image of two people wearing a 3d printed facemask
Filippo Nassetti, architect and generative designer at Zaha Hadid Design, and Vincenzo Reale, generative designer and engineer at Arup have teamed up to design the Thalassic Mask. Courtesy Stratasys.

Stratasys Envisions The Future of Fashion Through Direct-to-Textile 3D Printing

With support from research platform Re-FREAM, the additive manufacturing giant calls on top industrial designers to rethink everyday accessories with sustainability and inclusion in mind.

Fast fashion accounts for 92 million tons of waste and 2.3 trillion gallons of water each year. Though these numbers are alarming, it’s clear that the real problem lies in the growing disparity between how much clothing is produced and how long items are worn. The quality of material and production has significantly declined in the past few decades alone and in turn, users have grown accustomed to acquiring new items more often. It’s a model that works well for the bottom line of large clothing companies but one with severe implications for our environment.

Several brands as well as independent and government-supported programs have begun to challenge the seemingly impassable system. Though the age-old virtue of quality over quantity—holding on to well-made items for longer—might not yet change the course of global consumption, a number of initiatives are exploring how harnessing new technologies can shake up outdated practices. The European Union–funded collaborative research initiative Re-FREAM is one such project.   

image of a 3D printed facemask
Filippo Nassetti, architect and generative designer at Zaha Hadid Design, and Vincenzo Reale, generative designer and engineer at Arup have teamed up to design the Thalassic Mask. Courtesy Stratasys.
prototype of a shoe with sensors
Assa Ashuach’s Evolve Shoe contains a personalized midsole ‘Evolve Sensor’ that studies its wearer while recording their movement data (foot inclination, temperature, pressure and friction, etc.). The information collected through the sensor is used by the production team to create the next generation of shoe which will therefore include improved design features based on performance. Courtesy Stratasys.

The program seeks to reimagine what urban fashion production entails and how new devices can be used to disrupt the industry. The multi-prong platform supports various artists and designers who collaborate with scientists to develop various speculative and solutions-based projects. Re-FREAM recently teamed up with American-Israeli 3D printing and additive manufacturing company Stratasys to explore how biomechanics, embedded sensors, and direct-to-textile 3D printing could be implemented to develop sustainable materials and products that are more accessible and customizable.

Addressing different facets of the contemporary experience, three leading industrial designers were asked to conceive new garment and accessory concepts using the new and improved Stratasys J750 and J850 3DFashion printers. These devices can create flexible and geometric textiles structures in a wide range of colors and patterns. They work with biomechanical materials including TissueMatrix—an engineered natural composite that mimics the aerodynamics, stretchability, and durability of human skin—but also more traditional sheer fabrics like chiffon.

rendering of a shoe
Assa Ashuach’s Evolve Shoe. Courtesy Stratasys.

“We can research and develop a sustainable design methodology that offers greater value to the user by changing current practices and making one bespoke [item] rather than thousands of [them] sent to market in standard sizes,” says Assa Ashuach. Two of the London-based designer’s shoe concepts, Evolve and Sepiida, incorporate sole-embedded sensors. This AI technology allows consumers to customize the footwear based on their individual biometric and ergonomic data from temperature to foot inclination. Because the products are so specific to each user’s biology, they better facilitate performance, withstand wear and tear, and in turn, can be worn for longer.

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Architect and generative designer at Zaha Hadid Architects, Filippo Nassetti, teamed up with Vincenzo Reale, his counterpart at engineering firm Arup, to put their own twist on the now ubiquitous face mask. Inspired by marine life and the structural quality of coral, the collaborators sought to create a suite of products that would better reflect the personal identities and anatomies of the user. The particularly elastic Thalassic Mask series incorporates 3D geometric patterns and achieves the optimal balance of weight, rigidity, geometry, and curvature to accommodate different faces.

image of two masks on a pedestal
Thalassic Mask, Courtesy Stratasys.

“Inspired by the experience of the pandemic and the restrictions of staying at home, [this project] celebrates equality by masking personal differences and shining a light on humanity,” says Stratasys creative director Naomi Kaempfer. “Fashion has always been a vessel for self-expression and differentiation, and we are excited that the innovation of 3D printing on textile is now part of [this tradition].” The idea of reimagining masks during this time is emblematic of how such a paradigm-shifting initiative can so rapidly exploit new technologies to address a major global event like the COVID-19 pandemic. The innovative materials and processes explored in this program are reflective of a mindset shift within the design discipline that has become critical in dealing with our most pressing challenges.

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