Student designer Danit Peleg knew nothing about 3D printers when she decided to design and print an entire clothing collection for her final project.
Unsurprisingly, her Shenkar College of Engineering and Design professors were more than a little skeptical when she proposed the idea.
But while Peleg didn’t win Shenkar’s prize for best final project, a video produced about Peleg’s five-piece collection has garnered more than a million views as viewers marvel at the rubbery, dishwasher-safe items of clothing.
“I thought, ‘Okay, it was a nice project, but I didn’t win. I don’t care,’” Peleg recalled in her home studio this week. “And then all the media started and I realized, ‘Okay, it is a big thing. It’s not only me that thinks it’s something that needs to be out there.’”
Peleg’s project was a test of whether it’s possible to create wearable clothing using home – rather than industrial — 3D printers.
She had five models walking the catwalk in full ensembles made of mesh-like, printed fabrics – with the exception of lining for some of the see-through garments – including five sets of fire engine red stiletto heels.
The process – which entailed over 2,000 hours of printing – involved using computer software and fabric printed in 8×11 inch (A4) sheets – the maximum dimensions for the base of a 3D design made with a small home printer. Peleg cut out patterns and glued, rather than stitched, together the pieces of fabric.
It took time for Peleg to figure out how to use the 3D printer for her purposes, from finding the right fabric to understanding the design elements. She quickly realized that no one had ever made 3D-printed clothing before because the existing material was made of hard plastic and couldn’t be worn.
When Peleg discovered the Spanish-made FilaFlex — which is much softer and more flexible and durable than other materials — she had something to work with and the company agreed to sponsor her project with spools of their product.
Peleg ended up using her own Witbox 3D printer, but first she encountered an entire, generous community of 3D innovators at two local design labs who helped get her started with the project.
“It’s a lab with a lot of geeks,” Peleg joked. “I really liked the energy and the people there. They were very curious to see what I was going to come up with.”
There was Yaniv, a “genius” ultra-Orthodox man from Afula, who wanted no credit for his endless work helping her with the 3D printing software.
And when Peleg – who had never designed shoes before, let alone written a computer program to print them – wanted her models in head-to-toe 3D printed material, she contacted someone she’d found online who gives out his heel file for free.
“This is why it’s so much fun to be a part of this community,” Peleg said, “because [one designer] might be doing something that could be really helpful for someone else, so they always credit others, and you learn from each other.”
In order to encourage and help other designers utilize 3D printers, Peleg posted a step-by-step description of her process on Reddit.
It wasn’t the first time Peleg experimented with technology in her fashion designs.
Last year, she made a dress featuring a heart shape formed out of LED lights. The dress was connected to a phone number, and viewers were encouraged to “text the dress” with their opinions of it. When people sent positive messages, the lights would illuminate to form a heart; negative messages turned the lights off.
For this year’s project, she looked to contemporary artists and designers – like Dutch fashion designer Iris Van Harpen, who has created individual 3D printed pieces using industrial machines, and who has “always been a source of huge inspiration” for Peleg.
“I think we’re going to see many more fashion designers using 3D,” said Peleg, who envisions that, within a few decades, there will be printable files available for purchase online – and that it will be common for people to print their own clothing.
“Designers won’t need to go to China and produce clothing,” predicted Peleg. “They’ll just need to make the design and post a file online.”
As for wearing 3D-printed clothing, Peleg admits that her collection is very conceptual.
“I don’t think that people mostly would like to wear rubber for daily life,” she said. “But I’m sure these structures will look much nicer if we can do it from cotton. In a few years, the material that we can put into the machines will be polyester maybe, and then it will feel better.”
For now, she has dreams of opening the first online store to sell printable files. But not quite yet – because not enough people own home printers, and the speed of printing is much too slow for it to be practical.
“It’s going to get much faster,” Peleg said, “and we’re going to find the machine much more useful. It’s going to make a huge change in the fashion world.”