Technology has a way of evolving beyond what we can imagine. Think back to the first cellphone – costly, bulky, and couldn’t hold a charge. These days, we expect a cellphone to act as a phone, camera, music player, and personal computer, all at an affordable cost. Is it really so crazy to imagine that 3D printing could become so mass market, that instead of buying a pre-made article of clothing, we will buy the design online and print it?
Fast fashion is meant to take current popular styles, and make them available immediately to the consumer. What better way to do this than print the fashion in a 3D form the minute it starts to gain popularity. In-home printing may be my long term vision, but it can’t happen overnight. Instead, the market will gradually adapt, as both consumers and retailers become more familiar with this new technology and its benefits.
Initially, consumers will be able to print in-store. Whether the size you’re looking for isn’t carried in-store, or the style is sold out, consumers will be able to request the item of their choice to be printed on demand. Fast fashion stores, known for having a plethora of the same size of the same style, will now only carry limited sizes in each style knowing that instead of taking home the item from the sales floor, consumers will simply receive a freshly printed item instead. Large store rooms will be converted in to printing centres to accommodate these requests on-site.
Within five years, consumers will have 3D printers at home and they will be able to download designs from a store’s website. They will be able to customize options such as fit, pattern, size, style, and material. In-home printers are already affordable, but the average consumer lacks the technical skills to design 3D sketches in a computer program. Consumers will not begin by downloading the design for their wedding dress. To start, 3D printing will be used to print replacements to things such as lost buttons, and then other items such as accessories. As it becomes more mass-market people will see the logic in using it to print clothing as well.
Shapeways already helps the public buy, sell, and create 3D printed products, and Iris Van Herpen, a Dutch designer, presented her first 3D print in 2010. As a designer, she understands the need to embrace technology and incorporate it, rather than shy away from it as something unknown.
Do you think I’m crazy? Are you shaking your head? Think of the consumer appeal. The main driver behind this change will be the consumer’s desire to be different. We know that fashion trends are cyclical, but consumer trends are as well. Prior to the 1850’s, consumers instructed tailors on what to make for them. Recently, it has been designers dictating trends. However, as Millennials grow into a major consumer role, so will the consumer trend of individuality and bespoke pieces.
Retailers will benefit due to reducing the costs of manufacturing, shipping and logistics, unsold merchandise, and real estate for larger retail spaces. The environment will benefit because the materials used will be recyclable. Instead of throwing out old clothes, you can use the materials to make new ones.
The future of 3D printing is both exciting and unnerving. Technology can change quickly. While today it seems a far reach to claim that we will be printing our wardrobe in 5 years, history has shown us that it is entirely possible.
The technology is there, and now as consumers and industry insiders, we need to explore the opportunities that it can provide. In 5 years, we could be watching styles come down a runway, and then buying the 3D designs online the next day from a fast fashion retailer.
What are you thoughts? Have I convinced you this is possible? I would love to hear your opinions below!