Need a new pair of shoes? No problem! Create your own design or buy one that you like, and print them out at home or in a print shop.
It sounds like a dream, but that’s what the shopping/manufacturing process should look like in the future with the advancement of 3D printing technology. This technology can revolutionize manufacturing from top to bottom, transferring control of the entire production process from fashion companies to consumers. Today, many designers create extraordinary things with 3D printing.
Continuum is a San Francisco-based startup that produced the first completely 3D-printed, ready-to-wear item of clothing–a swimsuit. This company stands above other 3D-printed fashion companies, because they didn’t create a prototype or a piece of art, but a practical clothing item that can be mass-produced.
Continuum was founded in 2009 by Mary Huang and Jenna Fizel. The two met while Huang was interning at Small Design Firm Inc. in Cambridge, MA. They used Kickstarter to get the company off the ground, receiving more than $10,000 in donations.
The name of the swimsuit is the “N12 Bikini,” named for its material, nylon 12, which is a solid material that holds in form, but is flexible enough to bend without breaking when printed very thin. All of the pieces are made by 3D printing and snap together without any sewing. It is a very functional bikini because it is waterproof and comfortable when wet.
Continuum’s product line is not limited to just bikinis; they have also created a 3D-printed shoe collection,“strvct,“ with 3D-printed nylon.
“This represents the first affordable design that will lead the way for more items fabricated using 3D printing technologies.” says Mary Huang.
Is N12 the future of fashion?
Yes, it is the future of fashion; but it is a future that is still years from become a reality. Let’s talk about why.
3D printers can’t print using cloth, nor can they use multiple materials for one item. This would be a significant breakthrough, taking 3D printing to a whole new level. 3D printing companies have invested heavily in the research, but the technology is not there yet.
A bikini top on Continuum’s website costs between $250 and $300, and shoes cost around $900 per pair. It is not affordable, yet the bikini pieces are quite small. The bigger the item, the more expensive it is to print; so a dress will wind up costing quite a lot. And still, creating special materials for 3D printing is much more expensive than buying raw materials.
There is no doubt that 3D printing technology will change fashion someday, but it’s not there yet. I’m sure it is only a matter of time, and we are just in the beginning of a new age in the fashion industry.