The wearables market is about to get personal with 3-D printing.Bow & Drape, the fashion brand start-up that allows women to personalize the apparel and accessories options on its site, appears to be the first to provide three-dimensionally printed hardware to go with interchangeable belt straps, as well as metal pulls for clutches. The option is available this month at bowanddrape.com.Still in the early stages, 3-D printing is an evolving technology. Its use by Bow & Drape seems a natural for the brand, as it’s already known for allowing consumers to choose a top, bottom or dress style, and personalize the product through color, fit and embellishments.Bow & Drape founder and chief executive officer Aubrie Pagano believes the incorporation of personal taste as part of a design element will serve to foster “me-commerce,” the tech buzzword for highly personalized, made-for-you commerce. Pagano also believes that as 3-D printing technology evolves, it will open doors to new customer interaction models, such as a consumer’s ability to license within a five-year time frame a Bow & Drape design, modify it using CAD (computer-aided design) software and print it out in one’s own home. “This is not a so distant reality,” Pagano said.RELATED STORY: Wearable Technology on the Rise >>For now, the technology is limited to CAD designs selected by the firm, which consumers can choose for their belt buckle or zipper pull of choice. Production is at the Shapeways factory in Long Island City, N.Y. The ability to print three-dimensional metal buckles is relatively new, and they can’t be printed in large quantities just yet.Consumers choose from a variety of materials for the belt straps, which are made traditionally since technology to print fabric from a 3-D printer isn’t yet available. After the buckle design of choice is printed, Bow & Drape will assemble it with the belt strap chosen prior to shipment. The entire process takes about two weeks, and retails for between $48 and $148, depending on the options chosen. The design options, whether for the belt buckle or zipper pull, include an assortment of animal and miscellaneous shapes. Pagano said the plan is to offer different designs for 3-D printing each season.Carine Carmy, director of marketing at Shapeways, said the factories — a second one is located in the Netherlands — employ printers used in industrial production, such as to print prototype parts for airplanes.According to Carmy, 3-D printing has been in place for more than 20 years. The original material was plastic, and was often used by industrial designers to print objects that they could hold in their hands. While it would have cost more than $500 to make an iPhone case a few years ago, that price tag now is down to just $10. “The materials have also improved, too. We can now use gold-plated brass and sterling silver in our machines,” she said. She believes that the next iteration for 3-D, now that consumer awareness is burgeoning, will involve “product made to fit, such as a 3-D scan of one’s body so something like a watch can be made to perfectly fit the person’s hand. The applications for 3-D printing are just opening up.”In fashion, while there’s been a greater demand from the U.S. for 3-D printing, the Europeans and Japanese are the ones at the cutting edge of technology, Carmy said, based on her firm’s experience in its home base of the Netherlands. And while Shapeways is the firm that produced the 3-D printed nylon dress by Michael Schmidt and Francis Bitonti in the U.S. that was perfectly curved to fit burlesque queen Dita Von Teese’s body, that’s more representative of high-end couture applications. For more mainstream fashion applications, the Bow & Drape metal options are more likely the areas at the forefront of mass customization, Carmy said.Stacey Charbin, head of global fashion marketing at Paris-based technology solutions firm Lectra, said of 3-D in general, “What’s really amazing and cool is that you can come up with the idea and view it in a couple of ways, and you can have it in a few hours or a few days. The world is moving in this direction.”Lectra doesn’t do any hardware printing, but focuses its 3-D tech know-how in soft goods using software to help cut back on production time. In apparel, the process starts with designers creating concept boards for their ideas. The technology specialists follow with tech drawings for the designers’ images, while the software creates visuals that can be viewed and changed before samples are made. The 3-D software can show what the seam lines can look like, estimate the fits and provide how the same style will hang using different fabrics.“The biggest push has been in Europe, for proximity reasons, such as France and Italy. Dior Homme uses the software, as do several high-end Italian customers. That’s spreading to Germany and China, and now picking up speed in the U.S.,” said Charbin, who noted one custom men’s suit company uses the software in its stores. “The men are choosing buttons and fabrics and printing out a PDF of the visual so their wives can see what it looks like before the suit is made. It’s a semicustomized suit, with 1,000 different combined options available,” she explained.Rose Auslander, a partner in the intellectual property department at the law firm Carter Ledyard & Milburn, said that fashion firms taking advantage of innovation in design should partner with 3-D companies. They should also take a good hard look at peer-to-peer sharing of files, such as in the music industry, which was pioneered by Napster. The P2P process, while legal, can result in copyright infringement issues. “This is the time for the fashion industry to see how the music industry reacted to P2P and what happened. Fashion needs to take a lesson from that,” she advised. Bow & Drape launched in November 2012, after being funded via a Kickstarter campaign.
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