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3-D Printing and its potential to disrupt Fashion Industry

There is a lot of buzz around 3-D printing in the Fashion Industry. Some pioneering work has been done by designers like Iris Van Herpen or Designer Technologist Mary Huang led Continuum which allows designers to create and print 3-D printed dresses, shoes etc. Some other noteworthy efforts are being done by fashion tech company like Shapeways and entrepreneurs like Bryan Oknyansky via his venture Shoes by Bryan which allows you to 3-D print perfectly wearable heels wearing which you can chase the bus! We present our view on 3-D printing and its potential to disrupt Fashion Industry.

Some of the cool links to checkout to get updates about 3-D printing in Fashion Industry are –

Interlaced, Huffington Post and Fashionista.

However, it’s still a buzzword and not yet mainstream. Some of the pluses and minuses in my opinion of this technology and its potential to disrupt the fashion industry are as follows –

The Positives

1. Quick Prototyping

One of the biggest problems that fashion industry is grappling with is long product development lead times. In this era of fast fashion, online and digital shopping, most of the fashion brands are grappling with the problem of reducing lead time involved from conception to sampling to shop floor ready products. 3-D Printing holds immense potential to solve that big problem by allowing quick product iterations and prototyping.

2. Low Minimums

Another important problem 3-D printing has the potential to solve is the issue of order minimums for sampling. With a 3-D printer you don’t need to cater to any sampling order minimums. You can just print even one piece. This holds huge cost saving potential for relieving the ever increasing downward pressure on prices in the fashion and apparel industry.

3. Customization

The flexibility and customization that’s possible using digital 3-D printing to create several versions of product iterations before doing the final prototype has a huge time and cost saving potential. When physically making samples using fabric and accessories, you can only create a limited number of product / color variations. With 3-D technology it becomes much easier and quick to do so.

4. Low set up barrier

Well you don’t need a factory with workers, sewing machines, production facilities to create prototypes and products when going 3-D. Even a single person / designer / entrepreneur could create his own prototypes / samples as long as he knows how to operate a 3-D printer and can own one. With 3-D printers available at reasonable costs by companies like Makerbot the entry barrier to set up your own full-fledged prototyping and sampling operations becomes quite simple and easy. No batch setting hassles, no minimums etc. All you need is a single 3-D printer!

5. Accessories Yes

Accessories present a huge opportunity to create and sell products using 3-D printing technology. Jewelry, Belts, Bags, Accessories etc. do not have issues that clothing presents, that of fitting, body contouring, draping, silhouette etc. With 3-D printing extending to not just plastic but also metals and even porcelain, the possibilities are endless. Designers could even play around with apparel accessories like buttons, zipper pullers, buckles etc. which in itself is a huge industry.

The Negatives

1. Material Constraints especially for Clothing

3-D printed dress

When it comes to clothing, the ball game is very different. You need to see how the garment fits you, how it looks on you. Is it breathable? Is it Machine Washable? I still cannot imagine myself wearing a plastic dress or gown. I could probably use it as a statement piece or highlight of the entire outfit like a jacket on top. But Clothing that can be used for daily wear using 3D printing is still far away. Lot of research is happening to create 3-D printer friendly material which can imitate soft fabrics, however it is still early days. The element of look, touch and feel and the very real human interaction needed to make a fashion clothing purchase poses challenges which 3-D printing needs to address.

2. Virtual versus Actual touch and feel

The idea of creating 3-D printed products is logically tied to the idea of selling on line. While Digital shopping is on the rise mainly due to the sheer availability and convenience factor, the digital shopping experience still cannot fulfill the need of a customer to actually see, touch, feel and try on the garment before making a purchase decision. The disappointment of ‘wow it looked so good on screen’ but looks ‘different from what I imagined’ in real life is a problem which needs to be tackled. The gap between the ‘virtual’ and the ‘actual’ needs to be bridged.

3. Costs of digital versus traditional product

While Speed to market is a very powerful advantage that 3-D printing technology offers. The overall costs are still too high, when compared to producing a garment using low cost labor sourcing. It seems justified too as in it provides employment to millions of workers worldwide and sustains many a Nations. Why the need to displace all those jobs and livelhihoods?

I am optimistic and excited about the possibilities that 3-D offers. More importantly I see the use of 3-D digital printing in the product development and prototyping design process stage rather than actual production of garments for mass consumption. It would be interesting to see how this technology shapes and up and how it impacts the Fashion industry which is a bit slow in embracing new technologies to begin with.

Anjuli Gopalakrishna

#fashiontech, #3Dprinting, #innovation

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  • Anjuli Gopalakrishna

    I am digital marketer who is passionate about helping small businesses with 'out of the box' ideas to acquire new leads and customers leveraging digital marketing technology. I have a background in the fashion industry in marketing and merchandising with leading brands such as Tommy Hilfiger, J C Penney, and Li and Fung. I am a certified facilitator with ACTA certification from Singapore WDA. I provide consulting, digital marketing and training services to companies to help them make the most of digital marketing.

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