3D printing has taken over the headlines in more recent years, with endless news articles and stories being published, each trying to demonstrate how this technology could revolutionise retail. Whilst 3D printing is a cool idea, considering how tech-obsessed we've all become, have we forgotten to outline the negatives as well as the positives?
Fashion designer, Danit Peleg successfully printed an entire collection using just design software and 3D printers. The advantage of using this method is that it makes the manufacturing process for fashion designers quicker, easier and cheaper, lowering the barrier to entry for designers across the globe for the first time ever.
However, on the other hand, we could face a huge industry decline similar to when the mp3 first came about in the music industry. If the design files are leaked, or cloned, consumers won't have to pay for clothes anymore which could massively reduce the value of the fashion industry, especially when 3D printers become so affordable that we all have one.
All people would need to do is buy the materials and print their desired garment at home. And for a rapidly growing industry that is worth almost £30 billion a year in the UK, two thirds of that could easily get knocked out as 11 year old kids work out how to design (or clone) and print clothes at home. With this in mind, will big brands lose their appeal?
My view is that this change is very similar to what we saw in the music industry 15 years ago, however, the good news is that the music business is starting to pick up, and this has been made possible through streaming, paid VIP experiences, YouTube advertising and more. In fact, an entirely new business model has been built.
Thankfully for us musicians, the barrier to entry is much lower now, making it easier for us to build a large following on social media and YouTube, and make money doing what we love.
For fashion designers, one of the most challenging aspects is the manufacturing process, whilst maintaining competitive prices against the larger retail outlets, as well as convincing them to actually buy and stock their often unknown brands. If 3D printing takes over, that problem would be solved almost instantly, which is great for the fashion designer.
But on the flipside, this change could seriously affect third world countries. Currently, most 'fast-fashion' is produced overseas in sweatshop conditions for cheap labour which is terrible and could be classed as exploitation, but when these already poor workers are no longer needed, it may push them even further into poverty.
Also, if everybody is printing clothes at home, will people still visit retail stores? Would retail stores even be relevant anymore?
If not, more large retail chains may have to close their doors as HMV did, because people stopped showing up, because they could print their desired product at home for cheap, or for free. And be under no illusion that if new laws are introduced to stop fashion piracy, it won't mean a damn thing.
Pushing all that aside, I'd say 3D printing is quite exciting.
The biggest positive is that 3D printing could lower the barrier to entry for fashion designers, and level the playing field, making it possible for smaller designers to go up against the larger retailers. Also, they won't need to rely on retailers buying their clothes anymore. And 3D printing marketplaces will crop up, creating new income streams.
So whilst 3D printing is a tricky subject with so many positive and negative angles to consider, I'd say that the industry really needs a shake up, and in a time when the biggest buzzwords are 'sustainability' and 'made in Britain,' 3D printing could be the one thing that moves us towards those two goals on a scale that has never been done before.
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