A perfect fit in 24 hours: Bespoke 3D printed clothing poised to transform fashion

A project between Loughborough University and clothing manufacturer the Yeh Group is set to make it possible to manufacture entire garments and footwear that perfectly fit their intended wearer in just 24 hours.

The project, which will run for the next 18 months, has come about as a result of advancements in additive manufacturing, enabling clothing to be printed in their entirety from a raw material such as polymer, without the waste and associated costs normally associated with clothing production.

“With 3D printing there is no limit to what you can build and it is this design freedom which makes the technology so exciting by bringing to life what was previously considered to be impossible,” said Dr Guy Bingham, senior lecturer in product and industrial design at Loughborough University,

“This landmark technology allows us as designers to innovate faster and create personalised, ready-to-wear fashion in a digital world with no geometrical constraints and almost zero waste material. We envisage that with further development of the technology, we could 3D print a garment within 24 hours.”

3D printing has the potential to dramatically transform the clothing industry, moving manufacture away from major factories and into physical stores.

At present 1.8m tonnes of waste material are produced and 6.3 billion m³ of water is used every year by the industry, which additive manufacturing could almost completely eliminate.

There is also the matter of fit. An estimated two thirds of women and one quarter of men currently wear the wrong size, but if clothing manufacturing were to switch to 3D printing, it would make bespoke, well-fitting clothes the affordable norm.

Dr Guy Bingham with some 3D printed fabric

Dr Guy Bingham with some 3D printed fabric

Then there’s the issue of fashion trends. At present most brands follow a four-season-a-year model, based around a strict schedule of shows, deliveries and sales, but with 3D printing clothing trends could last for shorter periods for so-called ‘fast fashion’, while long-lasting styles could be reproduced for years without being taken off the shelves.

“Printing clothes using additive manufacturing will revolutionise the fashion industry worldwide by opening up digital manufacturing to the masses via online retail, bringing a much needed update to 19th century techniques and processes,” explained Bingham.

“This modern approach to clothing production helps meet the growing demand for personalised apparel and footwear which through 3D printing can be produced in a sustainable and ethical way.”

A University of Loughborough researcher scans a foot to create the data for 3D printed footwear

A University of Loughborough researcher scans a foot to create the data for 3D printed footwear

Previous efforts have been made to use 3D printing in this notoriously difficult-to-penetrate industry, but this project looks likely to have  greater success than most, thanks to the involvement of the Yeh Group.

As a major global garment manufacturer with high-profile retail brands among their clients, they have the ability to actually change the way the fashion industry operates in a way that university researchers simply cannot.

Images © Steven Lake

Images © Steven Lake

“3D Fashion supports the Yeh Group vision of direct polymer to garment manufacture, ” said David Yeh, managing director of Yeh Group division Ton Siang.

“The Yeh Group is always striving to cut out unnecessary waste and resource use, and support the industries goals of faster to market, creating a manufacturing technology that brands and retailers can install closer to their customers. This is all with no compromise to performance.”

An unnamed major fashion house is also providing design input, which should ensure that the resulting garments are appealing to wear.

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