The story of 3D printing is the story of partnerships. 3D printing allows for a new way of making new things, with the most spectacular 3D printed projects taking hundreds of hours to create, and thousands of dollars to print. Yet despite all the advances in additive manufacturing technology occurring this past decade, the ‘special sauce’ that really makes the more amazing pieces possible are the collaborations: people working together on a common vision across the boundaries of departments, companies, nations, time zones and disciplines.

3D Printed Dress, Michael Schmidt and Francis Bitonti Studio.

3D Printed Dress, Michael Schmidt and Francis Bitonti Studio.

The famous Dita Von Teese dress was a result of an impressively complex partnership. Designed as a pr piece, the gown was a product of a collaboration that included 6 different partners (Michael Schmidt, Frances Bitoni, Ace Hotel, Shapeways, Swarovsky and the actress Dita Von Teese), each contributing not only professional expertise, design input and funding, but also, perhaps more importantly, a network of connections and access to a loyal audience.  With the combined media savvy of all parties involved, the dress was released in a beautifully choreographed marketing effort, and is still one of the most well-known 3d printed fashion pieces up to date. Launching the career of Francis Bitoni in 3d printing fashion, the dress also drew a spotlight to Shapeways a month before the company announced a hugely successful series c round of venture funding.

"Stained Glass" 3D printed corset by Michaella Janse van Vuuren

“Stained Glass” 3D printed corset by Michaella Janse van Vuuren

Another example of a successful collaboration is perhaps the most technologically sophisticated 3D printing project up to date: the Garden of Eden collection. Dr. Michaella Janse van Vuuren, based in South Africa, worked with Norwegian 3D software maker Uformia to create the pieces, which were then 3D printed by Statasys in Israel and premiered at the 3D Print Show 2014 in New York City.   The pieces utilized the most cutting edge 3D printing technology: a mutli-jet, full color 3D printer that allowed for a creation of single-print, stitch-free garment that is at once flexible and firm, translucent and oblique, and one that required no post-print finishing. The corset from the Garden of Eden collection is a technological marvel of the 21st century. Although Dr. Michaella Janse van Vuuren has completed a number of artistic 3D printing projects prior to working on Garden of Eden and is highly talented in both esthetic perspective and CAD, it sill required months of collaboration with highly specialized professionals to realize her vision and print the final pieces.

Such collaborations are challenging to set up, and are not easy to carry out. The challenges, besides the more expected logistical, cultural and timing considerations, also include finding the right partners.

Not everyone on a 3D printing team has to be a CAD or 3D printing expert, yet the partners do need to bring a specific set of talents to the collaboration. While the runway queen of 3D printing, Iris van Herpen has famously stated her dislike for computers, she is a super talented classically trained fashion designer who has build her career using non-traditional materials (acrylics, plastics, magnets). Michael Schmidt also successfully worked with a variety of innovative materials before approaching 3D printing. Without the practice in experimenting that comes with using unusual materials to create fashion, more traditional, fabric oriented designers have had a much harder time in using 3D printing, often resulting in bulky and unappealing creations. Yet at the same time those CAD professionals who have the technological skills to create the designs often lack the esthetic and market sensibilities of fashion designers – people who have spend decades studying the human form, creating innovation on the avant-garde of contemporary culture and connecting to dreams and imagination, motivating people to move beyond their comfort zones and try out new things. If only Google understood what fashion designers do and included one on their development team from the start, we would all be on the waiting list to wear Google Glass right now.

Iris van Herpen "Voltage" Jan '13 3D printed cape/skirt

Iris van Herpen “Voltage” Jan ’13 3D printed cape/skirt

Once these challenges are worked out, there is an added complexity when it comes to ownership. The Iris Van Herpen, Neri Oxamn, Startasys gown is one such example. The acquisition of this piece by the MFA took much longer than anticipated, as the process involved talks with the multiple owners. While the ownership of the physical dress was successfully resolved to allow the purchase of the piece by the museum, the ownership of the files used to print the dress is still a murky, unresolved question.

Despite the challenges, successful 3D printing collaborations result in numerous benefits to all involved. First and foremost, they allow for creation of much more interesting and complex pieces that could not be achieved without the input of all parties. With such collaborations, the 3D printing company is able to showcase its technology in a spectacular new way. Stratasys approached Dr. Michaella Janse van Vuuren to created the Garden of Eden collection because it understood that while it could illustrate the capabilities of its new Objet printer using standard sample plaques, the fashion collection results in a much more spectacular ‘wow’ factor, inspiring the imagination of potential future buyers.

Such collaborations also tend to challenge the technology and inspire new product development – Materialise stated that the partnership with Iris van Herpen spurred product development, and increased the speed with which its highly flexible TPU, was brought to market.

Designers who work closely with 3D printing companies are able to access the expertise and practical knowledge of the 3D printing methods, machines, and finishing processes, which allows the designers to take risks and create pieces that push the capabilities of the technology. Additionally, sponsorship of such projects is something that allows the designers to perfect the final creations, as it might take a number of prints to get the final piece just right.

The standard mode of working is turning from a single individual laboring away and singlehandedly creating a program, a dress, or an art piece to a model where a group of individuals of different backgrounds and talents come together to benefit from each other’s expertise in designing the final project. If the only people developing your product are CAD and 3D printing experts, its time to be worried. It is the power and diverse perspective of an interdisciplinary team that allows for the creation of items that stand out among the sea of competition.

Perhaps the much-lamented complexity of 3D printing is not a downside of the technology at all, but rather an opportunity to re-think the standard way of operating, and an invitation to collaborate and benefit from different perspectives in the creation process. 3D printing is the technology that is shifting the paradigms of manufacturing. With 3D printing, our current limit is not technology, but rather imagination: the core problem is not in making quicker or better versions of existing products, but in making new products that would be impossible to make by other means. An interdisciplinary team that includes an outside, fresh perspective of someone not engrained in the limitations of technology will help to push and redefine the boundaries of what is now possible.

If you would like to build or join a team in 3D printing fashion, join Additive Fashion forum on linkedin and introduce yourself – perhaps you’ll find the perfect collaboration partners to create the next great 3D printed design.

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The story of 3D printing is the story of partnerships. 3D printing allows for a new way of making new things, with the most spectacular 3D printed projects taking hundreds of hours to create, and thousands of dollars to print. Yet despite all the advances in additive manufacturing technology...