In the wake of the latest push in Congress to reform copyright law for the inclusion of fashion designs through the Innovative Design Protection Act (IDPA) of 2012, this year has shown a more tangible revolution in fashion in the form of 3D printing. 3D printers are the apparatuses used in additive manufacturing, a method that constructs three dimensional solid products modeled on a digital Computer Aided Design (CAD) file by successively layering materials to the completion of an object. Traditionally, 3D printers have been used in manufacturing for prototyping, but with the process becoming less expensive, creating end products with 3D printers is now a viable option. Many in the know have already considered the impact 3D will have on myriad industries, from bioprinters in medicine to architecture and construction, and even fashion.
The fashion industry this year has seen 3D printing start to strut its stuff, as designers use the technology to innovatively create wearable and visually stimulating designs. In March, the first fully articulated 3D printed dress designed by Michael Schmidt and architect Francis Bitoni was worn by Dita Von Teese, a sculptural and form-fitting piece of black nylon and decorated with Swarovski crystals. 3D printing company Shapeways, based in New York, printed the dress, and hopes to delve further into fashion with 3D printing. A Belgian printing company, Materialise, worked with Malaysian fashion designer Melinda Looi and Malaysia held the first 3D printed fashion show in June. This July at Paris Fashion Week, designers Iris van Herpen and Rem D Koolhaas presented on the runway 12 pairs of shoes printed by 3D printer manufacturing company Stratatys. The unique shoe designs vividly evoked their inspiration from the look of tree roots, and are composed of Stratatys’s rigid opaque black and white materials that boast a glossy finish. In the future, increasing affordability of the technology and the invention or application of more wearer-friendly materials could firmly embed 3D printing into the fashion industry. For the present, some designers believe 3D printing is mostly relevant to conceptual design.
While 3D printers are opening up a new creative avenue for designers and makers of fashion apparel, as with publishing and the music business in which copyright is a substantial legal issue, 3D printing could pose various legal problems as well. With fashion designs being protectable by copyright, widespread copyright infringement can be enabled by 3D printers for consumers at the level of personal use. As far as industry experts can tell for now, there isn’t any long-term impediment to allowing the advancement of 3D printer technology to become normatively available to individuals, and not just manufacturers. Digital designs, like digital music files and e-books, could be uploaded, shared, and downloaded illegally. In the process of 3D printing fashion apparel, these designs can be customized and altered, in which case the lines of original design and ownership become blurred. Even if fashion design becomes sellable in this way, other legal concerns to consider are quality control and the responsibility for it, as well as authenticity, which can become questionable as the design is passed down from creator to consumer to printer, and counterfeiting in turn is made much easier.
3D printing has the potential to drastically change the face of fashion in terms of creative design, copyright and brand protection, and manufacturing and selling. With the introduction of 3D printers into the fashion industry, business as usual may no longer be feasible and adapting to the avant-garde novelties such technology presents will have to follow at many levels of the industry. The prospects could be exciting, but also dangerous, and unpredictable. If 3D printers really take off, movers and shakers in fashion would do well to continue keeping an eye out for changes here and to come.
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