Mar 28, 2016 | By Kira
When you think of sustainable clothing, you’re likely to think of organic cotton, local manufacturing, or even entire movements such as the ‘slow fashion’ trend. But 3D printed carbon fiber, Ninjaflex, and soldered garments? They don’t exactly scream ‘sustainable’, never mind ‘high fashion’. New York-based fashion designer Sylvia Heisel, however, wants us to see things otherwise.
Heisel’s work is an ongoing exploration into how technology and new materials can be integrated with design to create sustainable, one-of-a-kind and truly wearable pieces. Together with her husband and design partner Scott Taylor, she has created several 3D printed garments, including a carbon fiber dress and a stunning 3D printed coat made from Ninjaflex flexible filament.
3Ders.org spoke with Taylor and Heisel to learn more about wearable technology, sustainable manufacturing, and the opportunities and limitations of 3D printing as the future of fashion.
Scott & Sylvia
Heisel is an established fashion designer, creative director and design consultant. Although she started in traditional women’s evening wear, she became “obsessed with new technologies” and was an early adopter of wearable tech, new materials, and digital manufacturing as they relate to the fashion industry.
As for Taylor, he followed a somewhat unusual path towards 3D printing as an artistic medium. His early career began in New York’s club and events business, however by the 1990s, he had found a new passion in welding, and began to create and exhibit large-scale welded steel sculptures and installations.
He and Heisel began working together artistically roughly six years ago, founding Post Modern Production, a company that creates luxury promotional products and displays for premium brands, integrating contemporary design, culture and, of course, new technologies. A few years ago, while attending a Maker Faire, they discovered and were immediately drawn to 3D printing.
Heisel, who described herself as “numbers and data driven” had been interested in sustainable fashion for some time, and knew from her research that integrating new technologies and pursuing wearable tech was the way to go. “Fashion is always supposed to be about what’s new, but there’s nothing ‘new’ that’s ever really happening. What’s new is what you can do with new technologies,” she explained.
“Here’s this giant industry where there’s so many issues in terms of sustainability, labor issues, and yet we’re not exploring enough of the new ways to make things. Approaching that as a fashion designer, I think 3D printing is an amazing new way of making things, and that’s where my base interest began.”
With a design aesthetic geared towards simplicity and minimalism, and the goal of discovering truly ‘new’ and sustainable clothing, Heisel and Taylor set out to explore the possibilities of 3D printed fashion using only standard, FDM desktop machines and commercially available yet specialized 3D printing materials.
3D Printing x Carbon Fiber Clothing
One of their first 3D printed garments was a unique dress that is actually made from carbon fiber—Proto-pasta’s carbon fiber composite PLA, to be exact. “A problem with a lot of 3D printing is that it looks like crappy plastic,” explained Taylor, whose appreciation for metal was more than apparent. “But when we discovered Proto-pasta, they had this beautiful matte finish that just looked great. They have an iron that’s magnetic and rusts, a stainless steel…materials that actually look like metals. It makes all the difference in the appearance of the clothes.”
The carbon fiber 3D printed dress consists of individually printed ‘links’ that Taylor pieced together. The result is an intricately detailed mesh-like surface that, though made from one of the strongest and most durable materials on earth, still manages to flow with the movement of the body. It’s sleek, matte black finish adds to the futuristic yet minimal look.
Heisel and Taylor also designed and 3D printed a ‘letter dress’ that consists of 3D printed squares featuring letters of the alphabet. Taylor connected each square with metal rings so that it spells out an apt message: “The best way to predict the future is to invent it.” Both the carbon fiber dress and 3D printed letter dress were designed and created in 2015, and have been on display at various fashion events, Maker Faires and exhibits in the New York City area.
Scott Taylor next to the 3D printed letter dress and Proto-pasta carbon mesh dress
NinjaFlex 3D Printed Dress and Coat
More recently, the design duo has been exploring even more novel 3D printing materials and techniques in an effort to combine sustainability, functionality, and true wearability. The result is a 3D printed dress and a 3D printed coat made entirely from Ninjaflex flexible filament. The pieces are gorgeously sleek, futuristic, and best of all, zero-waste.
Heisel explained that the Ninjaflex garments were 3D printed as flat patterns, much like traditional clothing, on a desktop 3D printer. Rather than being sewed together, however, the 3D printed ‘fabric’ is then physically welded to create a solid and durable garment. Made-to-order, the 3D printed garments require no excess material or seam allowances. Like the carbon fiber dress, they were also designed to flow with the body, and create an almost fluid sense of movement.
The Future of Fashion will be 3D Printed
Both Heisel and Taylor were very realistic when it came to addressing the limitations of 3D printed fashion today. First of all, it is prohibitively slow—the Ninjaflex coat, for example, took over 400 hours to 3D print alone—driving up production costs and making them impossible to mass-produce (for now).
There is also a significant learning curve as well as a gap between how things appear on-screen and how they actually come out in the physical world. “There’s so many learning curves in 3D printing right now,” said Heisel. “There’s so many limits to how well the machines work, and the materials, it’s all still very hands-on. I don’t think we’re at a stage where there is 100% digital design. Especially not with desktop machines.”
That being said, Heisel and Taylor’s commitment is to explore the possibilities and the potentials available today so that they can be improved on and developed tomorrow. By experimenting with every material, manufacturing process, and machine they can get their hands on, and by promoting 3D printing education and wearable technology amongst the next generation of fashion designers, they believe that affordable, commercially available, and truly sustainable fashion can and will become a reality.
“3D printing offers a way to integrate a lot of technologies going forward, in a way fabrics don’t, because you’ll be able to start controlling that some of the parts are more solid, some are more stretchy,” said Heisel.
“The goal is that we’re going to be able to have a small collection of pieces where you can 3D scan your body and have them printed-to-order, in your exact size, with zero material waste…Hopefully with 3D printing, you’re also going to be able to recycle it. If you get tired of a piece, you turn it back into filament and make something completely new. It’s about exploring all of this.”
At the moment, the duo is working on developing further 3D printed fashion pieces using Proto-pasta and Ninjaflex filaments, while also exhibiting their current collection at fashion and technology events around the world. They also hinted at upcoming projects that involve a completely new, 100% recyclable 3D printing filament.
Going even further, however, they imagine a future where designers aren’t 3D printing for the sake of 3D printing, but rather because it is a logical design choice. “When we make something that people don’t care whether it’s 3D printed, they’re just like ‘wow, that’s really cool looking,’ I think that’s the goal,” said Heisel. “It has to be great fashion on its own,” added Taylor. “If it happens to be 3D printed, well, that’s great too."
Posted in 3D Printing Application
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