5 Minute ReadNYFW: Sylvia Heisel on Sustainability, Functionality and Wearability

This season, the New York Fashion Week experience included one of the most recognised pioneers of Fashion Technology, Sylvia Heisel.

With so much going on during New York Fashion Week, we made it our mission to find a moment to have a chat with Sylvia Heisel.  The early adopter of wearable technology is not about the trends, instead she is all about the movement of combining sustainability, functionality and wearability.

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This fashion week season, Heisel’s installation and presentation of her 3D printed clothing and accessories aroused our curiosity and we wanted to hear more.

IN A FEW WORDS COULD YOU TELL US WHAT INSPIRED YOUR PRESENTATION OF 3D PRINTED CLOTHES AND ACCESSORIES?

The 3D printed clothes we’ve been working on have been shown at a few tech and 3D printing events around the world this year but not many people in fashion had seen them. We were given the opportunity to exhibit during NYFW and wanted to show them to the fashion community and start getting feedback from that community.

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WHAT WAS YOUR THINKING BEHIND NOT USING MODELS TO SHOWCASE YOUR COLLECTION?

We felt it was important for visitors to touch and feel the clothes. 3D printing is very new and most people have never actually seen a 3D printed garment. We wanted them to be able to experience the clothes themselves and understand how wearable they are rather than just seeing them on a model.

3D PRINTING, TREND OR FUTURE OF THE FASHION INDUSTRY?

I think 3D printing clothes will be an alternate production method for fashion. It won’t replace sewing, but there will be new clothes that could not have existed before.

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AS A DESIGNER WHO CHAMPIONS SUSTAINABILITY, WHAT MANUFACTURING METHODS DO YOU — USE WHEN MAKING SUSTAINABLE CLOTHES?

Beyond our use of 3D printing, we work with a lot of organic and recycled textiles and we research and try to be transparent about all our materials and manufacturing. We’re constantly asking the suppliers and factories, we work with, how the products are made and what are they made of and we’ll walk away from materials and manufacturing that doesn’t meet our standards of sustainability.

“3D printing adds a new way to make clothes and a new way to design that’s free of some of the restrictions imposed by traditional materials”

WHAT NEW MATERIALS HAVE YOU WORKED WITH RECENTLY AND WHY THOSE MATERIALS?

We’re experimenting with a lot of new 3D printing filaments that are very biodegradable, far beyond PLA. So far the results are mixed. We have some very funny stories about bio-plastics that print beautifully, but smell like dog-poop and less funny stories about biofilaments with badass textures that clog our printers. That said, there are some amazing new materials coming into the marketplace and we’re really excited about them. Beyond 3D printing, we’re exploring with lasers, heat-press applications for electronics and nano-coated materials.

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AS 3D PRINTING IS MORE ADOPTED BY FASHION DESIGNERS, WHAT DO YOU PREDICT TO BE THE FUTURE OF THIS FASHION TECH INNOVATION?

3D printing adds a new way to make clothes and a new way to design that’s free of some of the restrictions imposed by traditional materials. Most clothing is still designed in 2D and based on flat pieces that can be sewn together. Once you start creating designs in 3D and letting go of the restrictions implied by fabric and sewing, there’s a lot of new fashion that can happen.

“3D printing clothes will be an alternate production method for fashion”

WHEN IT COMES TO CREATING FUNCTIONAL FASHION, IN WHAT AREAS DO YOU THINK THE INDUSTRY COULD BE DOING BETTER?

I think we need to spend a lot more time learning who our customers really are and listening to what they want and need. 

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WITH SO MANY COLLABORATIONS TAKING PLACE BETWEEN FASHION AND TECHNOLOGY, WHO WOULD YOU LOVE TO COLLABORATE WITH?

I’ve worked in luxury and/or advanced tech fashion most of my career but I would love to collaborate with a large global manufacturer. Fast fashion isn’t going to disappear and there are more people to dress every day so the prospect of bringing technology to the big fashion companies is exciting to me. On the technology end, we’ve been working on a lot of ideas for smart clothes and it would be amazing to partner with a technology company that could turn them into reality.

WITH SO MANY DEFINITIONS OUT THERE, HOW WOULD YOU DEFINE FASHION TECHNOLOGY?

The application of scientific knowledge to the advancement and improvement of fashion, clothing and wearables.

WOULD YOU CONSIDER YOURSELF A FASHION TECH DESIGNER, A MATERIAL DESIGNER? (OR NEITHER)

I consider myself a fashion designer who works with new materials and manufacturing methods.

Sylvia Heisel
Sylvia Heisel

WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON TECHNOLOGY BEING — USED AS A RETAIL TECH TOOL DURING FASHION WEEK? HAS IT BEEN IMPLEMENTED CORRECTLY?

I love that there is so much experimentation and innovation in this area. A lot of it feels very gimmicky right now, but that’s better than not trying.

SUSTAINABLE FASHION HAS COME A LONG WAY, WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON THE ROLE SUSTAINABILITY WILL PLAY IN THE FUTURE OF FASHION?

Fashion is such a huge industry and currently such a huge global polluter that sustainability and a circular economic model have to happen if we are to survive as a species.

“I consider myself a fashion designer that works with new materials and manufacturing methods”

BEING AWARE OF THE ABSENCE OF A PROPER SUPPLY CHAIN FOR FASHION TECH WEARABLES, IF YOU’D HAVE A MAGIC WAND, WHAT WOULD BE AMONG THE FIRST THINGS YOU’D CHANGE?

There is a giant gap between the tech and fashion worlds right now. Clothing designers and manufacturers don’t know how to integrate electronics and industrial designers and manufacturers don’t understand the fashion industry. Anything that would connect these two industries would be amazing.

WHAT SHOULD WE EXPECT FROM YOU IN THE COMING MONTHS?

We’re going forwards with 3D printed clothing and building our own printers that will (hopefully) make the manufacturing process faster and allow us to create more styles!

Want to read more about tech at NYFW? Catch up HERE.

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