There’s really no denying that 3D printing is here to stay. In fact, it’s only becoming more popular, less expensive for consumers, and increasingly accessible. Which is why it is not surprising that a giant like Amazon has created a dedicated 3D printing storefront on its U.S. site. With over 200 items to choose from, including jewelry, toys, games, and home decorations, there’s plenty to appease your desire for a 3D-printed product. So, with relative ease, you can now make a few decisions that allow you to feel like you’re part of the creative process.
3D printing, also known as additive manufacturing, creates an object layer by layer, as opposed to traditional manufacturing, which takes material away. A digital file instructs the printer on what to create and the machine then layers the material that is selected until you’ve got the desired final shape.
And Amazon’s store is certainly not the first time we’re seeing this technology in the realm of fashion. Dutch designer Iris van Herpen, for example, used 3D printing to create two 3D-printed ensembles in her Voltage collection. The technology is also being used in the designer eyewear market to create prototypes. Antonio Miyakawa, executive vice president of marketing, creative direction and product at Luxottica, told Business of Fashion, “Luxottica uses 3D printing technologies to speed up the process of product development in the prototyping phase.”
To some extent, this is exciting. Who doesn’t love the idea of being able to take a base design and customize it to make it our own? 3D printing is ideal for just such a concept, which is at least partially what’s thrilling about Amazon’s 3D printing store. Instead of simply choosing a pair of earrings, for example, there’s now an opportunity to customize color and even the material that is used – making the earring personalized to each consumer’s taste.
What’s more, as 3D printing becomes a more widely used method of technology, manufacturing costs, which are often passed to consumers, can be cut. Designers and retailers alike might thus find that it’s more realistic to manufacture goods in the U.S. And maybe, just maybe, the prevalence of what can only be described as slave labor in the name of fast fashion can be reduced. We know it might be a stretch, but humor us just for a moment. If we’re allowed to dream, we can imagine a world years from now in which fast fashion retailers are using 3D printers for much of their manufacturing needs (assuming it’s cheaper, as we know fast fashion retailers are wont to cut costs). So, fewer dingy factories that are overflowing with underpaid, underage workers. Sounds pretty good, no?
But as is often the case, with the good, comes some bad. 3D printing is only getting easier and more cost effective. And Amazon’s decision to give consumers greater access to the process surely signifies a move in the direction of it being the norm to print your wares. This also means that it may soon be commonplace for counterfeiters to have access to 3D printers as well, which conjures images of rows and rows of printers in a basement on Canal Street pumping out Ray-Bans, Chanel jewelry, and LV handbags. If all that’s needed is a digital file to instruct the printer and some material, this is definitely not an outrageous thought.
It’s hard enough under current circumstances to thwart the sale of counterfeit goods, but at least there’s hope that U.S. Customs will flag the shipments from overseas and confiscate the goods. With 3D printing, though, the illicit shipment could be eliminated from the picture, leaving one less enforcement option for brands to trying to protect their intellectual property.
For us at TFL, 3D printing presents a dilemma. We’re all for more accessibility, goods made here in the U.S., and the possibility for a decrease in horrible labor conditions. But we obviously also have an extremely vested interest in brands being able to protect intellectual property rights. What do you think: Will 3D printing be good or bad for fashion?
JENNIFER WILLIAMS is a recent law school graduate who writes about fashion, the legal avenues available for protecting it, and the ways in which the laws are falling short. She is currently awaiting admission to the NY State Bar. For more from Jennifer, follow her on Twitter.