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It seems as though the fashion industry has found a production technique that is sustainable, easy to do and inexpensive. Find out how 3D printing is the new game changer.

Words By Varnika Srivastava


It may seem hard to believe but 3D printing is expected to be the latest sustainable production trend in fashion. In 2014, 3D printed clothes and accessories made a record number of runway appearances. For their fall 2014 line, Pringle of Scotland used a laser sintered nylon technique. In 2013, Victoria’s Secret worked with Swarovski and Shapeways to design flamboyant accessories for their exhibition. Although 3D printing was originally associated with the creation of plastic models, substantial progress has been made in the production of textiles using various fibers.

Researchers at MIT have successfully printed a dome using 3D CAD tools and silkworms.

With a few tweaks, the pattern could easily be transformed into a finished dress. Knitting machines can already knit perfectly completed sweaters, but a 3D printing technique using silicone coated cotton yarn is in the works. It seems as though scientists will be the ones to set the next fashion trends.

But how is 3D printing more sustainable? For one, it has a smaller carbon footprint. Designers of fashion and accessories usually begin the manufacturing phase a year before the product is released onto the retail market. At the time, the designer goes through several product rounds and supplies procurement, accumulating samples from suppliers. Many of the trial and error of product design can be carried out digitally before producing the first model with 3D printing. The mountain of vendor samples that eventually wind up in the landfill at the end of the season can be avoided by deciding on the products to be used ahead of time. Producing your sample will be as hyper-local as your own studio if you are a designer with your own 3D printer. The majority of 3D printing firms, on the other hand, are domestic. The product is made from onsite materials and 3D printed patterns are pulled from computer archives. As a result, there’s no need to submit patterns or products to your vendor, designers save money on packaging and the environment is spared from the greenhouse emissions of freight vehicles. 

Fabric pollution during the manufacturing of clothes is another major problem. 3D fiber printing is a Danish company’s solution to reducing cloth waste. Jess Fleischer’s 

company, Son of a Tailor, recently completed a Kickstarter campaign for their 3D merino wool pullovers for men, receiving 400 orders in the first 24 hours and meeting their $15,000 goal in less than 40 minutes. Fleischer said in a tweet, “The apparel industry must eventually reconsider. Our Kickstarter campaign’s popularity demonstrates that people are ready for this. There is no such thing as an option when it comes to sustainability. We need to reduce our consumption’s negative environmental effects as soon as possible, but this can only be possible if all producers reconsider and run their manufacturing lines in a more environmentally sustainable manner.” 

Their minimalist pullovers minimize fabric waste in the cutting process from 21% to less than 1%, resulting in a jacket made from one piece with no seams and reinforced edging that is built to last. Customers’ weight, height, age, and shoe size are used to build avatars and custom fashion garments, using an algorithm based on data collected from 30,000 men around the world. In comparison to the 25-50 percent range, this results in a 4% product return rate. Moreover, all of their men’s outerwear is made to order from recycled fabrics, and they don’t keep any stock, striving for zero waste in any way. The garments were also assembled under equal working conditions by European workers, achieving yet another of the fashion revolution‘s aims for sustainable fashion. 

Additionally, this new trend also promotes the use of recycled materials. Nylon filaments, fibers, brass, and silk are among the materials currently used in 3D printing fashion. Companies such as EKOCYCLE, which was created by entertainer Will I. Am, and Coca-Cola are now selling the Cube 3-D printer for home consumers. Their cartridges are made from recycled plastic soda bottle filament. Plastic milk jugs can be used to produce printing filament, according to Michigan Technological University. They discovered that the DIY approach was even more energy efficient than conventional recycling approaches. 

3D printed clothes also have an extended life. The ability to print replacement buttons, make an additional shoe bottom, or add more charms to jewelry is a recent segment of the 3D printing apparel industry. By upcycling original wardrobe items with new embellishments or recreating missing bits, local printing firms may partner with clients to make pieces that prolong the life of existing ones. For instance, Alleles, a Canadian firm, created a fashionable prosthetic leg using a 3D printing technique to complement designer label Vawk’s fall 2014 fashion line. This not only served a practical purpose, but it also served as a chic addition to a customer’s wardrobe. 

Every day, new 3D printing fashion techniques are being created. As a designer and entrepreneur, 3D printing has advantages in terms of saving time and money, along with contributing to sustainable fashion that make it difficult to overlook it as part of a new market strategy. Fashion thrives on fresh ideas, and editors and creators seem to have found one that is meant to stay.