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3D Printing Hits The Catwalk

Three-D printing is set to revolutionise the fashion industry.  From high-end couture to high street off the peg clothing, the rag trade has never been so rocked by the possibilities now open to it through the technological revolution of 3D printing.

A frequent fashion industry gripe is the inordinately long lead times, and prohibitively large order sizes demanded by clothing manufacturers.  3D printing would allow designers to make their own decisions on quantities which would drastically reduce waiting times for their orders.  This would mean a quicker release of products out into the market place, and a much improved cash flow.

Another frustration for design houses is the time it takes to produce samples or prototypes.  In anticipation of fulfilling this potentially lucrative niche market, companies are already emerging that are fully equipped with digital prototyping technology.  Samples can be turned around in a matter of hours rather than the traditional weeks or even months.  And if a small change is required, modifications can be made to the design at the press of a button; or at least, via a computer keyboard.

Many small designers these days work from home.  They market and sell their products online through their own website and via Amazon’s digital marketplace.  Home 3D printing opens up fantastic new possibilities for these smaller operations.  There are now companies out there ready and willing to provide training, and a whole new manufacturing and design sector is emerging specifically geared to producing jewelry and even footwear.

Environmentalists can also be kept happy as 3D printing generates much less wasted raw material than conventional production processes.  Along similar lines, leather that can now be ‘grown’ in a lab could be seen on runways around the world in as little as five years’ time which will keep animal rights campaigners sweet.

Print your own wardrobe

Looking even further into the future, how about cutting out the fashion industry middle-man altogether and printing your own clothes?  A clothing-specific printer could replace your closet; simply print out something new that you’ve designed yourself using the right computer software; et voila!   

A potentially massive benefit of 3D printed clothing is personalisation.  Take footwear for example; if you have trouble finding shoes to fit you properly because you have very large feet or very high insteps, you could simply have a pair printed to your exact specifications at no extra cost.  And just think of the time you’d save by not having to traipse round the shops for hours trying to find a pair that fit!

Personalised self-produced clothing might sound brilliant but it also opens something of a legal can of worms.  There have been plenty of occasions where leading chain stores have been accused of copying couture runway designs, and reproducing them more cheaply for sale to the mass market through their high street outlets.  In theory then what would prevent savvy consumers from copying images of designer wear from the net, and instructing their software to replicate Jimmy Choo or Dior's latest stunners at a tiny fraction of the price?  And what if you just made a minute change to the original pattern to customise it for your own personal use rather than to sell as your own design?  Would you still be slapped with a lawsuit for design theft?

In conclusion

Watch this space and indeed the runways over the next few years.  One thing is for certain, 3D printing’s influence has arrived on the catwalk and it is here to stay.

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Alison Page

About Alison Page

Alison is a small business owner, freelance writer, author and dressage judge. She has degrees in Equine Science and Business Studies. Read her full story at

Alison Page

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