How 3D Printing Will Change the Way You Buy Clothes

By January 24, 2017 No Comments

Once upon a time everyone wore custom clothes. Of course, that was mostly because you had to make your own clothes.

But then came the Industrial Revolution and consumerism. Suddenly it was much easier (and less expensive) to just buy ready-made clothes.

But off-the-rack clothing has its problems. We’re all different shapes and sizes. Off-the-rack clothes are made to industry specifications. They’re often uncomfortable or awkward because they’re not made for your figure, they’re made for a statistical average.

Fashion industry professionals, however, think 3D printing is going to change that. One day we’ll be able to print clothes to our exact measurements, while still enjoying that whole not having to sew clothes together ourselves thing.

Customizable Clothes

If you read the comments on any fashion retailer’s social media account, you’ll see tons of these:

  • “Your sizes aren’t big enough for me!”
  • “Your sizes aren’t small enough for me!”
  • “Your clothes are too long!”
  • “Your clothes are too short!”
  • “Your shoes aren’t wide enough!”
  • “Your shoes aren’t narrow enough!”

Basically, there’s a large segment of the population that finds shopping hard. And it’s all for different reasons.

But with 3D printers, either in-home or on-demand, it may be possible for people to get clothing made exactly to their specifications while still owning the latest trends.

In fact, there are already some instances of 3D printing being used to customize clothing items directly for consumers, mostly in footwear. Companies are custom-making shoe insoles using 3D scanning and printing. Adidas has just gotten started with 3D printing, but their plan is make customizable shoes.

Shorter Time from Conception to Store Shelves

Like many industries, fashion has used 3D printing for rapid prototyping, shortening the time from ideation to a real product. Shoe manufacturers, again, are at the forefront of this.

Right now 3D printing isn’t shortening the manufacturing time for clothing, but it is making it easier for designers to get a physical product in their hands. And the easier and cheaper that process is, the faster you get the goods in your closet.

Health and Wellness

Some see the real benefit of 3D printed clothing in biometrics. The future may be our clothing warning us when our blood sugar is getting low, or we’ve eaten too many carbs that day. Or it could even regulate our body temperature. One company is trying to accomplish it by combining nanotechnology with 3D printing.

But How Will It Happen?

There might be a problem with how these products are brought to market, though. This article on Fashionista deals with a lot of the complications that will come from 3D printing clothing. The following are some of the big takeaways:

  • Most of us aren’t fashion designers. We wouldn’t know where to start with creating clothes we can actually wear. So it’s likely we’ll still rely on designers. But how we will protect the intellectual property of designers when copying them is as simple as stealing the 3D file?
  • Counterfeiters may not even need to go that far. They could 3D print logos and design elements that are exact replicas of the originals. Then they simply add them to any item to make those items appear to be made by the designer brand.
  • Let’s say we move into an economy where designers develop the designs and the 3D files for them, with consumers printing the designs themselves. Who protects the consumers from flaws? It would be simple for a brand to say a failed product is the fault of a bad home printer.
  • There’s also the other side. If consumers are playing with the 3D files and altering the designs, we’re again looking at intellectual property rights, but also facing the problem of people altering a design through either shape or material to the point where it doesn’t work. And then blaming the flaws on bad design.


The Obstacles

Before we can worry about issues about like counterfeiting and quality control, however, we need the technology. And we’re not quite there yet. Designers have made some very, ahem, interesting garments for haute couture in the past few years, but none of those are everyday wear.

Almost all industries cite the need for faster printers, but for fashion, the other big obstacle is materials. Several companies have been able to use 3D printing to create jewelry and accessories, since these are already often made from hard materials. No one has yet figured out how to make fabric 3D printable (or, at least, not well enough to bring to the commercial market yet).

The other option is to turn materials we’re already using to 3D print into something like fabric, as this company is doing. They’re not ready for the commercial market yet, either.

These obstacles are being worked on by several brands and designers. The exciting thing is the number of ways companies are approaching solutions. Whatever the future of 3D printed clothing may be, it’ll be innovative.


Fabric and Technology

How 3D printing will impact our wardrobe remains to be seen. But there are plenty of minds on it and they all have some great ideas.