3D Printing Innovation for the Garment Manufacturing Industry

3D Printing to Revolutionize the Garment Manufacturing Industry

Imagine walking into a clothing store, having a digital scan and walking out with a custom-made garment tailored just for your body. Perhaps you’d prefer to create a template with a CAD program or by hand, select a fabric solution and color, then print your own custom design. Thanks to advances in 3D fabric printing technology, this dream is now a reality.

The first 3D printed apparel designs were already hitting the runway in 2010, thanks to Dutch designer Iris van Herpen, but the emphasis then was more on structure and elaborate embellishment than wearability. Early garments felt more like a suit of armor than clothing.

One such striking design is Anouk Wipprecht’s futuristic Spider Dress. Incorporating a 3D printed bodice with animatronics and biometrics, the spidery arms around the neck react to the stress levels and body language of the wearer and move accordingly. Though designers will always be intrigued with the ornate and unusual, they agree that wearable 3D printed fabrics will be a game changer for the fashion industry in general.

The unveiling of the Electroloom prototype at the Alternative Apparel’s Grant for Sustainability in Design & Technology competition in 2013 marked the first significant advance in apparel manufacturing since the industrial revolution. The first 3D fabric printer of its kind uses an electric field to deposit nano fibers on a template, creating a flexible, seamless fabric. On May 15, 2016, its developers launched it on Kickstarter for its first round of alpha testing, with the hope of making 3D clothing printers available for home use.

3D printed garments and shoes are already becoming available for sale through some manufacturers. Ministry of Supply, a Boston-based menswear company founded in 2012 by MIT students, recently created a seamless, 3D knitted jacket that will retail for $250.00. It features four-way stretch, moisture wicking properties and integrated pockets and lapels.

Under Armour, a manufacturer of athletic wear, launched the first 3D printed athletic shoe in March of 2016 retailing for 299.99.

Yeh Group, a manufacturer of specialty garments and fabrics based in Thailand, is currently engaged in an 18 month project with Loughborough University in the UK to develop 3D printing technology for the garment industry. It’s an exciting prospect.

Traditionally, the manufacture of clothing and shoes is a subtractive process involving cutting and waste. The additive technology of 3D printing applies only the needed material to the template, eliminating waste and the time-consuming process of sewing. Prepare for 3D printing and knitting technologies to revolutionize the entire fabric and apparel manufacturing industry.