Here It Comes; 3D Printing for Apparel
It was, I think, a couple of years ago when I said, 3D printing of various products is on its way. I suggested maybe getting a 3D printer for a few thousand bucks and experimenting with it. Maybe print some key chains or stuff like that. The responses were along the lines of “Oh, sure, someday.”
“Someday” just got a whole lot closer. Here’s the link to Intel’s turnkey 3D printer setup for apparel. Also, you’ll note, it’s going to be a complete retail management system.
Yes, I know. “It takes up too much room.” “It’s too expensive.” “It takes too long to print.” “Our customers aren’t asking for it.” “It’s not available yet.”
It will become available. And the next version will be smaller, cheaper and faster. And your customers will ask. Hell, they will expect it. What will be your objection then?
So, in case you haven’t figured it out, I’m kind of frustrated. To those of you who are all over this, I apologize. I do what I do, even at the risk of making some of you uncomfortable, even angry, to get you to think about how things are changing. I know how hard that is to do (at least it was hard for me) when you are running a business day to day.
I’ve said a few times that the biggest risk was not taking any risk. Here’s another example of that. Please get it on your radar now.
Okay, I feel better now that I’ve gotten that off my chest.
But Jeff, “customers want to try stuff on, touch and feel it”
“No one in their right mind would give up the reliability of a horse for that dirty smelly loud contraption” said a large number of blacksmiths and Luddites.
We’re both frustrated mate. I can’t seem to convince them either.
But keep trying.
Yeah, it’s my goal to see just how many people I can piss off by telling them inconvenient things. There will be a couple of samples in a much smaller and differently configured store that they can touch and try on. Except maybe the machine will take a picture of them and get all their measurements precisely right. So never mind trying on. I guess there will have to be fabric and color samples. But why do you need any sales people at all for this? You see a garment online. You go to the store to feel the fabric, see the colors. It’s printed while you visit other stores or have lunch. You don’t, of course, have to go to the store. You can order it online and have it sent. But what the hell. As long as you’re in the mall, you can look at styles and designs at other stores, go back to the store where you were ordering it, and create your own design on the computer before it’s printed. And there goes any concern about the buy cycle. Designers will be just sort of giving people ideas. Factories just supply yarn and dyes. You are your own brand every time you buy something. So what is the role of brands? And what, exactly, does inventory and inventory management become? And why can’t a bunch of stores/brands share a room with some numbers of machines in it? This all assumes, of course, that you don’t have a machine in your house that will handle all this.
I’m sure I don’t have that precisely right, but somebody explain to me why we aren’t moving towards that.
Glad my snarky sarcasm wasn’t lost on you.
Build your balance sheet, be open minded, allow yourself to be surprised, take some perceived risks, and hang on.
Machine produced knit-wear is a fascinating example of in-store production, but the advances in machine cutting-and-sewing is likely going to be a larger impact when paired with the fast-fashion retail model. Particularly when it comes to clothing like t-shirts.
I will give you an example, a company called Sewbo has a patented technology for using a chemical stiffener to make cloth easier for machines to cut and sew. Machines have difficulty managing soft, unpredictably flexible materials. Sewbo uses a non-toxic reusable plastic resin to elimate that problem. once the pieces are sewed together they are immersed in hot water and the resin is re-captured for later use.
Even if the machines arent fast enough or cost effective enough to justify putting in a store today, fast-fashion companies could easily invest in local warehouse and manufacturing space to speed their design roll outs to stores while side stepping the problems of trans-pacific and central american imports, tariffs and manufacturing issues.
That is a great example. Thanks. I’ve also been told about a machine into which you can put a white sneaker and it comes out ten minutes later in whatever color/design you want. Have not seen it however. I am sure there are or will be other machines/technologies out there that will disrupt retails, brands, and production. Which ones and how quickly? No idea. But in this environment, what does it mean to be a brand or a retail store? There’s an article there for me to write.
Thats the interesting part, new technologies dont just pop up out of nowhere. They are iterations of existing technologies. A VR helmet is two video screens, motion tracking hardware and a lot of computer power. 3d printing started off as a hot glue gun on a sliding track with some actuators. . .and a lot of computer power.
Physical stores are a solution to a problem; how to get products into customers hands. People can make money by getting products into customers hands better than physical stores can. And when the circumstances around those stores change, like more efficient warehousing or self driving cars, it gets easier to innovate around the problem of physical stores.
That’s another great perspective. Obvious once you say it. Stores don’t only get product into customers’ hands. They give customers choice. These machines seems to be threatening to offer endless choice in very short time frames. I just am not quite sure what a store is as that evolves.
If your physical location less based around ready to sell inventory then you get to focus on the experience you offer.
Because what we are talking about is a return to an older model, bespoke-on-demand. Only supercharged and shiny.
Dont need your floor space filled up with inventory racks nearly as much, add couches and interactive display pieces to showcase the product.
If your employees arent needing to spend as much time worrying about stocking and inventory, train them to communicate with customers on the best use of your product from sizing to color to what is popular among similar products.
Consumer demand is already shifting in the direction of experiential-shopping. Hence the decline of the department store makeup counter and the rise of Alta Beauty.
Assuming, Adam, that you need many employees. They come into the store. Face the computer console. Call up their measurements, input their own design, and go and shop until it’s done. What’s it mean to be a brand then. We should be on panel on this.