A New Wave of Consumer Couture
By Victoria Pease Francis Bitonti is not your typical fashion designer. Instead of sketching designs and creating sewing samples Bitonti relies on complex code and “MakerBot” printers to produce his garments. Predicting the next big fashion trends doesn’t always come easy, but Bitonti is convinced that 3D printing will dramatically change the way we buy, fit and experience fashion. As consumers we feel a constant need to be on top of trends, and strongly relate purchasing the latest fashionable object to an immediate happiness. But what if you could individualise your purchases to the extent of them being designed to your personal taste, figure or occasion? Would this enrich your consumer experience or dwindle the fun out of the shopping hunt? “This is the way everything will be made, and it’s not just limited to fashion. Inherently this technology inverts everything we know about manufacturing – everything is going to shift in this direction and it will be impossible to stay competitive with traditional methods”, Bitonti says.
In the most basic sense, 3D printing works by creating a digital blueprint of an object through complex digital code, and printing it in materials such as plastic and metal. While 3D printing is becoming to be a term more widely known and talked about, within the fashion industry it is still emerging. At the same time 3D printing is becoming more and more sophisticated, with new materials such as nylon fabrics raising the bar for what can be brought to consumers. For forward-looking designers like Francis Bitonti the idea is to create an entanglement between networked materials and the human body; a ‘new skin’, if you will. While 3D printing enables designers to be more creative, by allowing them to directly envision and engage with their designs, designers ‘traditionally’ manufacturing garments should not be discredited.
Dilys Williams, Director at London’s Centre for Sustainable Fashion, does not believe that 3D-printed textiles will ever be able to replace the aesthetic of hand-made fashion. Instead, digital fashion design will provide a visual playground for wider experimentation. “There will be places where they can achieve things that traditional manufacturing cannot – but they do not replace other methods – they add to possibility.”
“I cannot foresee a time when fully machine-made fashion will fill the appetite for fashion – I would hope that there are places for hand and machine made pieces”, Dilys says.
“Possibly jewellery will be worn as part of our skin rather than externally, I’m excited to see what’s in store”, she says. While designers like Silvia are holding onto their roots, Bitonti goes as far as saying that computational fashion is not necessarily bound to high-end, pricy items, but could transform the future of mass production, too. “We can make very complex forms and still engage mass production. We can also produce locally and on-demand with zero waste. It changes all the rules for designers and turns modernism inside out - and this is the future of industrialization”, he says. Bitonti may have raised consumer expectations for the fashion industry’s future, but his vision also sets commendable standards for sustainable fashion. The notion of having endless access to cheap resources is a recipe for disaster, and the creative minds devising new ways for consumers to engage with fashion resourcefully are relevant driving forces in our world. Perhaps computational fashion can also help curb the need to splurge on the latest fashion trends, by making consumers focus more on textile quality and uniqueness. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves - the input needed in terms of experimentation with new, sustainable materials, as well as consumer demand, need to lay the groundwork, as Dilys explains, “Any application of technology is only as good as its viability, feasibility and desirability”. This year Bitonti will be running a series of classes in London, aiming to bring the importance of coding and digital material production closer to consumers. Especially students of fashion design are to benefit from these workshops and become more aware of the tools of their time. Whether the students visiting Bitonti’s classes are prepared to replace natural materials at hand with digitalised designs for ‘new skins’, may need some convincing. But when asking Bitonti whether we really have a choice, he remains uber-confident in his vision, “People are already products of their own technologies”, he replies.
The London-based jewellery designer Silvia Weidenbach is among many young designers experimenting with the boundaries of what computational fashion design has to offer. “Personally I find it important to have an understanding of the properties and origins of natural materials, and to acknowledge them for their individual beauty. When I design my jewellery I don’t want to recreate or imitate existing materials, I want to understand these new digital tools and design the things I couldn’t with my own hands - why fake the things nature has given us?”.
Although Silvia has strong ties to nature, she too believes there to be an element of us becoming more and more “cyborg-like”.