4D Printing: Building Smart Fashion of the Future Today

4D Printing: Building Smart Fashion of the Future Today

4D Printing: Building Smart Fashion of the Future Today 

The technology of today is far different than that of 20, 10 — even 5 years ago. Self-driving cars are accelerating worldwide, smart home devices are increasingly commonplace, and economies are on their way towards becoming completely cashless.

And these trends in technological advancement can be found impacting every industry, even fashion. Consider, for example, recent applications of AI in both design and online shopping. Or the 3D-modeled, digitally customizable skirts from Julia Daviy — the first of their kind in 3D-printed, ready-to-wear fashion available to the market.

More astounding yet are emerging shifts in the manufacturing of fashion textiles. If you can visualize a garment, designers are inching their way closer to being able to create it in a matter of hours through the use of 3D printing technology.


The speed of production and availability of materials in 3D printing may not be prime for mass adoption just yet, but solutions are on the horizon as these technologies continue to mature. And as this current technology grows smarter, new evolutions arise.

At Julia Daviy specifically, we’ve made massive shifts over the last three years with regards to 3D-printed textiles. We’ve successfully transitioned from homemade plastic 3D-printed garments pieced together from multiple segments, to a more flexible 3D-printed clothing material created using large-format 3D printers. This material has now been recommended as a must-have for women’s wardrobe by British Vogue.

And now it’s time to move even further forward as we explore 4D printing for fashion — an application poised to change the ways in which we design and wear clothes forever.

What is 4D Printing?

4D printing is a method of manufacturing built around the idea of self-assembly. This isn’t to say that you, as the wearer, would be required to assemble anything, however. Instead, it implies that “things” would actually be able to make themselves.

Skylar Tibbits, an MIT researcher and expert in the field, discusses the concept in relation to buildings. Through the use of 4D printing technology, architects could design skyscrapers capable of changing shape and repairing themselves post-production. It’s a technology that could completely re-envision city skylines and infrastructure.

The Difference Between 3D and 4D Printing

3D printing is no stranger to the world of product design. The process essentially transforms digital designs into 3D physical objects — building them out layer by layer.

This differs from 4D printing in the sense that a printer will put to use specially designed materials that can change shape. This means sophisticated, 3D printed designs can be taken one step further and made to change their appearance based on programmed triggers like water, light, heat, or other simple energy output.


4D Printing Applications in Fashion

When it comes to fashion, Julia Daviy is one of the only designers to begin implementing 3D printing techniques in creating everything from shirts to dresses. Not only are these methods functional, but they’re also sustainable — committed to environmental friendliness through the popularized zero-waste wearables.

With 4D printing, fashion designers and studios are bringing new visions to life. Nervous System out of Massachusetts, for example, has created jewelry and garments with articulated joints. This allows pieces to automatically change shape once removed from the printer and placed on the model — resulting in pieces that better fit to the form of any body shape.

In theory, 4D printing is a method of manufacturing that could be used in designing fashion that does far more than change shape. Imagine a button-down, simple in design and function to the naked eye. With 4D printing, designers could program these items to change color or take on an entirely new pattern.

Alternatively, this same approach could be used to alter the length of a dress or the neckline of a top. Style needs aside, 4D-printed clothing can also be self-programmable enough to protect against humans changing their shape and other characteristics (e.g. density) under extreme conditions. All of this means consumers could have more control than ever before over the design and fit of “smart clothing” tailored to their exact liking and/or environment without the cost of expensive alterations.

4D Printing Limitations

4D printing may certainly sound too good to be true, but the potential is real. What has yet to become a reality, similar to 3D printing, is mass adoption within the fashion industry.

As with any newer technology, more time is needed to advance efforts, lower costs, and work out the kinks. Studios are still very much in the experimental phase of bringing 4D printed designs to life as they work with limiting materials and slower production times.

Final Thoughts: 4D Printing and Smart Fashion of the Future

There’s no denying that fast changes are underway. Designs have come a long way since the first 3D printed objects — transforming into pieces that are not only wearable but marketable to the larger consumer market, like the Organic skirt by Julia Daviy. In order to see 4D printing come to life on a larger scale, we need to continue to refine and popularize methods of 3D printing for today, tomorrow, and beyond.

Tell us how you see the industry further evolving in the comment section below.


Text: Julia Daviy


Photo: Danil Kaistro, Vita Zamchevska

Any part of these text and photos is a subject of Copyright. Use it for quotation requires a direct link on JuliaDaviy.com

Behind the Scene of the First Zero-Waste Digitally Customized 3D Printed Skirt

First Zero-Waste Digitally Customized 3D Printed Skirt Commercially Available

3D printing is on the verge of going mainstream. Both in the public eye, where 3D printing is starting to figure in the plots of television shows, and in commercial applications. Investment in commercial 3D printing equipment has grown more than tenfold in the last three years, and some industries—notably aerospace—have begun to adopt 3D printing into their design and manufacturing workflows.   Somewhere between 3D printing’s history as a hobby and its growing future as a means of mass production lie applications like fashion. As I’ve gotten ready to produce the world’s first digitally customizable 3D-printed skirt, I’ve been thinking about how far the technology has come in the last few years, and how a new paradigm is forming around 3D-printed fashion. More than just a new business model, I believe that 3D printing is the method around which an entire new age of fashion is taking shape.  

The Two Eras of Fashion 

For most of human history, fashion was largely a local affair, usually the domain of women responding to the demands of climate and culture. Even where raw materials like cotton or wool were plentiful, clothing designers rarely had a broad range of materials to choose from. The same thing applied to dyes and fixatives like alum, and to the materials used to provide functional and decorative accessories like buttons and beads.  What women in the first age of fashion may have lacked in terms of materials, they more than made up for with technical innovation and ingenious approaches to design that built sophisticated fashion vernaculars out of relatively few components. Those techniques and designs inform fashion to this day, but on a commercial scale they do so at a remove, as inspirations from a past era.  The Industrial Revolution had the same impact on fashion that it did on many other industries. New means of transportation brought raw materials from around the world to factories where garments were produced in mass quantities. The tradition of handcrafted clothing persisted for some time, but even then, dressmakers and tailors were usually working with mechanically produced fabrics.   In the 20th century, widespread globalization produced the fashion industry we know today. Design has been largely divorced from production: fashion designers work with textile firms to select distinctive woven materials or to produce unique ones; their designs, however carefully developed in the studio, are produced in factories, often in problematic conditions. 

Fashion’s Next Era 

We are just getting a glimpse of fashion’s third era. 3D printing offers the same prospect of wholesale change to the fashion industry that the Industrial Revolution delivered. In some ways, new era offers a compelling synthesis of the two that preceded it. 

    The software employed in the 3D printing process reunites the modes of design and production that were rendered discrete by the advent of mass production. On a more practical level, the challenges of 3D fashion design would be familiar to our first-era forebears. 3D designers currently have a relatively small palette of raw materials to choose from, and necessity has given birth to some fascinating advances in technique. At the same time, we benefit from the second era’s legacy: new materials are constantly in development, and are becoming commercially available with increasing frequency.    A New Production Model  The first and second eras of fashion were defined in part by the ways that fashion was consumed. In the first era, fashion often denoted and reinforced affiliation with local or regional communities. While individual designers and garment-makers of special genius were celebrated locally and regionally, they did not produce fashions for large markets.   That has been the second era’s specialty, and the economies of scale necessary for fashion to reach global markets have benefited consumers as surely as they have degraded the lives of garment workers and in many ways degraded the wider fashion vernacular.  3D printing is still an immature enough technology that economies of scale don’t apply just yet. But value- and supply chains serving commercial 3D printing are developing quickly, and the core technology behind 3D printing becomes more powerful each year.   3D clothing was something of a novelty as recently as a few years ago, when designers were devoted to proofs of concept similar to those demonstrated by the more outré entries at fashion shows. It’s a novelty no more. The challenge today is to develop protocols, pipelines, and business models that allow the mainstream production of 3D printed clothing. 

A New Commitment to Environmental Friendliness 

  In emphasizing economies of scale, fashion’s second era didn’t just affect the lives of garment workers: its impact on the environment has been increasingly severe. From short-sightedly intensive cultivation methods to the widespread use of nonbiodegradable materials, our current methods of producing garments for widespread distribution are completely unsustainable.   

The next era of fashion must and will place these concerns at the center of the entire process, from design to manufacture, sale to disposal.

Several prominent designers have made valiant efforts to source their materials ethically, and to reduce the overall environmental impact of their collections.  But those efforts, however noble, are insufficient to the challenges before us. A properly complete rethinking of the fashion industry addresses the need for completely biodegradable materials and zero-waste production methods while offering customers stylish, comfortable garments on their own terms. 3D printing alone fulfils that mandate. 

  Tell us how you see the industry further evolving in the comment section below. Text: Julia Daviy Photo: Danil Kaistro       Any part of these text and photos is a subject of Copyright. Use it for quotation requires a direct link on JuliaDaviy.com