Who is Afraid of 3D Printing? Nike Isn't

On the heels of his Spring/Summer 2016 collection, which was, as usual, rife with “inspiration” from famed designers, Kanye West has completely unironically taken on the topic of 3D printing and his fears that it will spur copying in the fashion industry. (This is humorous considering that Kanye’s collections are often little more than close copies of existing Raf Simons, Martin Margiela, Haider Ackermann and Helmut Lang garments.) According to our friends over at Engadget, “During a visit to the Tumo Centre for Creative Technologies in Yerevan, Armenia, Kanye was shown a 3D printer and said, ‘This is what I'm afraid of here, 3D printing, because the internet destroyed the music industry and now this is what we're afraid of right now with the textile industry.’”

Writing for Engadget, Edgar Alvarez goes on to explain, “The school guide tried to defend the 3D printer by telling [West] it doesn't print designs on its own, pointing out that you need someone to bring those to life in the first place. ‘Yeah. What I'm saying [is] there will come a time where it's, like, people are making the shoes at home,’ he replied.” Thus, Kanye’s fear seems to be that people will take to using 3D printers to create counterfeits and knockoffs, thereby, undermining the work of fashion designers.

For a bit of context on just how fearful designers should be about the future of 3D printing, we look to Eric Sprunk, Nike’s chief operating officer, who recently spoke about the innovation in Nike’s Flyknit technology and what it suggests about the way sneakers could be made in the future. Far from hell-bent or threatened by the potential of 3D printing, Sprunk seems, instead, to be optimistic about the promise that stems from the technology. He told attendees of the GeekWire summit:

Do I envision a future where [Nike] might still own the file, from an IP perspective — because it’s a Nike product; you can’t have just anybody make a Nike product — and you can manufacture that either in your home or we will do it for you at our store? Oh yeah, that’s not that far away.

Sprunk, who has spent the past 22 years at Nike, goes on the credit 3D printing as part of a larger “manufacturing revolution.”

As Marc Bain at Quartz correctly noted, there are some hurdles to creating a complete sneaker at home by way of 3D printing. First, 3D printers are “not exactly a small purchase.” Moreover, “right now you can’t 3D print a sneaker’s sole—even Flyknits need a separate sole attached.”

In short: there’s no need to fear 3D printing. Unless you’re Kanye.