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. Considering what we expect cellphones to do today, is it so crazy to imagine that 3D printing could become so mass market, that instead of buying a pre-made article of clothing, we could be able buy the design online and print it?
Fast fashion takes current trends, and makes them available immediately to the consumer. What better way to do this than 3D-print the style the minute it starts to gain popularity. However, in-home printing can’t happen overnight. As both consumers and retailers become more familiar with this new technology and its benefits, the market will gradually adapt.
Initially, consumers will print in-store. If the size or 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. Instead of taking home the item from the sales floor, consumers will simply receive a freshly printed item. Large stock rooms will be converted into printing centres to accommodate these requests on-site.
I predict: Within five years, consumers will have 3D printers at home and will be able to download designs from a store’s website. They will be able to customize options such as style, fit, pattern, size, 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, instead starting with things such as lost buttons, and accessories, then moving to clothing as it becomes more mass-market.
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 a dreamer? Are you shaking your head? Think of the consumer appeal. I think 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. Before the 1850’s, consumers instructed tailors on what to make for them; then designers started dictating trends such as the new leather suspenders for men. However, as Millennials grow as consumers, so might 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 print 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 five 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.
Author: Olivia Allan (Associate Member – FGI Toronto)
Olivia Allan is a Fashion Buying professional based in Toronto, Ontario. Originally from Vancouver, BC, she spent two years learning the ropes of the fashion industry in Milan, completing a Masters in Fashion Buying, and working in the Milan Buying Office for a major North American luxury department store, before returning to Canada in 2014. Olivia is passionate about travel, fashion, and food, and shares her stories on her blog FLIGHTS|FASHION|FOOD, and her photos on Instagram @flightsfashionfood.