The long supply chain and low marginality have created another dead-end strategy of mass market fashion, overproduction. Each year, we produce 150 billion units of clothing. This would be enough to provide 20 garments to each person living on the planet. Statistics show that about 21% of all garments remain unworn or are thrown out brand new. Every year, an average US resident throws out 70 lbs (31 kg) 1 of textile garments.
The majority of these garments is hard to recycle and easily salvage because chemical dyes and artificial materials are used in the process of manufacturing. But such is the economic reality of the contemporary supply chain. For the fashion corporations, the profit from overproduction (cost per item, avoiding risks from shortage, inflexible size chart) is much greater than the risks of failing to satisfy the demand. This puts a significant strain on the environment, and makes the fashion industry the world’s third largest industrial polluter after oil and gas.
THE RULES OF THE ‘ANALOG WORLD’
Whatever computer or other innovative solutions offered by vendors and developers, the necessity of transporting the fabrics, trims and finished products invariably leads to the situation, in which the logistics, sustainability, customization, return or recycling of the purchased garment have to follow the rules of the “analog world”. This is why we believe in the future potential of digital fashion, on-demand production and, in particular, 3D printing clothes production that, with time, can become a notable sustainable tech alternative to mass production and global sourcing.
3D PRINTING, SOLVING THE CORE PROBLEM OF SOURCING
The active development, cost-cutting and market penetration of 3D printers make them one of the most promising instruments for the fast-paced development of local manufacturing. Moreover, the 3D printer design can solve the core problem of sourcing: you won’t have to search for the right fabric with the right print and qualities, as the printer will impart the necessary properties in the process of printing the fabric.
Successful resolution of this essential problem will enable the full-scale move from the analogue part of the garment manufacturing process to the digital format. It will be sufficient to send the necessary data, which we call a digital package or an improved techpack, if you will, in order to start manufacturing the garment: the digital package will contain the garment pattern, and the fabric’s qualities and design. The rest will be done by the printer.
Since the start of 3D printing’s explosive development, the idea of fashion industry’s transformation has been on the minds of both the futurists and hi-tech adherents. 3D printing innovations have been a subject of intense discussion for seven years already, and yet there’s been no dramatic transformation of the fashion market. So when will these changes finally come about? We are doing this primarily because recently we’ve noticed a trend towards acceleration of this niche’s development.
FROM DEVELOPING OF THE RADAR TO MAKING SUCCESSFUL BREAKTHROUGHS
As it usually happens with innovation, the first attempts at 3D printing, dating back to the late 1970s, didn’t seem promising and were rejected by the corporate leaders of that time. Thus, the 3D printing technology would develop off the radar, and only entered the mass market in the late 2000s. Several distinct 3D printing technologies, such as the Power bed, Light polymerization, and Extrusion, began to be used by companies that required swift prototyping of parts and other engineering projects. The latter of the mentioned technologies, the method of “printing” successive layers create 3D models, made a mass-market breakthrough, and by 2009 it went from being a hi tech lab technology to being a household one.
Over the last five years, the cost of a 3D printer fell from $20,000 to $1,000-2,000 or lower, and this created the impetus for an extensive DIY movement of people who manually assemble 3D printers. Thus, the printer itself stopped being an innovation or an exclusive right of the large corporations. This was the moment when fashion appeared somewhere on the horizon. The idea is that with the advent of 3D printing everyone could manufacture his own clothes independently, instead of using the fruits of labor of a thousand seamstresses working in some sweatshop. Such approach would be much more expedient and sustainable. See for yourself: right now, the clothing item is spending six months travelling from the fashion designer’s sketch to the Fashionista’s wardrobe.
3D printing allows the consumers to download (buy) the design of the brand’s website and to immediately begin the item’s printing. Of course, today the printing of one dress would require 50-100 hours of printer’s work, but this number continues to decline with every day at the speed of printing is gathering pace. The successful breakthrough in the sphere of 3D printed clothes will come after overcoming what seems to be the final barrier — the material that will be used by the 3D printer for such operation.
Contemporary 3D printers print objects from flexible plastics that resemble the mixture of plastic with rubber or neoprene. But this is just the beginning. There have been recent attempts to “print” a fully functional fabric, and they will definitely continue. These technologies and products demonstrate that the market is still in its infancy, and that radical transformations are “just around the corner.”
In part 3 of ‘3D Printed Business of Fashion Business’ Sharecloth founder Sergey Moliavko will be exploring MARKETS ALREADY AFFECTED BY 3D PRINTING.
**Sharecloth has been developing the technology of digital fabric simulation, apparel 3D-rendering and SaaS solutions since 2013. If you can’t wait for the next installment, then please feel free to download their White Paper in its entirety here. **
Sergey Moliavko is co-founder of ShareCloth.com, a fashion tech startup provides solutions for fashion 3D-printing and 3D-retail. For the last 7 years since he founded DressUp.ua, a marketplace for Eastern Europe emerging fashion brands, and he also ran few fashion tech startups in e-commerce and digital marketing.