Inside one of the first 3D-printed fashion shows in America

“For me, fashion is an expression of art and I’m very excited to explore the technology’s potential to change how clothes are made and rst.”

How much would you pay for a pair of shoes customized to fit you perfectly? How about wearing your favorite piece of art? Welcome to 3D-printed fashion.

MecklerMedia will host its first 3D Print Fashion Show in the United States in New York April 16, showcasing the latest items from the top designers across the world. The company promises “the top 3D print designers from around the world will create original pieces” that will debut at the show. One of the show’s main attractions: Fashion designer Melinda Looi will reveal, what is eventually world’s first full-length evening gown, 3D-printed as a single part flexible enough to slink and vamp with a woman’s body.

“3D printing will change the world.”

“When you think of constructing with a sewing machine, you’re always thinking in terms of how to use fabric and thread,” Looi told Digital Trends. “But with 3D printing, you’re not limited to that.” Looi is a veteran designer, having won Designer of the Year three times at the Malaysian International Fashion Week. The enthusiastic designer will debut her second 3D collection in collaboration with the fashion show’s sponsor, 3D print software provider Materialise. Her first collaborative collection with Materialise — inspired by birds — came in 2013 at Malaysia’s first printed fashion show.

“3D printing will change the world,” Looi explains. “Maybe not now, but in times to come 3D printing will usher in a new era by enabling machines to produce objects of any shape, on the spot, and as needed.”

Indeed, 3D-printed clothing has caught fire among designers across the globe. Materalise and Looi put on Asia’s first two 3D print fashion shows in Malaysia and Japan, three months apart in 2013. The following year, Geek Picnic 2014 — an open-air festival held annually in St. Petersburg, Russia — showcased 3D print clothing alongside robot giants and virtual-reality headsets at the first 3D print fashion show in Russia. Later this year, Boston will host its first 3D printing jewelry competition courtesy of Design Museum Boston, New England’s only design museum. And 3D Printshow has held events for the advancements in the space since 2012; it held its first fashion show in New York City last year.

The future will strut its stuff on the catwalk, in other words — yet it’s still far from a reality today.

How soon is now?

Interest in 3D-printed clothing may be at its highest ever, but trucks full of printed clothing won’t flood your local H&M any time soon. Creating the future is taxing financially, with a single dress costing upwards of $3,000 just to produce at the moment.

“Currently accessories and garment accessories are the only commercial way forward, as a complete gown is just too expensive,” Looi said. And garments that come from the current generation of 3D printers lack the durability everyday clothing requires. “The fragility of a 3D printed garment is another thing to overcome,” she explained.

Trucks full of printed clothing won’t flood your local H&M any time soon.

Looi chose not to reveal any details about her potentially groundbreaking collection, but promises it will be “even more spectacular then our last one.” Still, retail outlets are slow to adopt the groundbreaking tech, despite enthusiasm from designers. The acclaimed designer says no retail outlets have contacted her about selling her 3D-printed clothing yet, “but we do get a lot of inquiries from museum and exhibitors.” Emphasis on the yet: A spokesperson for MecklerMedia told Digital Trends the company has in fact received calls from retail chains interested in attending the show.

Other designers participating in the 3D Print Fashion Show have all had their hands in pushing this burgeoning industry. Andrew O’Mara helps 3D design custom footwear for startup Feetz, a company which turns photos of customer’s feet into individually customized 3D-printed shoes. Rachel Nhan, who has crafted 3D printed neckpieces, is assistant graphic designer at Aeropostale. Francis Bitonti runs a studio which produces 3D-printed jewelry, gowns, bags and accessories and describes itself as a “disruptive luxury brand.” Bitonti also holds webinars on the 3D print process in fashion and is holding his next one on June 10 at 1 p.m. EST.

For years, 3D print fashion has been on display. But Looi’s free-flowing gown could signal a path from the runway to your closet. With PayPal sponsoring this year’s Geek Picnic in Russia and Nike releasing its first 3D-printed Nike Football Rebento duffle bag, Mercurial FlyLite Guard and the Nike Vapor HyperAgility Cleat last summer, 3D print fashion may capture the funding needed to commercialize this revolution. It has certainly already captured the interest.

MecklerMedia’s inaugural 3D Print Fashion Show will take place April 16 at 5:30pm at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center in New York City.

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