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3D Printing and the Fashion Industry

3D Printing is all the rage today, its usefulness is being assessed and explored by all kinds of people with different backgrounds, from the wealthy, the nerdy, to engineering students and high school kids getting a better understanding of STEM education. A particular industry which has embraced 3D printing wholeheartedly is the fashion and design industry, where many young and innovative designers are exploring the potential of 3D printing for creating new and interesting designs.

It is gaining popularity!

It's not just young designers exploring the potential of 3D printing in fashion. 3D printing is being embraced by mainstream designers and the influencers of the fashion industry, such as designers like Karl Lagerfield and Iris Van Herpen. The upsurge in popularity of 3D printing is based on its accessibility and cost-effectiveness as a technology. 3D printing offers the opportunity to amateur designers and creative thinkers to build, at relatively low costs, interesting and often useful objects, designs or even parts of larger assemblies and machines. With the fashion industry looking towards 3D printing, its usage will eventually trickle to the masses.

Disruptive technology but legal issues

However, the upsurge in 3D printing's popularity also brings with it some legitimate concerns. Like any good innovation, 3D Printing is a hugely disruptive technology. A legitimate concern for the fast fashion industry is that 3D printing will be for the industry what the internet was for music, movies and videos. 3D printing holds the potential to be majorly disruptive to the fashion industry, especially if users are able to buy fabric and print out the designs they want. Not only do fashion houses face the potential to become obsolete, but legal issues relating to intellectual property, copyright infringement of designs, and a host of issues arise. Once users have a 3D printer, they only need to download a program that helps them create a certain outfit or design. In such cases, piracy and illegal distribution of designs is a huge concern.

Its potential for disruption is… unending

Another major disruption that 3D printing offers is on supply chains. Fast fashion competes on how soon a design can get from the drawing board or the runway to the store. Retail giants such as Zara or H&M specialize in exactly this, getting the latest designs to the masses at breakneck speed. With 3D printing, these carefully laid out and optimized supply chains can go for a toss. No need for overseas factories, no need for superior logistics, just-in-time or inventory management, just get some 3D printers, people to run those printers, designers to design things and cut out many of the processes that exist in the current supply chain. It sounds great, but the investments large retail corporations have made in infrastructure and supply chain processes could end up being huge sunk costs. Hopefully, the cost savings that 3D printing brings them could level out the playing field.

The Future of Fast Fashion

There is a silver lining though. Retail and design organizations that embrace 3D printing have the potential to reduce operational and supply chain costs substantially while offering expertise, creativity and flexibility to their customers. Most amateur users may be unable to print out clothes, shoes or accessories to the satisfactory quality. Such printing is likely to require technical expertise, and retail stores and fashion houses of the future may be able to leverage this by offering expertise from professional designers with a strong technical grasp of 3D printing technology and techniques.

It remains to be seen what role 3D printing will play in the future of the fashion and retail industry. There is, however, no doubt, that 3D printing offers many opportunities for innovation. How, the industry reacts to potential problems could very well define whether 3D printing reaches the pinnacle of its potential.

We recommend you attend this webinar "3D Printing: Customization for the Future" by Natacha Alpert, who have worked with iconic brands such as Nine West, Timberland, Reebok and Dr. Marten's. She is also the founder of Miras3d, a consulting company focusing on the bringing together of fashion and innovation - building and consulting for iconic brands with a vision to create innovative products.

It is a useful resource for people in the fashion and manufacturing industry planning to integrate 3D printing. You will understand the potential, impacts, challenges and opportunities of implementing 3D printing in your industry. This disruptive technology is here to bring a paradigm shift in the industry and you surely shouldn't be missing the boat.

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