How the 3D Printing of Clothing is Shifting Supply Chains in Fashion
3D printing is altering the perception of industry — shedding light on what materials could be and more importantly, how they could be produced. And truly, it has already begun to change the operational methods behind everything from automotive to architecture.
For the future of consumer goods, 3D printing (inevitably followed by 4D printing) has the potential to scale customization in a very real way. Take the Organic Skirt from Julia Daviy, for example. It’s the first of its kind; 3D modeled, printed, customizable, and ready-to-wear upon delivery.
And while the concept of on-demand, custom-tailored garments is truly astounding, it’s only the tip of the iceberg of benefits for society as a whole. What Tesla did for the auto industry, 3D printing has the potential to do for fashion.
Clothing Production: From Traditional to Circular
Realizing the benefit of 3D printing of clothing for the fashion industry should begin with a long hard look at production cycles.
The fashion sector is one of the largest industries in the global economy worth an estimated $2.4 trillion. A revolving door of trends, paired with non-stop demand, makes for a lot to keep up with from a manufacturing standpoint.
More traditional models of production are time-consuming and waste-heavy. They rely heavily on international labor markets, thanks to the emergence of large textile mills and factories in countries like China during the mid-1970s. Access to labor, raw materials, and increased capacity worked wonders for meeting marketplace demand at minimal cost — but not so much the environment.
When you consider that, in traditional clothing manufacturing, 30-40% of fabrics are discarded at the stage of cutting and sewing alone, a need for change makes a whole lot of sense. Resources are limited and these methods aren’t sustainable for a world already at odds with climate change.
As a result, the concept of circular fashion has emerged over the last five or so years. It proposes a shift in fashion manufacturing — prioritizing local sourcing and production with an emphasis on using non-toxic, renewable, biodegradable, and recyclable resources. The life cycle of production is focused on long-term use with end-products that are able to be recycled, redesigned, or composted upon discarding.
This consciousness around long-term environmental and socio-economic impact is certainly a step in the right direction. But it does little to address the supply chains in fashion as they exist today — especially as they relate to fast fashion.
Fast Fashion Gone Wrong
With the emergence of brands like Zara, H&M, Top Shop, and Forever 21, fast fashion has become the new norm. It has upended the seasonality of release cycles, minimizing the time between when fashion trends are spotted and made available to customers in-store.
Companies are pressured to feed into this societal need for instant gratification. Even at the risk of negative long-term impact.
To increase the rate of production and keep up with 52 “micro-seasons” a year (compared to the more traditional four: winter, spring, summer, fall) corners have inevitably been cut.
Brands control costs through methods of rapid production and low-quality merchandise. This results in a massive negative impact on the environment through the use of toxic chemicals, dangerous dyes, and materials that are tossed as quickly as they’re purchased – unable to be broken down or given new life.
The 3D Printing Advantage for Fashion Design and Manufacturing
With the 3D printing of clothing, the circular fashion method is brought full circle. It makes the concept of zero-waste possible at every stage — design, logistics, and production. This is in addition to supporting a cruelty-free and slavery-free experience in postprocessing and assembly.
Now, it’s a solution that continues to evolve and challenges to solve for in implementation. But here at Julia Daviy, we’ve already solved for questions around 3D printing with flexible materials and large-format 3D printers. According to our method, we design each piece of clothing digitally — using 3D modelling and CAD software. This allows us to work with 3D printable files or files with patterns, 3D printing each piece of clothing in several parts, and assemble accordingly.
Additionally, we make use of 100% recyclable materials — allowing items to be reworked an unlimited number of times while maintaining quality. We’re even working on a project with our materials manufacturer where we collect used clothing and accessories for repurposing. Above all else, I believe it’s these types of “organic” processes that will help us achieve sustainability in fashion.
Final Thoughts: Supply Chains in Fashion and the 3D Printing of Clothing
Fast fashion implications on American clothing manufacturing won’t be easy to come back from. It remains highly-labor intensive and ill-equipped to embrace advanced technology. But developing a widely-adopted process for 3D printed clothing manufacturing isn’t out of the realm of possibility.
As our work at Julia Daviy has shown, the solutions exist. It’s just about progressing the work already done at a much larger scale. And in doing so, we can more than imagine a day when manufacturing in the fashion industry is truly localized, sustainable, ethical, and problem-solving for future communities.