The Ministry of Supply shop in Boston has a special 3D knitting machine – one that uses 4,000 needles to make a custom-fitted blazer in less time than it takes to watch an average Hollywood movie. Made by Japanese company Shima Seiki, the 3D Print-Knit's production process requires minimal human labour. Each customer can choose the colorus, cuffs and buttons of the garment, take a body scan to get the right fit, and all it takes is for an employee to program the machine before a blazer is produced.
Beyond not requiring human labour, there are other advantages with this fabrication process as compared to a traditional cut-and-sew production:
- They fit you like a glove, since the clothes are designed with shape and the strain placed on clothes in the use-phase
- While garments traditionally fail at the seams, the clothes are more durable as their shape is programmed
- Minimal scraps are created as the garment is produced directly from yarn, typically reducing garment waste by 35%
While there have been other processes to automate clothing fabrication, what is new here is the speed and efficiency of the process. Already, mainstream interest is apparent: Adidas and Uniqlo are among companies experimenting with similar machines. If such technologies become mainstream, we could be headed to a world where people mostly wear personalised clothes that are durable and exploitation-free.
The prospect of disruption to the jobs of textile workers looks significant. What skills will they need to remain an asset to an industry undergoing rapid transformation?
Whether the efficient, tailored process will temper or accelerate consumption remains to be seen: will people buy better, fewer items, or simply splurge with more confidence?
This signal was also spotted by Gwyneth Fries:
One of the futuristic promises of 3D printing in fashion was that one day the technology would allow you to walk into a store, give the staff your measurements, and walk out with a garment made on the spot, just for you.