3D Printers Pursue High Fashion

“3D printed clothing will take 5-20 years to mature, but it's not about being perfect,” said Mary Huang, who has created 3D printed bikinis and sandals. “It's so much better than what's been done for 100 years.”

She sketched out some of the opportunities and challenges ahead as the fashion industry lumbers into the digital age in a talk at the Designers of Things conference here.

“We live in the age of software, so why shouldn't fashion be digital?” said Huang, founder of the R&D company Continuum Fashion. “Clothes have been made by hand, a process that is representative of the last century.” The chief hurdles today are in manufacturing.

Huang helped develop a program that lets consumers create dresses using their own patterns. In a crowdfunded pilot program, a Google Glass evangelist used the program to design a Windows Vista dress. A Canadian painter designed a dress that blended into one of her paintings. Thousands of users created custom dress designs, but the problem was making them.

The software Huang helped create flattens the designs so they can be traced on material, cut out, and sewn. However, assembling the clothing was still a cumbersome manual process. “It took 40 hours to sew all those triangles.”

Mary Huang shows a sandal she designed, 3D printed, and wore at the Designers of Things event.

Mary Huang shows a sandal she designed, 3D printed, and wore at the Designers of Things event.

Early shoebox-sized 3D printers could not handle a dress. Even today the supported materials are very expensive and lack the feel of clothing fabrics. “A plastic dress is not that great, but a nylon bikini was OK,” said Huang of a series of designs Continuum created using a custom program for packing 3D cells of different sizes into a 3D printed fabric.

Next page: Not ready for prime time — yet

Today's clothes industry still relies on manual processes and high-volume production methods. The automated techniques that could replace them are still in their infancy and geared for other uses, Huang said. “3D printing is really cheap for mechanical engineering prototypes and really expensive for making consumer products. All the manufacturing behind this totally sucks.”

To read the rest of this article, visit EBN sister site EETimes.

13 comments on “3D Printers Pursue High Fashion

  1. Eldredge
    September 24, 2014

    Very interesting design illustrated by the shoe in this article – can/was  the wearers' foot scanned to ensure a good fit? If not, it seems like that would be a logical application.

  2. ahdand
    September 25, 2014

    @eldridge: Im not sure whether they can get the exact fit with the scanning of the foot of the user. 

  3. Ashu001
    September 25, 2014


    What I have personally noticed (when I am trying Shoes) is that the Personal feel matters more(much more than the Look of the Shoe I am trying out).

    Similarly even here if you could Scan the Shoe it won't have the optimum effect for Most Discerning Consumers.

    Would it?


  4. Hailey Lynne McKeefry
    September 25, 2014

    @eldredge, as someone who has narrow feet, i think that's a great idea. I always having trouble finding shoes that fit properly.

  5. Hailey Lynne McKeefry
    September 25, 2014

    I was at the Designer of Things conference with Rick and heard a fellow named Aaron Rowley talk about his startup, called Electroloom.  He studied biomedical engineering and took a technology called used there, called electrospinning, which combs solid fibers out of liquid. He is working toward printing fabric. What struck me was how complex this was: you have to figure out what it should be made of, then there is color and design, and also washability and more. he said “A couple of months ago, we made a fully seamless fabric that was breathable, soft, foldable, and had water resistant properties.” I agree that we are years out on this being a reael thing, but it really is coming along.

  6. Eldredge
    September 25, 2014

    @tech4people – I was hoping that scanning thw wearers foot first would help to address personnel feel – although I admit I wasn't very clear on that point. I wonder if it would work?

  7. Eldredge
    September 25, 2014

    @Hailey – interesting concept for makng fabric – I hope his startup is successful.

  8. Hailey Lynne McKeefry
    September 25, 2014

    It turns out that they are headquartered only a couple of miles from my office here in Northern California so i'll keep an eye on them and let you know how it evolves!

  9. Eldredge
    September 25, 2014

    Please do! I'm not exactly a fashion plate, but the technology is facinating.

  10. Hailey Lynne McKeefry
    September 25, 2014


    Here's a photo of one of Electrolooms first efforts.

  11. Himanshugupta
    September 26, 2014

    that looks really cool! Thanks Hailey.

  12. t.alex
    September 28, 2014

    I agreed that 3D printer is a very innovative concept however it don't think it's going to be a big thing in the fashion industry just yet. Cost is still very high and I'm unsure how many people going to adapt this new technilogy just yet. 

  13. Hailey Lynne McKeefry
    September 29, 2014

    t.alex, industry pundits agree with you, but in five to ten years, it's likely to be commonplace.

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