lead-3d-printerThis year’s Metropolitan Museum Gala theme, “Manus x Machina: Fashion in the Age of Technology” captured the excitement over the future of high-tech fashion. Well, the future is here.

Although we’re not yet to the point where people will be able to print their wardrobes at home, the time is drawing close. So close, in fact, your next pair of shoes could very well come from a 3-D printer located in a San Diego factory known as Feetz.

black-shoeThe assembly line at Feetz has 100 humming 3-D printers. Their sole purpose is to make shoes.

The printers, costing $5,000 each, are out to upend mass retailing by making every shoe to order, cheaply.

Says Lucy Beard, chief executive of the two-year-old Feetz, “I saw 3-D printers in a magazine, and I thought ‘mass customization.’”

Each printer can be reset to make different sizes and takes up to 12 hours to make a pair. The company, which recently started selling its shoes, has only 15 employees.

But Ms. Beard, 38, a former actuary, envisions a day when shoes will be printed in under an hour. “With limited labor and shipping costs to pay and no back inventory, Feetz has a 50 percent profit margin on every pair,” she added.

Ordering is done online, where customers can download an app, take smartphone snapshots of their feet and create a 3-D model. Shoes, which cost $199, are made of recycled materials and are thickly padded for comfort.

With the rise of new technologies like smartphones and 3-D printers, fashion start-ups like Feetz are changing the ways goods are ordered, made and sold.

3d-fashion-technologyLike Ms. Beard, several founders of these companies don’t have fashion backgrounds. Instead, they consider technology the answer to off-the rack, mass-produced goods, which are increasingly shunned by millennials. Consumers with hard-to-find sizes — like petite, or big and tall — will find shopping simpler.

Indeed, the fashion industry has big plans for involving 3D technology in many aspects of the business, including designing garments, physically printing them and even presenting the line to clients in virtual showrooms, complete with fit information. The instant and accurate 3D portrayals of prototypes and plans will raise the bar for the future of design and presentation.

3d-fashion-metAs denizens of New York’s Garment District can attest, designing clothing is an intricate component-rich art, with an overarching need for absolute precision. Often, several prototypes are needed in order to achieve the right fit. It’s a delicate, demanding and costly process on average taking 3-4 weeks to make a sample including one fit session. 3D imaging amps up the efficiency factor exponentially, cutting development time in half and eliminating the need for prototypes; time saved so designers gain more freedom to get creative and test out new ideas that can be visualized immediately.

Needless to say, 3D imaging will revolutionize the marketplace. Brands will be able to create 3D showrooms complete with virtual store displays providing buying staff an informative advance customer experience. Look books and catalogs will be loaded as 3D data so several color ways can be viewed in a virtual showroom setting, negating the expense of live models, photo shoots or even sample making. This will make it possible to accurately determine proper sizing, thus opening up possibilities for affordable customized fit.

3d-printed-runwayThink of it: 3D imaging and other technology marvels are developing at full speed, changing the way the industry sees design, makes and buys clothes. No needle and thread required!

All books available at Click on title to order.
Computational Fashion: Topics in Fashion and Wearable Technology
by Paul Amitai and Sabine Seymour
Fashion Geek: Clothes Accessories Tech
by Diana Eng

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