How 3D Printing is changing the Fashion Industry and the World at Large


When James Hagreaves bestowed the Spinning Jenny to mankind, kick-starting the Industrial Revolution, it redesigned the world. What once was an ordinary, domestic activity became transferred to global-level factories, not only enhancing the global economy but also establishing a milestone for the fashion industry.

Since then, numerous technological advancements are to be thanked for accommodating the world of fashion as one knows it today. Evolvement is an intermediate-paced process, yet one would not refrain from the idea that humanity is closer to the crest of a technological boom relevant to fashion, presently more than ever.

At the same time as traditional cloth-making methods remain adopted, designers and fashion technologists continue to step out of boundaries in the search for new ways to manufacture what they want, which has landed them at the feet of the soon-to-be popularized entity: the 3D printer.

Fashion’s first encounter with a 3D printer made the headlines in the media when Dutch Fashion Designer, Iris Van Herpen, used the platform of 2011’s Paris Haute Couture Fashion Week for the release of a white, 3D-printed dress, which was only a part of an entire collection.

Van Herpen’s first step forward influenced the creative minds of many to bring their own feet to the front, and by now, various designers, notably Danit Peleg—who has her own Master Class for letting beginners into the art of 3D printing—have made using 3D printers to generate garments rather old news.

The process of 3D-printing begins with a 3D-printing software where the design to be printed is sketched. The data is then fed to the printer, which in turn heats material and generates the designs in the form of layers upon layers on a surface. Whilst American Pearl, Nike, Adidas, New Balance and Victoria’s Secret are only a few names of designer brands that manufacture 3D printouts, it is predicted that decades or lesser from the present, 3D-printing will have become popular and common enough for people to be generating customized garments inside their own homes.

The Plus Side

Naturally, this technological advancement comes with multiple benefits, the most meritorious of them being its contribution to the welfare of the environment.

The fashion industry has been notorious for its role as a major pollutant to flora and fauna alike, from abetting excessive wastage of water to unloading thousands of tons of textile matter—which require over 200 years and the emission of methane (a toxic greenhouse gas) to decompose—in landfills.

Fast fashion, the widespread producer to the mass market at present, has not only been accused of damaging ecosystems and contaminating drinking water but is also responsible for providing poor working environments for employees and the squandering of resources to the same degree. It is a defective solution for the average, fashion-conscious consumer to be able to afford the generally unaffordable trends and styles displayed on runways and red carpets since fast fashion brands intermix these trends in cheap garments and sell them to the consumer. Due to the unreliable quality of the fabric, the consumer discards the item after a considerably brief period of use.

Unlike the discarded garments mentioned, 3D-printed garments have an easily-recyclable, reusable nature—one unwanted item or more are pounded into a powder that will be reused to create new items. Typical garments are deconstructed as well, but it has been proven that of the garments donated to charities and suchlike programs, the percentage that is put through recycling is as less as 0.1%.

Furthermore, whereas the tailoring methods being used so far contribute to the wastage of 15% to 30% of textiles, including recycled textiles, customizable printing enabled by 3D printers leaves no space for similar issues. Customizable printing is an optimal choice for fashion brands in the same manner, given that it caters directly to a customer’s needs.

Another advantage would be that 3D printing saves time. In place of a few days’ duration utilized for a single garment, 3D printing enables the production of a garment in under 24 hours. The usage of inventory will be minimal, the plastic-like fabric used would be free of wrinkles and allow flexibility.

Fashion forecasters are anticipating a rapid growth in the 3D printing industry in relation to fashion. Creating a garment is envisaged to be as effortless as downloading a PDF file of one and 3D-printing it out.  To quote Designer Danit Peleg, “We used to buy CDs, and we had to go to the physical stores to get music and now we can just download it everywhere. I believe that the same thing will happen with fashion eventually—clothes will become more and more digital.”

The Flip Side

Notwithstanding the constructive advantages on the subject of printing three-dimensionally, it comes with its own list of cons, little as that may be.

3D printing could be too costly for domestic employment since, for the time being, the market price of a machine falls anywhere between LKR 20,000 and LKR 4, 000, 000. Being as how plastic would be a predominant fabric, many would argue about the comfort of a three-dimensionally printed garment.


Correspondingly, although traditional methods such as weaving and knitting appear as though they might persist awhile, a frequency of industrial machinery would mean joblessness for an untold number of employees. Clothing businesses may face non-profits as an outcome of 3D printing being made available on a domestic level.

The issue of technology, coupled with artificial intelligence, replacing manual labor is one that can be expected in the not-so-distant future in every existing industry.

What to Expect

Given all of these pros and cons, a definitive conclusion regarding 3D printing cannot be arrived upon as of yet. It could either fade away as a fad or be the next industrial boom for the apparel industry.


By Mischelle Rupasinghe

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