The term “fast fashion” is poised to take on a whole new meaning, thanks to a breakthrough in three-dimensional printing that could revolutionize the way clothing and shoes are made. Researchers at Loughborough University in London, in collaboration with Thailand’s Yeh Group and an unnamed “major fashion house,” are embarking on an 18-month project to create customized garments in under 24 hours. Advances in so-called “additive manufacturing,” the industrial form of 3D printing, have made it possible to produce 3D-printed garments from polymers in a single manufacturing operation, according to Guy Bingham, senior lecturer in product and industrial design at Loughborough University. Not only does this technology have the potential to reduce waste, water, labor, and carbon emissions, he says, but it can also make bespoke apparel an affordable reality.
FASHION ON DEMAND
The rise of cheap and disposable clothes, while profitable for their retailers, hasn’t been kind to the planet, not to mention the people who make them.
In the United States alone, consumers buy about 20 billion pieces of clothing a year—that’s roughly 68 items per person. We’re also throwing away a lot. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Americans chuck at least 12.7 million tons of textiles into the garbage annually.
While textile-recycling schemes divert some of that waste, Bingham says 3D printing can bring another solution to the table, one that reduces fashion’s footprint from the start.
“With 3D printing there is no limit to what you can build and it is this design freedom which makes the technology so exciting by bringing to life what was previously considered to be impossible,” he said in a statement. “This landmark technology allows us as designers to innovate faster and create personalized, ready-to-wear fashion in a digital world with no geometrical constraints and almost zero waste material.”
Three-dimensional printing could also do away with ill-fitting clothes and shoes. Customers of the future could upload body scans to online stores, for instance, and eliminate the guesswork of sizing.
“Printing clothes using [additive manufacturing] will revolutionize the fashion industry worldwide by opening up digital manufacturing to the masses via online retail, bringing a much needed update to 19th century techniques and processes,” Bingham said. “This modern approach to clothing production helps meet the growing demand for personalized apparel and footwear which through 3D printing can be produced in a sustainable and ethical way.”