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A NEW DIMENSION: While fashion houses, such as Pringle of Scotland, Chanel and Peter Pilotto, have begun experimenting with 3-D-printed show pieces for the runway, The University of Hertfordshire in England has gone a step farther and created a prototype collection of wearable garments made using the technique.

“We really wanted to do something with 3-D printing with clothing or garments that are wearable rather than these amazing showpieces that you couldn’t really wear,” said Dr. Shaun Borstrock, associate dean and head of the Digital Hack Lab at the university. “What we also wanted to do was to make something that was a kind of collaboration between traditional dressmaking technique and technology, hence 3-D printing.”

Borstrock headed the project, working alongside the university’s Modeclix team and the 3-D specialist Mark Bloomfield. They used an EOS Formiga printer to create eight dresses and two headpieces, which can all be customized to any shape or size and made in a range of colors. The silhouette and size can also be adjusted after printing.

They worked on interpreting weaves, stitches and knits, with the aim of creating flexible garments.

“We’re right at the edge with what we can do with the technology,” said Bloomfield. “If the dress is damaged for some reason, you can replace one link rather than having to replace the whole dress. Printing also allows us to experiment with color and patterns. We’ve done some based on checks and we’re also looking at how we can take images and translate photographs into actual printed materials that we can work with.”

The duo used selective laser sintering, a process that uses a white nylon powder that’s bonded layer by layer. The production time for a garment varies depending on the complexity of the design. Dresses can take approximately 62 hours to create. Printed items are then cleaned and hand-dyed with each garment designed with dressmaking methods, linking panels together.

The line will be available to view online on the university’s Web site and on on May 1. Prices and sales details will be available closer to the launch.

Chanel for instance, they used some 3-D components in the last collection and Pringle of Scotland as well,” said Borstrock. “But what they’re doing is just to take a 3-D component and then stitching it onto a garment. What we’re doing is making a garment that can incorporate and/or replace a textile. There is very little waste because you’re only printing what you need. With 3-D printing technology and as it emerges, it allows garments to be printed to order rather than done to stock the shelves. There’s ethical benefit to that as well.”

Bloomfield added: “If you have a hole, you can catch the link and we can replace it. You don’t have to throw the whole garment away. We can also use those links again. We can change the shape of the garment you bought. If weight is an issue and your weight fluctuates, it could be something where we can add in a panel to make it larger, or take it away to make it fit you when you lose weight. So you don’t have to throw the whole thing away and start anew.”

In terms of production, Borstrock noted that 3-D printing is efficient. “If you’re in New York and you wanted a top or a skirt, we could send the file to New York and it could be assembled by somebody there,” said Borstrock. “We’re not flying it to N.Y. It’s made there. So the system that’s being developed is one that anyone can use. You don’t have to be a user of the software or understand the printing process to put the garment together, that’s what is amazing about it. Anybody can do it.”

Other designers who have dabbled with the method include Iris van Herpen, who has incorporated the technology into her designs including a 3-D-printed dress during Paris Haute Couture Fashion Week. Peter Pilotto’s designers used 3-D printing techniques for the dresses in their fall 2013 line. Pringle of Scotland applied 3-D chain mail onto knitwear from their spring 2015 collection with panels created from powdered nylon.

Last year, Karl Lagerfeld took the tweed Chanel suits from his fall 2015 couture show and festooned the trim with 3-D embellishments. “The interest is that we take the most iconic jackets from the 20th century, and make it in something you couldn’t even imagine then for the 21st century,” Lagerfeld told WWD during a preview. “It’s a mix of the human hand and the machine,” he said.

Last month, footwear label Feetz debuted its custom-fit, 3-D-printed woman’s flats designed with an iPhone app that scans feet.

RELATED STORY: Mobile App for Custom-Fit 3-D Printed Footwear Debuts >>

At CES, a consumer electronic showcase held in Las Vegas in January, wearable technology was a theme at the annual event, with designs that experimented with 3-D printing technology on display. Examples included wedge heels from Frances Bitonti, running shoe soles from New Balance and printed studs on mesh using a Cube machine. Designer Nick Verreos hosted a fashion show that displayed a number of tech-enabled designs at the conference.

Last year, Brooklyn Fashion + Design Accelerator, Pratt Institute’s incubator, mounted “Cloud Couture: The Intimate Connections Between Fashion and Technology,” which focused on fashion’s 3-D frontier. The showcase explored how technology is pushing brand innovation through wearable technology.

RELATED STORY: Exhibition Explores Fashion’s 3-D Frontier >>

According to data from CIT Group Inc. and California Fashion Association “L.A. Area Fashion Industry Profile,” 3-D technology will play a big role in the future of Los Angeles’ fashion industry. “Computer technology also helps L.A.’s designers and manufacturers stay competitive by shortening product cycles and reducing costs…3-D fitting, 3-D printing and virtual reality are all in the mix in L.A.,” the report noted.

RELATED STORY: Survey: 3-D Technology Plays Role in Future of L.A.’s Fashion Industry >>

Borstrock noted that 3-D printing technology will most likely see different materials that can be printed. “The material at the moment are predominantly this nylon that we’re printing,” said Borstrock. “They’re all quite solid. As things progress, I’m sure we will see the emergence of pliable and fluid kinds of materials that can be printed. Also, hopefully, we can print multicolor. We’re not going to be able to print cotton and silk but be able to print something that has much more fluidity to it. So within the fashion industry, the possibilities are endless. You can print anything. People are just getting to grips about what is possible.”

When it comes to the potential issue of counterfeiting, Borstrock and Bloomfield said it’s inevitable.

“But we’re not that worried about that,” said Borstrock. “We had numerous discussions about it. Somebody is going to copy it. There’s no doubt about that.”

“There is always going to be that concern,” added Bloomfield. “It’s something which the big brands can’t do anything about. There will always be those who choose to copy, replicate and reproduce. My way of looking at that is to always be one jump ahead. We’re already thinking of what we’re doing next.”

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