The term “fast fashion” is poised to take on a whole new meaning, thanks to a breakthrough in three-dimensional printing that could revolutionize the way clothing and shoes are made. Researchers at Loughborough University in London, in collaboration with Thailand’s Yeh Group and an unnamed “major fashion house,” are embarking on an 18-month project to create customized garments in under 24 hours. Advances in so-called “additive manufacturing,” the industrial form of 3D printing, have made it possible to produce 3D-printed garments from polymers in a single manufacturing operation, according to Guy Bingham, senior lecturer in product and industrial design at Loughborough University. Not only does this technology have the potential to reduce waste, water, labor, and carbon emissions, he says, but it can also make bespoke apparel an affordable reality.
The rise of cheap and disposable clothes, while profitable for their retailers, hasn’t been kind to the planet, not to mention the people who make them.
In the United States alone, consumers buy about 20 billion pieces of clothing a year—that’s roughly 68 items per person. We’re also throwing away a lot. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Americans chuck at least 12.7 million tons of textiles into the garbage annually.
While textile-recycling schemes divert some of that waste, Bingham says 3D printing can bring another solution to the table, one that reduces fashion’s footprint from the start.
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