3D Printing – The Impact On The Luxury Fashion Industry By The Lex Chapter

Florence is home to storied fashion houses who pride themselves on using traditional craftsmanship to create exquisite products, so it’s no surprise that they are averse to the idea of 3D printing. That said, it would be foolish to ignore what is being touted as the next big thing in manufacturing. At the Condé Nast International Luxury Conference, speakers Sophie Hackford of Wired Consulting and celebrated young designer Iris Van Herpen discussed the merits and risks of 3D printing.

Suzy Menkes, Iris van Herpen and Sophie Hackford at the Conde Nast International Luxury Conference in Florence, Italy (image courtesy of  Vittorio Zunino Celotto for Getty Images)

Suzy Menkes, Iris van Herpen and Sophie Hackford at the Conde Nast International Luxury Conference in Florence, Italy (image courtesy of Vittorio Zunino Celotto for Getty Images)

Firstly, 3D printing is a quick and accessible way to produce mass clothing, it is extremely useful for providing lower grade garments quickly. It would be an effective tool for providing shoes or waterproof clothing in LEDCs or disaster zones but with the rise of fast fashion, will 3D printing be providing clothes for the high street and catwalks too? If so, what does this mean for the master cobbler who spends weeks hand-crafting one pair of shoes? Van Herpen, who is well known for her enthusiasm for 3D printed fabric, argued that high fashion is still very much a collaborative process. Van Herpen said she relies heavily on ‘‘traditional methods when it comes to piecing her creations together.’’ The skills that are learnt and passed down from generation to generation simply can’t be reproduced by a machine. Despite the promise of precision to one hundredths of a millimetre, the consumer will still appreciate and therefore demand the human touch. Van Herpen stressed that ‘‘the stamp of the designer must remain important, as that is where the creative energy comes from.’’ Without that creative flare and appreciation for high quality components, a luxury item runs the risk of being just another high street imitation.

Angela Missoni and  Iris Van Herpen attend the Conde Nast International Luxury Conference in Florence, Italy (image courtesy of Vittorio Zunino Celotto for Getty Images)

Angela Missoni and Iris Van Herpen attend the Conde Nast International Luxury Conference in Florence, Italy (image courtesy of Vittorio Zunino Celotto for Getty Images)

Which leads onto another aspect that is causing fear, the risk of counterfeit goods. Fashion houses make a considerable profit on entry level designer goods like sunglasses. With the rise of 3D printers (and 3D designers), what’s to stop a customer simply printing off a counterfeit pair? With design files as easy to share as MP3s, once someone has worked out the design, the file could spread extremely quickly. Hackford and Van Herpen acknowledged that fraudulent copies are a risk but both highlighted a technological way that could alleviate this problem. The most practical solution would be for every luxury brand to use personalised material. Modern Meadow, a Brooklyn-based start-up, has found a way to create high-grade leather in a laboratory using a 3D printer. Though the technique is a closely guarded secret, the method suggests that each fashion house could imprint specific cellular DNA into each and every material. By having official material provides retailers, collectors and authorities with a secure way of distinguishing whether a product is authentic or fake.

Suzy Menkes at the Conde Nast International Luxury Conference in Florence, Italy (image courtesy of Vittorio Zunino Celotto for Getty Images)

Suzy Menkes at the Conde Nast International Luxury Conference in Florence, Italy (image courtesy of Vittorio Zunino Celotto for Getty Images)

Overall, Hackford and Van Harpen seemed to embrace 3D printing, seeing it very much as a weapon in a fashion house’s armoury. Other visionaries take it further and see 3D printing as an accessible way for us to all own a slice of haute couture. Australia-based XYZ have even made their designs available for download so anyone with a 3D printer can produce and customise their work. On the whole, it looks like 3D printing is here to stay, and luxury brands will have to develop opportunities to work with it rather than against it. Perhaps they could provide licensing deals like music artists have done with iTunes. Perhaps we will miss the experience of going into a shop and purchasing something physical. Perhaps nostalgia will kick in and traditional craftsmanship will come into vogue once more.

Additional reporting from Florence by Antonia Peck.