3D Fashion on the Rise


Naomi Kaempfer, creative director, art fashion design at Stratasys shares new developments in 3D printing technologies and how they are changing the world of fashion. 

Q: How has the use of 3D printing within fashion evolved over the past few years? Are we seeing the technology being used more commonly within textiles?

Kaempfer: The role of 3D printing in fashion is continually evolving, and we are seeing a notable increase in awareness and interest in the technology from designers. This growth in curiosity is coming from across the fashion spectrum — from high-end fashion to the low end and in various fashion applications. We believe fashion education is playing a key role in this. Many academies are now integrating 3D printing within their education program. High fashion has previously had a traditional methodology, so the fact that fashion education is now embracing these innovative technologies is an encouraging step forward. Educating a new generation of designers, and introducing 3D printing technologies and software to all the parties involved in fashion creation, is naturally a gradual and ongoing process. This might explain why the shift in the industry is perhaps not immediately apparent widespread in mainstream fashion, but is likely to emerge in the not so distant future.

Q: What are the key benefits of 3D printing for textiles and fashion? What opportunities does it offer for designers over traditional techniques?

Kaempfer: 3D printing allows fashion designers to expand beyond the traditional boundaries of design, allowing them to turn some of the most challenging design concepts into reality. We are seeing an evolution from traditional textile production methods, such as pattern-cutting and sewing textiles together, and moving towards a textile being totally three-dimensionally grown.

Digitally created materials are offering up vast possibilities as every element of a garment or textile can now have its own individual digitally manipulated physical properties. For example, you can create a specific textile that is waterproof, opaque, flexible or rigid and then combine these elements together meaning that these properties can all be present in a single garment.

Without the need for a specific mold, we are free to create intricate geometries and structures, which are not only aesthetically pleasing, but can also add smart functionality. For example, when we create a garment that needs to be fastened, instead of using traditional buttons we can integrate a locking functionality directly into the textile itself, by making certain areas adhesive. We’re still in the early stages of developing our geometrical understanding and working out what is feasible but the possibilities are vast.

The immense opportunities for customization that 3D printing offers is another important benefit for the industry. Apparel can now be created to perfectly fit the size and curvature of each part of the body, allowing for true personalization. As this is a new domain, we believe we still need to really challenge ourselves to envision the next steps and embrace this new design freedom in order to open up its true frontiers.

Q: How important are material developments to accelerating the adoption of the technology within fashion design?

Kaempfer: Material developments are certainly a key element and there is a great deal of interest from the design community with regards to this.  3D printing companies are working closely with leading fashion designers to address various design challenges, supporting them to explore uncharted grounds in contemporary fashion that can be realized with 3D printing.

The reality is that more advanced possibilities in terms of materials, aesthetics and colors are continually being discovered and therefore the diversity of fashion design applications is constantly evolving. There have certainly been some important milestones in this area, such as the introduction of PolyJet full color, multi-material 3D printing. We’ve seen some wonderful creations from leading designers such as Neri Oxman, threeASFOUR, Iris Van Herpen, Julia Korner and Noa Raviv, who have leveraged this technology to create complex geometrical designs, not achievable with traditional fabrication.

That said, we are still only at the very beginning of discovering what possibilities can be realized with 3D printing. Material developments will be the driving force in accelerating this journey.

Q: What material characteristics are most important for textile designers and how can 3D printing support this?

Kaempfer: This year, we’ve seen the development of a new technique: PolyJet 3D printing directly onto textiles. The aspiration being to uncover how 3D printing can actually work in harmony with textiles and to discover how, in the future, it will be able to replace the textile itself in some cases. By combining traditional textile materials with digitally-created 3D printing materials, we’re bridging the gap and enabling a faster integration of the technology in textile design.

An inspiring example of this can be seen in Iris Van Herpen’s latest haute couture collection “Ludi Nature.” The foliage dress incorporates traditional textiles with 3D printed plastic elements utilizing PolyJet 3D printing technology. Three variations of the 3D printed material were altered on a droplet level, achieving the unique color and transparency on the dress which allows it to seamlessly fuse with the fabric material.  

Q: What are the barriers you see today that are prohibiting the widespread adoption of 3D printing for textiles and what is needed in order to overcome these barriers?

Kaempfer: One of the challenges that can arise with certain 3D printed garments is the level of practicality and comfort for the wearer. This is one of the benefits of integrating 3D printing and textiles together. The interface that touches the skin of the wearer can be the soft fabric, while the complex 3D printed design elements can be enjoyed on the outer part of the garment — enhancing the comfort for the wearer.

Q: What role are 3D printing companies playing in driving the implementation of these cutting-edge techniques in fashion?

Kaempfer: Alongside collaborative projects with some of the most well-known innovative designers in fashion, we’re committed to supporting the education of the next generation of designers, with particular involvement seen in graduation projects. Educating students on the benefits of 3D printing technologies and encouraging them to explore new design solutions will no doubt be key to driving implementation.

Through cutting-edge design from collaborators, 3D printing R&D teams are put to the test to find solutions that otherwise might not have surfaced. Not only can these solutions be implemented within the fashion and arts industries, but it might be that they are also applicable to other industries which utilize 3D printing.

In a world of constant technological advancements, fashion can also be considered as a key vehicle for demonstrating the vast capabilities of 3D printing for design in other sectors — whether it be consumer goods, automotive, aerospace or many others. Not everybody can connect with technology when it derives from a very particular niche market. However, fashion opens up a new way of relating to technology and allows greater engagement with it.

Q: What developments do you envisage happening in fashion with regards to 3D printing over the next 3-5 years? Do you see 3D printing being used as a commonplace production technique within fashion design?

Kaempfer: We believe there will be further growth in garments that incorporate sophisticated physical properties embedded in specifically defined areas of the traditional textile. We believe the customization element will also see 3D printing branch into other areas of fashion, such as leisure and sportswear, and potentially in cases of medical care.

People sometimes mention the notion of 3D printing reaching the mass market and we know that caution must be taken when considering the implications of mass market solutions. Ultimately, we hope that the fashion world returns to a more sustainable model, which involves more localized production, allowing smaller design and production houses to compete in the market.

Nevertheless, it will be fascinating to witness the evolving impact of 3D printing on the fashion domain and see how it continues to challenge and transform our perception of fashion. We are very curious as to what impact future technological developments will have on the fashion domain and we remain very open to applications that might have a future contribution to the industry.


Naomi Kaempfer joined Stratasys corporate marketing team in 2014 as Creative Director, Art, Fashion and Design. Naomi is responsible for the build-up of the fashion, design and art marketing collaborations at Stratasys. Stratasys explores the possibilities of 3D printing cross border in the creative disciplines and with their experience enable and promote designers and artists to stretch the creative envelope. Naomi forms relationships and collaboration with museums, art and design institutions, the creative sector and art collectors.

Naomi studied Law and Philosophy, she owns a Bachelors in product engineering, MSc in Design Management. Naomi is specialized in bridging business strategies with international design and creative markets. After managing the ONL Non-standard architecture show for the Pompidou, she was asked to establish the renowned MGX and design art Platform at Materialise in 2003, which she directed for 7 years. Naomi has set up numerous prestigious collections in collaboration with top artists and designers at leading museums such as MoMA, V&A, Pompidou, Smithsonian Cooper Hewitt, and many more. Naomi led the technology department at the Design Academy as Chair professor of LAB between 2008-2011. Between 2010-2013, she drove the strategic design development of Delhaize Group as the Design Strategy Expert and worked as an independent consultant for 3D printing companies and emerging design platforms.

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