How Long Until We Download Dresses?

Danish Fashion Week presents Sustainability Week.
May 21, 2016, 11:24am

Danish Fashion Week presents.

The fashion industry is really into technological change. In the 18th century, it was at the forefront of the Industrial Revolution in Britain: while the first steam engines were roaring, apparel factories were in full swing making fabrics. In the 1930s, scientists invented something called synthetic fibre, which made way for untold nylon. A direct descendant of plastic, nylon was then used to make absolutely everything: parachutes, panties, fishing line, shorts, cords. In today's world, all that just seems kind of ordinary – sewing machines, artificial fibres. And maybe in a few years we will think it's pretty standard to download a file and print a dress at home.


Famed for making teeth, guns, prosthetic limbs, furniture (and basically any object you can design on a computer), the 3D printer is a strong candidate to become the ultimate revolutionary technology of our time. People like Dutch designer Iris van Herpen, who's made clothes for Björk; Karl Lagerfeld in his 2015 collection for Chanel; and Brazilian designer Pedro Lourenço have all used it to make shoes, accessories and clothes. They're in the vanguard of how this platform is being used. 27-year-old Israeli designer Danit Peleg is also part of this group, and arguably with an even more innovative attitude: she was the first person to ever 3D print an entire collection at home. It took her nine months and a lot of study hours, nights at the lab and help from technical professionals. Despite all the work, she believes this process will soon be an everyday thing for anyone who takes an interest in it. "People like to be independent. They want to do things themselves. The Do-It-Yourself culture is really strong. 3D printers are becoming less expensive and faster every month. I think a lot of people will be adapted to this technology in the near future," she says.

The video about her project went viral and she started to deliver lectures and workshops about it. The idea seemed to work – but even Peleg says not everything is great in this business. "Right now it takes 300 hours to make a dress. We also don't have so many materials to experiment with," she says. According to the designer, it takes around 12 days to finish a piece made from FilaFlex, a flexible, soft, rubber-textured filament. "Right now it can be very challenging, but I believe the technology will evolve very quickly."

Andrew Bolton, the curator in charge of the Manus x Machina exhibition at the New York Metropolitan Museum, also believes in the potential of a 3D revolution. The theme of this year's Met Gala was fashion in an age of technology, and included 3D printed pieces. Bolton too believes the technology will soon be available for everyone, not to mention it is environmentally friendly. "There's no waste [with the printer], whereas there's always waste with textiles," he said to Bloomberg.

Some people, however, can't picture 3-D printers becoming available for everyone's homes anytime soon. Gabriel Menotti was the curator of "APPROXIMATELY 800cm³ OF PLA", an exhibition that printed a huge amount of objects with PLA plastic for The Wrong (again) – New Digital Art Biennale. Menotti believes 3D printing is not a viable process in the short term. First, you have to buy a 3D printer (around £1,500) and a lot of inputs, not to mention how long it takes to make anything. "What concerns me is how some very specific advantages often become the basis for a dangerously utopian, positivist argument that promotes technology as the universal solution for problems facing several industries, as if it would make it possible to take control of the means of production and make manufacturing accessible for the masses, promoting local economies."

He doesn't seem very optimistic with all that talk about sustainability either. "A lot of raw material it uses, like ABS, is plastics made from petroleum, which is a non-renewable resource. In this sense, how sustainable can [this technology] be?" Also, energy prices would rise significantly, he says. Which means: if we are being realistic, it may be a good technology for the fashion industry – but the access to it probably won't be so massive.

The real point is, the technology to print ourselves a rubber skirt is already out there. It would be up to us to engage and buy all the equipment. Currently, the easiest way make your own clothes at home is to go to buy a sewing magazine, and sew. And until 3-D printing replicates this ease, it'll never be replaced.