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Fashion design and technology

Technology continues to drive innovation and shape many aspects of fashion from streamlining supply chains to body-scanning technologies and online re

The fashion industry is associated with labor-intensive practices and the production of physical materials and goods. While fashion design engages with practical processes and tactile materials, the fashion industry is also a technological industry.

Technology continues to drive innovation and shape many aspects of fashion from streamlining supply chains to body-scanning technologies and online retailing with interactive virtual models. Fashion design has also been impacted by technology. Since the arrival of computer-aided design (CAD) in the 1980s, CAD has evolved to become an industry standard across the ready-to-wear fashion sector and continues to be used for drawing and rendering fashion ‘flats’ of garments and product lines.

Recent advances in design technologies are driving innovation and challenging traditional design models. As data has become a valuable commodity in the digital economy, artificial intelligence (AI) is driving new technological innovations in user-driven AI fashion design based on algorithms being pioneered by Google and Amazon. While the technology is still in development it is moving fashion design towards more personalized clothing and making digital sampling a reality.

AI has attracted the attention of some notable brands, including Tommy Hilfiger, who partnered with IBM and the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) in New York in 2018 to launch the label’s Reimagine Retail project aimed at better understanding customer preferences and purchasing trends by collecting algorithmic data to help make more informed design decisions. Technology is enabling greater personalization of designs and garments while data collection is predicting customer preferences.

One feature of technology that has attracted popular interest and been applauded by the fashion industry is the use of 3D printing. Dutch designer Iris van Herpen attracted media attention for her pioneering collaborative work creating 3D printed garments presented at Paris Fashion Week. In America design duo Mary Huang and Jenna Fizel launched the first 3D printed bikini called N12 which was the result of a collaboration between their start-up company Continuum and technology firm Shapeways. The 3D printed bikini was created with a computer code using Rhino 3D CAD software and an algorithm. The creation of the N12 redefined the traditional model of fashion design to include a computer code rather than making a traditional pattern. In 2014 the industrial designer Leonie Tenthof van Noorden presented a range of leather dresses at Dutch Design Week produced using 3D body-scanning technology. Each dress was based on the scanned body measurements of a wearer to create a digital model with seams lines added and modified to each body.

The individual designs were transferred to their physical forms using a laser to cut out the pattern pieces for sewing assembly. Noorden’s designs anticipate a future where customers will be able to get a 3D body scan and have clothing made to their unique body measurements. In 2019 American designer Zac Posen collaborated with GE Additive technologies to create a dramatic rose dress made with twenty-one 3D printed petals mounted on a printed titanium frame. The red carpet dress was worn by British fashion model Jourdan Dunn to the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Gala event in New York. The potential of 3D printing for its flexibility and low carbon impact on the environment is encouraging collaborations between technology firms and fashion brands as a means to explore new ways of thinking about the character and process of design across digital and physical domains.

DESIGN AND TECHNOLOGY: Fashion model Jourdan Dunn wears a rose-inspired dress with twenty-one 3D printed petals to the Met Gala in New York, 2019. The red carpet dress was the result of a collaboration between fashion designer Zac Posen and GE Additive x Protolabs digital manufacturing technologies.
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