Three Problems Holding Back 3D Printed Fashion and the Solutions to Each

The days of 3D printing being a hyped-up novelty are gone. The technology has moved past the innovation stage and is well into the early adoption phase as more and more people seek out information and dip their toes into the industry. But while 3D printing as a whole is rapidly becoming more mainstream, when it comes to printing clothing, there are still major challenges.

I experience some of those challenges every day in my 3D-printed fashion lab in Miami, and I’m using one of the most advanced 3D printers available on the market. For someone working on clothing at home with a consumer-grade 3D printer, the challenges would be even greater. But luckily, I do see solutions on the horizon, and as the technology matures, most of the problems fashion designers currently face will begin to ease.

Here are the top three problems I currently see facing 3D printed sustainable fashion, and the solutions that I believe will arrive sooner rather than later to help ease the frustration of 3D designers like myself.

Problem 1: Materials are Currently Quite Limiting

While there are a number of types of filament on the market, there are some major limitations to essentially all of them. From a fashion perspective, the biggest one is flexibility. As it stands, we can 3D print clothing that behaves similarly to stiffer materials like leather, but we aren’t quite at the point of being able to print something that flexes and flows like a cotton t-shirt. With that being said, there most definitely are 3D-printed t-shirts, and with any luck it won’t be long until they move and feel just like their cotton cousins!

The other big problem is a lack of sustainable, eco-friendly materials to choose from. ABS is recyclable, but a ton of it still ends up in landfills. PLA is the most common biodegradable filament currently used, but it takes a long time to break down and requires a composting facility. It’s also not flexible enough to be realistically used in fashion applications. That means fashion designers looking to maximize the wearability of their garments are currently forced to take a less eco-friendly route.

Luckily, there are innovative companies out there tackling both of these problems as we speak. A company called Essentium has recently developed a new filament they call TPU 80A, which is one of the most flexible 3D printing materials available to date, and I personally have started to use TPE 70A, which is even more flexible! On the sustainability front, the Singapore University of Technology and Design recently unveiled a material they call FLAM – a completely natural, 100% biodegradable material that the SUTD says is completely safe for use, potentially in every ecosystem on the planet.

Problem 2: 3D Printing is Slow

There have been great strides in the efficiency and speed of 3D printing over the past few years, but I’d be lying if I said that the technology was currently fast. The time it takes to complete a design is obviously based on overall complexity, but even the simplest of fashion pieces requires some serious patience.

For example, in my September show at New York Fashion Week, the pieces incorporated a lot of complex geometrical shapes. As a result, it actually took around 150 hours to print one of the dresses on a single printer! That’s obviously an extreme example, but even with the current skirt I’m working on, which is a much simpler design, printing takes around 18 hours.

The solution to this problem is obvious – the unstoppable march of technological progress! Every year printers get faster and faster and, especially as large format printers grow in speed, the time it takes to do large, complex designs will rapidly decrease. For multi-piece designs like the skirt I mentioned (which requires a 3D printed liner as well), employing multiple printers is also an easy way to cut the manufacturing time down.  

I’ve also begun experimenting with stereolithography (SLA) printers, which are faster than traditional printers. SLA printers also allow me to print with different materials like silicone and flexible resins. The downside is that, while fast, SLA printers are small. They are getting larger though, and I’m eagerly awaiting the launch of a large-format version in the coming months.

Problem 3: There’s a Long Way to Go in Education and Acceptance

While 3D printing is now in an early adoption phase and more and more consumers are becoming familiar with it, when it comes to 3D printed fashion, there is a long, long way to go. In fact, when you tell the average person about 3D printed clothing, most of them initially don’t even believe it’s real. They also assume that 3D printed clothing is worse for the environment and for the consumer than traditional materials like cotton. That’s understandable, since most people associate “plastic” with “bad”, but when it comes clothing production, they couldn’t be more wrong.

The industry also needs more education on the technology itself, specifically the software used to create designs. As it stands, it can be a steep learning curve to tackle, and many fashion designers that might otherwise be interested in trying out 3D printing will never get started due to the barrier to entry posed by the relatively complex software.

In my opinion the thing that will drive the greatest change in this area is going to be the continued shrinking of global natural resources. As we continue to run out of land and fresh water all across the globe, the harm done by traditional production methods will be brought more and more into the light. The result will be a widened understanding and appreciation of 3D printing as a means of textile production, and a growing interest among designers looking to implement the technology into their own collections. That raised awareness will naturally lead to greater education and adoption.

Julia Daviy

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Photo: Vita Zamchevska

 

Changing Fashion One Printer at A Time: Why Every Woman Needs 3D Printed Clothing in Her Closet

In 2018, I launched the world’s first-ever fully 3D printed women’s fashion line created on large-format 3D printers and presented it during the last New York Fashion Week. Throughout that week and in the time since, one question I’ve been asked more times than I can count is simply, “why?”

Most people are amazed by the quality of clothing that can be accomplished with my method of 3D printing in fashion, but the reasoning behind moving towards 3D printed clothing goes so far beyond just the aesthetics or function of the pieces. The thing that makes this new paradigm so important, and the thing that drew me to it in the first place, is the enormous potential 3D printing holds for advancement in an ethical and sustainable fashion.

Since I first started experimenting with 3D printing, my vision has always been a world in which fashion production is safer and cleaner, with the serious human and environmental costs that the industry currently inflicts greatly reduced or eliminated. There are a number of ways that 3D printed clothing helps to move that dream towards reality, and raising awareness on those positive impacts is one of the main reasons I design.

A Technological Solution to Serious Environmental Problems

The materials that traditional garment production utilizes cause a lot of problems, and they’re only going to get worse over time.   We know that cotton production is highly dependant on chemicals and fertilizers causing massive environmental damage, and the chromium used in leather tanning is extremely harmful to the people that work with it and the environment it leaches into. But beyond that, we’re also running into a shortage of space.

Textile production is incredibly resource-intensive, and as time marches on, we’re going to get to the point where it just isn’t possible to keep doing it the way we currently do. Cotton production, for instance, requires huge amounts of water. Cotton is grown in India – an already water-starved country – uses 22,500 litres of water per kilogram grown. It also requires large swaths of land to be dedicated to the crop. Neither land nor fresh water is in ample supply and, thanks to climate change and human expansion, every year they only get scarcer.

Imagine a world like the one PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel has, in which, as space and resources dwindle, people move seaward and into floating cities. Where would the resources and space needed to produce clothing come from?

3D printing provides a solution to this resource scarcity problem. Clothes produced with 3D printers utilize materials that don’t require the waste of millions of liters of precious fresh water or land that could be used to grow food, and the printers themselves, even large-scale ones, require very little space in comparison to traditional clothing factories. It’s an elegant technical solution to a pressing problem, and it means that as the world’s population grows and the land we have available to us shrinks, we can continue producing all of the clothing we need while directing our most important resources to where they should go – improving the lives of human beings.

Real Progress Towards Ethical Production Methods

There is a lot of talk in the fashion industry about ethical and sustainable production, but unfortunately, there’s very little action to go along with it. Because ‘sustainability’ is such a buzzword, people get the incorrect impression that we’ve made big strides in fixing the numerous environmental and human problems that come along with traditional garment production – but we haven’t. In reality, we’ve only taken the tiniest of baby steps.

Baby steps aren’t enough, and 3D printing allows us to take some enormous steps towards solving problems like unethical labor practices and out-of-control waste. For instance, clothing created on a 3D printer doesn’t require cutting or sewing, so the demand for cheap labor that drives sweatshops is eliminated from the production process. That has an enormously positive impact on the welfare of women and children all over the world.

The shift in the role of the worker isn’t the only change. The role of the end-consumer also changes, moving them from a passive consumption position to a place where they can be actively involved in the design of their own clothing. That new involvement results in the production clothes that consumers will be happy to wear for years rather than a single season, reducing the massive landfill problem that currently plagues the industry.

The 3D printing process is also extremely efficient in and of itself. Whereas traditional manufacturing produces an enormous amount of waste material, 3D printing uses only as much filament as is required to complete a design, so there is effectively no wasted material discarded during production.

An Opportunity for Everyone to Help Create Change

The reaction to my full line at Fashion Week was incredibly positive but as nice as it was to receive compliments on the visual or functional aspects of the designs, what I was most pleased with was the immensely positive response towards the potential impacts of the technology. I love fashion, and making beautiful clothing is incredibly important to me, but my passion is making a positive change in the industry I love. A huge number of women feel the same way I do, and while few will ever design their own clothing, a consumer wearing a 3D printed garment can do so knowing they’re making a positive contribution towards sustainability in fashion in a very real way.  

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1*

https://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/2015/mar/20/cost-cotton-water-challenged-india-world-water-day

2*  https://www.independent.co.uk/news/science/floating-city-french-polynesia-2020-coast-islands-south-pacific-ocean-peter-thiel-seasteading-a8053836.html

Photo: Vita Zamchevska, Olya Helga, Julia Daviy 

Text: Julia Daviy

Welcome to Julia Daviy’s 3D Printed Fashion & World where Clothing is Created on 3D Printers

Hello and thank you for your interest to Julia Daviy’s 3D Printed Fashion.

 

Idea of eco-friendly lifestyle and its exploration, attempts to live a life not harmful and painful to other earthlings and to the Earth was the reason and beginning of my way to studying Design Thinking and different technologies. When I became more familiar with 3D printing I realize what a huge transformational power it has.

Today, I believe that 3D printing is the most sustainable way to revolutionize the development of the most industries, moreover, it is sustainable by itself.

The more I studied, the more understanding of how the combination of the methods of Design Thinking and 3D Printing (and 3D design) may give much better solutions to people, startups and every organization.

And, I became obsessed with an idea to turn us, the society of consumers to the society of creators. That is how all this started.

My biggest challenge is to create clothes differently to find the better way to transform fashion from the industry that exploits the planet, people and animals into the industry that helps to unleash the creativity of everyone and empower people to behave responsibly towards the Earth and earthlings.

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