The future of luxury fashion, customisable, bespoke designs may soon be accessible to all. The Digital Hack Lab’s project explores 3D printed garments.
In the near future you may be reading this while drinking your coffee from a cup you have printed out, reading with spectacles you have designed that are fresh from the printer and those handy earbuds you are using to listen to music? Yes they too are likely to be 3D printed. What’s left you may be asking? The clothes you are wearing, they too may be 3D printed if the modeclix project of Shaun Borstrock and Mark Bloomfield takes off.
Borstrock is Associate Dean Business, Innovation and Projects, Head of Design and the Design Research Group / Digital Hack Lab at the University of Hertfordshire, while Bloomfield is Visiting Professor of Design in The School of Creative Arts. Bloomfield is also founder of electrobloom, a company combining traditional craft and 3D print manufacturing to create flora-inspired jewelry. Bloomfield has designed for fashion luminaries such as Vivienne Westwood, Paul Smith and Matthew Williamson and created work for films including the Titanic, Judge Dredd and Braveheart.
Using the 3D printing method of selective laser sintering, the modeclix project has developed a way of printing wholly customizable clothes.
Technologies of customisation
With a specialism in exploring ideas and expressions of luxury, Borstrock has consulted for brands such as Thomas Pink, Ford, Fortnum and Mason and The British Luxury Council. ‘Looking at luxury brands, and the patterns that are emerging, a lot of them aren’t really technologically focused,’ says Borstrock. ‘Yet technology is having a big impact on the way we consume, so for this project I was reflecting on luxury and customisation, luxury and bespoke, and all those words that are attributed to luxury when it is defined.’
The technology of 3D printing was invented by American engineer Charles Hull in the early 1980s, he named it ‘stereolithography’, creating an object from digital data. The actual object is constructed layer-by-layer as a liquid photopolymer is cooled and shaped by a UV laser. In the 1990s the first human human organ – a bladder –was grown by scientists at Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine, in North Carolina, creating a 3D printed synthetic scaffold coated with the cells of the person receiving the organ.
While selective laser sintering was also originally invented and patented in the early 1980s (by Carl R. Deckard at the University of Texas) it wasn’t until 2006 that it became commercially viable. Unlike stereolithography, which uses amorphous solids that become liquid-like, selective laser sintering generates objects created from powders using atomic diffusion, fusing material. And now it has been reported that NASA is attempting to make a zero-gravity 3D printer so astronauts can print out their own pizza.
From sculpture to clothes
In 2013, designer Iris van Herpen collaborated with a 3D printer company to produce a collection for Paris Fashion week. In the main, the catwalk fashion clothes produced so far with 3D printing have been much more sculptural. ‘Those clothes are made on a similar machine to ours,’ explains Borstrock, ‘using the selective laser sintering machine but they are very sculptural and have absolutely no movement. Ours is the first fully customised and fluid textile ever produced. The focus for us was always about flexibility, fluidity, drape, and we can do all those things that you would do with a normal knitted textile – but with a 3D printed textile.’
The modeclix garment can be made into anything. ‘It can all can be pulled apart, and then it can all be put together, it’s fully customisable,’ says Borstrock. ‘Depending on whether someone is bigger or smaller, we can take links out or add links in,’ hence the name modeclix. ‘We can put the colours together in different ways that start to look like a print. If you have a long dress and want to change it, you can take half of it off and make it into a short dress.’
As a manufacturing method it reduces waste, any powder left over in the process is re-used and any damaged parts can simply be replaced. As much as it is a fashion prototype, Modeclix is a prototype to generate interest in wider possibilities of manufacturing. ‘We started in fashion,’ says Borstrock, ‘because we knew it would possibly attract the biggest audience – which it has.’