3D Printing as a Game Changer for the Global Textile and Apparel Industry


3D printing is an emerging and transformative technology that adopts a fundamentally new approach of “additive manufacturing” to make things. Textile and apparel (T&A) is one major area in which the 3D printing technology is believed can have a wide application.  Companies such as N12 and a few designer-researchers have started the pioneering work of using printer to directly print wearable apparel for consumers.


Author: Sheng Lu

Professor @ University of Delaware

9 thoughts on “3D Printing as a Game Changer for the Global Textile and Apparel Industry”

  1. After watching this video I believe that 3D printing will continue to become more socially and globally known. I have heard about 3D printing for a couple years but I believe it is not getting more and more popular quickly. So in the future I think eventually it will be more popular and more companies will try to use it. I believe again eventually in years 3D printing will be extremely popular. The leading target market because of price points and having to know specific body types will be celebrities and the very wealthy. The market segments will most likely be defined by product type and region. I say this because the cost will be relatively high and people expect that. I think it will be segmented into product type because 3D printing might master one product such as shoes in this speakers case. And region because of people’s income. If 3D pieces are expensive demographics will tell where people take in more money and will be able to buy more. If 3D printing is a normal good than this is proven true because, as income rises than the demand for 3D printed product will rise as well.
    The new business opportunities that the technology will present are multiple technicians that know the specific printer inside and out, people to make these large detailed printers. People to sell the specific powders such as nylon to make the garments like stated in the video. There will be many job opportunities with this new development but also it will take away jobs. These are the restraints it will face. Jobs will be lost all over the world if 3D printing becomes large. There will be no need for so many people working in factories, it will take away jobs such a sales associates in stores, and it might even make stores go out of business. 3D printed as mentioned in the video is easier done by e-commerce. You place your order online stating your size, body shape, the design/patter you want, and style of your garment or shoe and place your order at the click of a button. This saves consumers personal time, gas money etc.
    I believe 3D printing will be great for the future. After stating my opinions I do not think that stores will go out of business because the textile and apparel industry I do not think one day will be exclusive to 3D printing. 3D printing still has some growing to do but once it hits the market I think it will take off.

    1. I really enjoy reading you comment!! Many great thoughts~ I agree with your observation about the future prospect of 3D printing. Actually I am recently funded to work on a project to better understand the scenarios of the global T&A supply chain in the 3D printing era. Very important aspect of the study is to identify the “restraints” of this technology. This may not necessarily be limited to technology, but also can touch consumers’ shopping behavior, the price points, the legal environment, regulations, etc.. On the other hand, it is just amazing to see the T&A industry can be relevant to the latest technologies in the world, although many people simply see us as a labor-intensive sunset sector. Think big, we do~

  2. Because 3D printing is so new and already gaining so much attention, I believe it will continue to grow and become more recognized on a global scale. However, it will take many years before the industry and its consumers accept it as a standard method of production. As the speaker in the video explained, the industry has been the same for over a hundred years. People will be hesitant to adopt a technology that completely changes the way clothes are manufactured, and much exploration will be needed in order to even consider 3D printing as the future of fashion. Just just like any other modern technology, 3D printing has the potential to affect the industry in both negative and positive ways. One of the greatest benefits to 3D printing is its ability to design a product that it made to perfectly fit to the dimensions of your body. This is also what makes the technology so expensive and exclusive. As a result, the leading consumers will most likely be those who are able to afford it, like celebrities. Market segments will be defined by product type more than anything else because designers are still experimenting with what they can do with 3D printing. It will be better for companies financially to master one type of product before experimenting with all different types. The 3D printing technology will open doors to all kinds of business opportunities because it creates a more efficient, less timely process for producing textiles and apparel. In addition, it gives companies who use it an edge because they can manufacture more original products that are customized to the personal preferences of the consumer. However, 3D printing also threatens thousands of jobs that could be lost in the manufacturing stage of the supply chain which will dramatically affect economies domestically and globally. Lastly, there will be many legal issues to deal with as the technology becomes increasingly popular. The CAD software gives people the ability to copy designs and print them on their own. This will lead to complicated ownership and copyright issues.

    1. great comment! I am glad to see you’ve started to think about some important questions, such as where is the market, how 3D printing might result in an evolution of the apparel industry. I have these questions in minds too which actually lead to the research project I am working on: the global apparel supply chain in the 3D printing era. I hope I can come out with something interesting to share with in the near future.

  3. I have recently been hearing a lot about 3D printing for the retail industry. While I think that it is going to receive a lot of press, I do not think the retail industry has much to worry about. 3D printing still has a lot of developing to do and won’t nearly be ready any time soon. Also, like some students previously stated 3D printing will no be accessible to the average consumer due to the extremely high price it will cost to use. The retail industry has endured a lot of changes with technology in the previous years and I don’t think 3D printing is going to wipe out regular retail stores. With online shopping being so popular and relevant today, there are still many standing stores that are doing very well.

    1. I agree that the prospect of 3D printing and its application in the mass apparel market is far from being clear. On the other hand, we should never underestimate the power of technology and human being’s innovation.

  4. I do feel that the textile and apparel industry needs to begin preparing themselves for very advanced technology. 3D printing may not completely take over this field, but it will definitely take over most parts. I see both positives and negatives toward not just 3D printing, but all advancing technology in this industry as well. 3D printing will make the workplace much more convenient and efficient, and make production much faster, but on the negative side we will see job loss. I’m sure we have years until we see a 3D printing machine but the idea has been around for a while now. 3D printing is very interesting to learn and read about because it is different, and it is a glance into the future. Once 3D printing is officially introduced, everyone will be hooked. Since the digital economy in this day and age is highly relied on, there is more online shopping and buying then ever. 3D printing will only help to expand on the convenience of online shopping. 3D printing will be a success for the future, but it will wipe away jobs. I do believe the future will bring many technological advancements aside from 3D printing, so regardless many jobs will be lost come the future. 3D printing seems as though it will highly benefit the textile and apparel industry, and I know I am personally curious to see how it would work out!

  5. Recently 3D printing seems to be gaining attention from everywhere you look. It is a new and exciting element for the fashion industry and not like anything else we have seen before. I think the phenomenon of 3D printing will continue to grow, but I do not believe at a rapid pace. Since it is so new it will take consumers some time to understand and accept this trend. I also think it will take time to develop 3D printing to be suitable for mass markets, when they are ready. Since the fashion industry has been changing production methods due to technological advances I think this is another step in that direction. The high cost of these items will not make them easily attainable for all consumers or retailers, so some might gain an extra edge from this and come out as a winner, but for those who cannot it will create losers. I do not think the industry has to worry about 3D printing taking over. Although production is efficient it is not cost effective yet. Retail stores and manufacturers will continue on as they have for hundreds of years before this innovation. I think if anything 3D printing creates more opportunities for the fashion industry to integrate technology with design. I see this trend continuing as something exciting and new on the runways.

  6. The future of the fashion industry could be tremendously altered by the innovative technology of 3D printing. Consumers’ shopping behavior would initially be impacted by the slow production time of each garment, eight months for the dress depicted in the video. Fast fashion would not be as fast and consumers would need to adjust their expectations to that, which would be difficult for fashion companies. The supply chain would be reconfigured to essentially eliminate production factories and be replaced with machines. Demand would increase for computer savvy employees to be able to write the codes needed for 3D printing of clothing. Fashion companies business models would need to drastically adjust to the slow production times and their marketing plans would need to introduce the new 3D printing technology in a way that intrigues consumers, instead of deters them away from the slow production time. A marketing strategy could include aspects about “a unique, one-of-a kind piece tailored for your body” for companies that want to create a custom piece for consumers. The opportunities are endless with 3D printing, however taking advantage of those opportunities could hinder the cut/sew industry which has been the way to produce clothing for hundreds of years. Trying to uproot that business and move completely to technology would be challenging, but it is doable.

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