Many months ago, we were at an event where a strange box, now known to us as a MakerBot, produced a blue bracelet out of what is called filament. Yes, the bracelet was ugly and is not something we’d ever wear, but the concept was quite amazing. In a relatively short amount of time, this printer can communicate with your computer and create a model or real world product literally from the ground up. Fast-forward to present day and peoples’ imaginations have already taken 3D printing to unforeseen places (like working guns).
One such place is fashion. Dutch designer Iris van Herpen used 3D printing to create two 3D-printed ensembles in her Voltage collection and the technology is being used in the designer eyewear market to create prototypes. Antonio Miyakawa, executive vice president of marketing, creative direction and product at Luxottica (the company that makes just about every brand of sunglasses on earth), told Business of Fashion, “Luxottica uses 3D printing technologies to speed up the process of product development in the prototyping phase.” Luxottica, by the way, has eyewear licenses with luxury brands like Chanel, Prada, Armani and Ralph Lauren, and also owns Ray-Ban, Oakley and Oliver Peoples.
So, it seems as though technology has once again had a meaningful impact on fashion. But, as we’ve seen before, this is not always a good thing. An example: The Internet means instant access to a designer’s collection, even for the majority of us who aren’t able to experience the show in-person. And while this provides those who truly adore fashion the opportunity to behold the beauty of, let’s say, the Balenciaga Spring 2010 RTW collection right when it happens, it also gives fast fashion retailers an early start on the next line of terrible copies.
And, like the instant access given by the Internet, there is sure to be a downside to 3D printers in fashion, especially in the eyewear market. Those who dabble in intellectual property infringement and counterfeiting, whether it’s as a seller or a buyer, are the type of people who will appreciate the lower price of a 3D printed replica, no matter what the cost to designers. If all it takes is some direction to a computer on what pair is being copied, a few hours (maybe faster as the technology improves), and the materials necessary to print the glasses, what’s to stop counterfeiters? Our answer is, for the moment, quite bleak: not much. The closest thing to hope right now is an experiment at Virginia Tech University, which hopes to embed dots into 3D printed materials to help prevent counterfeiting.
As is often the case, the benefits of technology may be negated or even outweighed by the costs, especially when it comes to fashion. And unfortunately, intellectual property laws aren’t nearly quick enough to keep up or offer the needed protection.
Jennifer Williams is a law student, who writes about fashion, the legal avenues available for protecting it, and the ways in which the laws are falling short. Jennifer writes for legal reporting blog, Legal As She Is Spoke. For more from Jennifer, visit her blog, StartFashionPause, or follow her on Twitter.