Fashion Tech: Can we make luxury products with 3D printing?

“The market is booming; there’s not one week goes by when a brand does not approach us.” Why does the luxury fashion industry stand to benefit from 3D production methods? How are brands incorporating 3D printing? Catherine Gorgé, General Secretary of Prodways, explains how 3D is inspiring infinite new possibilities, new levels of excellence compatible with traditional craftsmanship, and far more established than you might think.

On the inner workings of the 3D printing process
“The principle is simple: an item produced by means of 3D printing is formed in a single piece with no assembly required. It involves no more than one step, a single piece of material and a 3D computer file. This file represents a simulation created with special software and broken down into numerous successive layers that are printed in the machine using a beam in the form of a laser or UV light. We can manufacture an object in a few minutes using a powder or conventional polymer, or in a few hours using powdered steel.”

On the wide-ranging applications of 3D printing in luxury fashion
“Day to day, we primarily work on creating prototypes, which we’re able to produce within 48 hours for assessing a shape or design in order to approve an idea or concept and produce the items, not necessarily in 3D. We make many different forms of heels, fastenings, chains for leather goods and even soft and flexible embroidery.”


On creating something unique or bespoke
“One of the great advantages of 3D printing is that it presents an opportunity for creating unique pieces, of particular interest in relation to haute couture, for example. If necessary, we can create a single button where other manufacturers would require large orders. It’s also possible to make pieces to suit a particular body shape when geometrically measured with a machine. We often use the example of 3D printed insoles for therapeutic use or comfort, which are entirely custom-made for a client’s foot.”

On rising to a technical challenge
“We produced titanium watch case middles for Officine Panerai, which were 40% lighter when printed. We’ve been able to incorporate topological optimization that is more commonly used in aviation; an incredible achievement in the watchmaking world. In short, the printer assisted with creating the casing required to ensure the water tightness and solidity of the watch, leaving hollow areas to ensure every other aspect of the watch was the same, except its weight.”


On printing’s impressive eco-credentials
“The 3D printing process requires only what is strictly necessary in terms of raw materials to create an object, and in contrast to regular subtractive production methods, there’s no waste other than the powder, which is reused. In terms of the energy consumed, 3D printing is therefore very well-positioned and most importantly, appropriate for domestic manufacture with no need to outsource to Asia or a developing country. Plus, it can help avoid issues relating to overstock, thanks to speedy manufacturing on demand.
“Last but not least, we now have a bio-sourced plant-based material known as ‘polyamide 11’, a type of Nylon. When reduced to powder form, it’s possible to print eco-label products.”


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