exploitation of women and children in far-off countries. However, if you’re looking at luxury fashion items, 3D printed items hit the mark.
For the same amount you’d pay for a simple Gucci jacket with high-end trimming made the old-fashioned way, you can buy an absolutely unique 3D printed jacket that’s one of the first such garments in the world. This jacket, created in our lab, would also have the high-end trimming, as our seamstresses are some of the best in the US and have experience working for brands such as Chanel and Balenciaga. So, for those willing to spend money on luxury fashion items, SLA 3D printing is able to compete with top brands in terms of price and quality.
Limitations of SLA 3D printing
Though SLA 3D printing is the most effortless form of 3D printing and can be used to create otherwise impossible 3D patterns, there are limitations.
One of those limitations is the low printing volume. However, low volume tends to come with the territory when making high-end, luxury items.
Additional drawbacks include wastewater issues, though the inclusion of water recycling technology into SLA 3D printers seems like a real possibility in the not-too-distant future. There is also the issue of the process being potentially unsafe to just leave going in a home where there are kids.
The real limitation at this point in time is there are no ready-to-use solutions in the market place for designers. However, this will certainly change with time.
Solutions on the Horizon.
In March, I was invited as a speaker to take part in the BIG IDEAS for UV+EB Conference that was held in Redondo Beach, California. The large part of the conference was devoted to the breakthrough of SLA 3D printing.
Besides talking about the new age of fashion—3D printing and other cutting-edge fashion technology—I presented our vision of the SLA 3D printing machines that the fashion industry needs.
I returned to my studio and lab not only with a lot of positive feedback on my speech but also with some fresh thoughts and materials to test for SLA 3D printed fashion.
These materials have excellent properties, they could be printed into flexible, durable, and “pleasant by touch” fashion items. That experience and those materials make me sure that the future of 3D printed fashion is much real and arriving much sooner than many industry experts think.
Tell us how you see the industry further evolving in the comment section below.
Text: Julia Daviy
Photo: Vita Zamchevska
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