The technology presently available to fashion designers is pushing the possibilities of creation to unheard-of heights.
At the turn of the twentieth century, a couple of brothers were tinkering with concepts of flying, and scientists were discovering how to cheaply produce aluminum. If this lightweight, breakthrough metal hadn’t been available to the brothers in 1903, their first plane would have been too heavy for liftoff, and flight would have had to wait. Innovation, as history has proven, can occur only when the science is there to support it. That’s why, at Audi, our core belief, “progress though technology,” drives the development and design of every single one of our vehicles. The Audi TT received an interior design overhaul because of recent advances in computer technology. By replacing the traditional dashboard of knobs and gauges with a digitized LCD screen, we turned it into a virtual cockpit. As innovators, we are always on the lookout for people and ideas that push the boundaries of design and technology—reminding us, like those two famous brothers did—that if you can dream it, you can build it.
The cutting-edge work that’s been getting the bulk of our attention lately is coming from the fashion industry. A few visionary designers have been creating Jetson-esque pieces—everything from jewelry to sneakers to haute couture—using 3D printing machines, something unthinkable just a few years ago. Fashion’s most interesting prints are no longer paisleys or zigzags but printouts—complex, customizable, and seamless—built layer upon layer by a computer.
Innovation, as history has proven, can occur only when the science is there to support it.
Fashion designers at every level are adopting this technology because it lets them maintain a level of control over their ideas and a complexity of design that would otherwise be unachievable. Designers at large companies and corporations are especially fond of a type of 3D printing known as additive manufacturing. As the name implies, the process of printing adds material (rather than cuts it away) to produce the final shape. The idea of additive manufacturing has even made its way to high-end sneakers. One celebrated manufacturer started using it in a high-profile launch last year. Its additive process stitched together the upper portion of the shoe, then attached the tongue and sole together, all in midair. Because the printer builds so precisely, material and overhead costs are drastically reduced, creating tremendous cost savings. It’s not hard to see why the potential of additive printing is so attractive to businesses of scale. The possibilities inherent in this technology are self-evident. It really does have the potential to change the way we make just about anything.
Up-and-coming designers and small shops are adopting the additive printing model to create designs by way of desktop printing. The machines are simple to use and about the size of a large microwave, perfect for one-offs and small runs. These consumer-friendly printers give smaller enterprises the ability to print exactly to order. This means fewer overruns or unsold stock—minimizing risk and failure in a way not possible before. Jewelers also see the immense potential of this technology. So much of the work can be done with computer-aided design (CAD) that they no longer have to take off-the-shelf parts and weld them for their prototypes. Not only is there no one hunched over a work bench, there’s much less waste. Experts see this being able to save massive amounts in material and labor costs alone.
Desktop printing gives real freedom to designers to produce a few trial units, rather than a line of thousands, and create tangible products that might have only lived as a sketch on paper.
3D printing has the potential to change the way we make almost anything.
The broadest and most ubiquitous printing technology available to garmentos (those active in the garment industry) today is 3D printing—a catchall that encompasses a wide range of processes, materials and products. 3D printing isn’t at the same scale as additive printing, but it’s still more complex than desktop printing, so fashion designers often require help from those more technologically savvy. For example, one of Holland’s leading designers began working with a design and research company to produce a collection of laser-sintered nylon heels that feel so unique they defy the word “shoe.” Another pioneer in the fashion world is working with an architect and 3D printers to create the first 3D-printed dress for a burlesque performer. The result of their fruitful collaboration is a wearable, ravishing futuristic frock—the kind you might just be able to print in a department store one day.
The technology presently available to fashion designers is pushing the possibilities of creation to unheard-of heights. Whether the process adds or takes away material, whether the product is made of nylon or silver, or whether the object is a prototype or product, the result is the same: flawless designs and replicas available at the touch of a button. Hold on to your downloaded hat—the future has officially arrived.