“Forget Shopping. Soon You’ll Download Your New Clothes”

Television was first demonstrated back in the 1920s. But it was really wasn’t until the late 1950s that it took off. I don’t think breakthrough technologies take 30 plus years to make it into the mainstream any more. Maybe it’s better to say that once they reach their tipping point, their adoption accelerates dramatically. Why? Because that they come around no longer surprises us.

3D printing appears to be such a breakthrough. It’s already in use for prototyping, some kinds of customization, and no doubt uses I don’t know anything about. Here’s a link to some things they are being used for. Yup, there are definitely some I didn’t know anything about.

But what motivated this post was a short, six minute Ted Talk from a woman who’s working on printing fashion garments. That kind of hits close to home. I imagine that like me, when you watch this you’ll say, “There’s no way in hell I’m buying four 3D printers, running them in my home 24 hours a day, then having to put the garment together from pieces.” I was curious as to what’s involved in putting the pieces together, but she doesn’t tell us.

I imagine we all believe the technology will get better. Printers will get faster, cheaper, and will work with more materials. I’ve previously shown you this link about 3D printing getting 100 times faster.

When that happens (Next year? The year after? I don’t see it taking 10 years) how do things change for retail and the fashion business? What does it mean to have a store if your inventory is mostly software templates and material powders for consumers to load on their home machines? Actually, they may keep a stock of the commonly used powders at home for convenience- sort of like we all have some extra sugar and flour in our pantries.

Do you need to come into the store to check for fit before you buy? Not if your body has been measured/scanned and the software you down load adjusts itself for your body shape. Would this mean no returns or warranty issues?  What happens to our distribution networks?  Who needs Federal Express and UPS!

Here’s the link to “Forget Shopping. Soon You’ll Download Your New Clothes.” As a brand or retailer (and most of you are both), I don’t see how you can’t have a room where you are experimenting with one or two of the current 3D printers. They aren’t very expensive.

I’m sure this will evolve in ways and with repercussions I can’t imagine. Those surprises will create opportunities for some of you.

6 replies
  1. Mark Kelly
    Mark Kelly says:

    Thanks for this post Jeff, very interesting and thought provoking. One thing is for sure this isn’t going to stop it will continue to develop for sure.

    • jeff
      jeff says:

      Hi Mark,
      There are many surprises to come, and I’m sure I don’t see the future clearly. But in some form (perhaps in combination with other technologies- see above post from Don) I expect it to have an impact.


  2. Don Tashman
    Don Tashman says:

    Yes, the 3D printing world is growing in size and scope. Applications are extensive (particularly in refining and assisting manufacturing). However, the reason 3D printing has already gone through one trend cycle is that while the machines are relatively accessible, the software to create or at least manipulate the files is not. For the layperson it’s a primarily useless currently. That is changing, albeit slowly. Personally, I think we’re gonna see a convergence of CAD, VR and 3D printing that will dramatically impact the way we create and engage with material objects.

    • jeff
      jeff says:

      Hi Don,

      I know it’s not there for the typical consumer. Good point about the software- it will evolve. I also like your idea about technologies converging. No doubt in ways we can’t quite imagine yet.

      Thanks for the comment.


  3. David
    David says:

    I’m a bit more pessimistic on the whole thing. 3D printing has revolutionized R&D for industrial designers, but for the average consumer I just don’t think it’s found a relevance. The analogy of sugar and flour is relevant, most people have those in their pantries, but most people still also go out and buy bread at the store vs. making it at home, and the barrier to entry there is extremely low. TV is another good analogy, it had the potential to change the way we view the world, but it’d de-evolved into sitcoms and reality TV shows and so many commercials that it’s essentially a marketing machine now. I see the web going the same way, as FB, Twitter, Insta, Snapchat, etc. all try to monetize, what were once hyper-disruptive platforms (Twitter : Arab Spring) slowly degrade into ad networks.

    The majority of what I’m seeing done on 3D printers is bobbles and trinkets. I’ve printed some fin boxes and prototype fins and while it’s great for quick R&D, the materials and time are cost prohibitive for production. In an ideal world, the following link is the type of exchange that would cause progression and rapid advancement. Easy, global collaboration over the internet with easily shared digital files that can then be printed locally –

    Don’s comment about the software being a barrier to entry is extremely relevant, but that gets solved when people build software around their interests to make it easy to use for very specific purposes, ie, surfboard fins –

    I could see something similar for clothing. It just takes someone passionate about it to build the software that takes your custom measurements and builds the template and allows easy modifications and file exporting to printer-friendly files.

    • jeff
      jeff says:

      Hi David,

      I agree with all the barriers you list above. And I’m sure there others neither of us have thought of. But just as surely, I know some of them will be surmounted and others will just disappear in ways we haven’t imagined. The title of the Ted video made 3D printing sound sort of inevitably overwhelming. I don’t think all brick and mortar retail will go away. I don’t think everything will ever be 3D printed. But remember the first personal computers. They were build from kits by hobbyists with the knowledge and inclination to spend lots of time and effort on it. The learning curve and advances in technology allowed us all to participate in ways we couldn’t have imagined. I don’t know how far and how fast 3D printing and associated technologies will advance, but I’m not prepared to underestimate the ability the people working on it to overcome some of the problems you correctly point to.

      Thanks for the comment,


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