Moving Fashion Forward
Integration of Virtual Reality and 3-D Printing in the Fashion Industry
As you read this paper, an 18 year-old is sketching her final designs at the London School of Fashion. A seamstress in China is working day and night to piece together leather for your Louis Vuitton handbag, much like the ones seen around the SU campus. And a young tech entrepreneur is working on what 2017 may see beyond the Oculus Rift.
Fashion and technology are two industries that are constantly innovating in order to meet consumers need for the latest trends. In 2009, Alexander McQueen became the first designer to livestream a show, changing the way we consume fashion forever. In the past year, VR has begun to have a more apparent presence in the fashion industry. High end brands such as Dior and Balenciaga utilized the Oculus Rift during 2016 Fashion Week, giving front row access to live shows. Voke, is a live event virtual reality firm which played a key role in producing the content of NYFW 2016. CEO of Voke, Sankar Jayaram originally only envisioned a few designers being interested in livestreaming these shows. However, there has been increasing interest from couture designers all over the world. The integration of VR in live streaming during fashion week was ground breaking. Jayaram states, “This opens the market for tens of thousands of people to now have a front row seat to the event. That’s an enormous increase in the visibility for the designer to be able to now say they can have 10,000 people sitting in the front row simultaneously” . On the other side, it does take away some of the exclusivity of attending these events as they are no longer just accessible to those celebrities and those in the fashion industry.
Companies such as The North Face and 7 For All Mankind have both created VR enabled films as promotional tactics when customers go to their store. The North Face’s South Korea store gives customers an immersive experience. While wearing The North Face’s new coat, potential customers use the Oculus Rift to experience a simulation of a ski lift. This immersive experience will incline customers to visit the store and also increase purchases of the coat. 
The current situation is being kept in place due to the increasing interest in VR. This year we also saw how prominent the interest is in livestreaming. One event that proved this was the streaming of Kanye West’s Yeezy Season 3 show. This took place at Madison Square Garden and was streamed through TIDAL. So many users attempted to view the show that the server crashed. The cameras utilized 360 degree shooting, giving users a unique cinematic experience.
We are also seeing strides in 3D printing and its use in fashion and textile design. One designer studying this is Mingjing Lin. Her current accomplishments include an interpretation of a traditional Chinese dress. This collaboration is called “Interfashionality”, as she mixed both traditional dress making techniques with 3D printing. Mingjing Lin’s story is fascinating.
“I came to London, after being a student at Tsinghua University in China. There I studied fashion design, although the institution is famous mostly for its science and technology research… When I was studying there most of the people I was surrounded by were engineering and science students. Coming from the design and art department, at first we didn’t really understand what they were doing or why it was interesting” 
Lin’s opinion on the use of 3D printing at the time is that it connects the digitization of the future with tangible creation. The virtual world is becoming a reality. Lin is inspired by Von Herpen’s work, a haute couture designer who is fully embracing the new technologies available.
The nature of both the fashion and technology industries are both ever-evolving and heavily consumer based. Kanye West Yeezy Season 3 also is an example of how consumers will make or break the fate of a product. The consumer demand for his products are exceptionally viral. This is the case for many brands with a loyal following. If consumers are willing and able to support their favorite designers and celebrities in their future business endeavors, they will invest. This creates an opportunity for more innovation in the space of fashion and virtual reality. VR headsets are expensive. The Oculus Rift starts at $600. Consumers of high fashion have proven to have a healthy income and can invest in their favorite brands. As pictured below, a basic item from the collection costs upwards of $300. This simple “relaxed fit hoodie” was manufactured in Turkey for much lower than its retail value. However, the viral sales of West’s Yeezy Boosts prove that his fan base will follow Yeezus in whatever he dips his hands into. West has also alluded to wanting to be a creative director at Hermés . Hermés is known for its historical Birkin bag, ranging in price from $12k to $95.5k. As fashion progresses so will VR and 3-D printing. At this time, it is evident that the price for both designer fashion, virtual reality and 3-D printing are the same.
It is also important to mention McKinsey & Company’s annual report of “The State of Fashion”. The 2017 edition was published September 2016. Fashion has always been ahead of the literal seasons as Spring collections are debuted in the Fall.
Curators of fashion also reinforce the fact that the K-Wave does not align with the fashion industry. The 2016 Met Gala hosted by Vouge’s Anna Wintour was themed Manus x Machina: Fashion in an Age of Technology. Wintour’s legacy in fashion had been historical since she became the editor-in-chief of Vogue in 1988. She is also the artistic director for Condé Nast, Vogue’s Publisher. Other power players in the fashion and tech space give their utmost confidence in the collaboration of fashion and technology.
Apple’s Chief Design Office states, “Both the automated and handcrafted process require similar amounts of thoughtfulness and expertise. There are instances where technology is optimized, but ultimately it’s the amount of care put into the craftsmanship, whether it’s machine-made or handmade, that transforms ordinary materials into something extraordinary” .
Although I am a Syracuse student studying music and entertainment business — the furthest thing from Anna Wintour or Jonathan Ive, I predict the inevitable integration of fashion in the evolutions of VR and specifically 3D printing. This will streamline the process of collaboration, buying, selling and most importantly the exchange of ideas across the world.
Forecasting 20 years into the future I can envision a world where VR headsets create a social network of like minded people with similar goals. This will mean so much for the fashion industry. Historically, up and coming designers had to pack their bags and head to fashion capitals such as New York, London or Paris to catch their big break. This current method is one of high risk and possibly high reward. But what if VR could eliminate this risk and connect a designer to a fashion company instantaneously. Let’s say the fashion haus is interested in the potential of a young designer. 3D printing could take this a step further.
Currently, a Belgian software company called Materialise, that creates the technology for 3D printing and helped create several dresses in the Met Gala. Materialise has the ability to print anything a computer can design. 3D printing has primarily been with just high end fashion. This is due to the expense and customized experience. In the beginning stages, 3D printing produced stiff “body armor” like products. As of now, 3D printed clothes cannot come close to everyday fabrics such as cotton. Today the primary use of 3D printing is accessories.
This is where there is room for growth. Within the next 10–15 years, I predict that in order for 3D printed clothes to become commonplace technology must evolve to replicate basic fabrics like cotton, denim and polyester.
Now, with this do it yourself approach to clothes there are many potential issues that must be addressed. These include copyright, payment to contributing parties and the governments involvement in the potential for increased counterfeit production. The current counterfeit market costs the global economy an estimated $250 billion a year. This number is calculated by the loss in potential profits that could come from consumers purchasing legitimate designer wear and the loss of jobs in the fashion industry. The ability to 3D print could increase the spread of counterfeit designer goods or help combat this billion- dollar industry.
Many people may find it harmless to buy a fake Rolex on the street of Chinatown. However, research has recently discovered that many of these goods can be harmful to your health. Counterfeit goods have no government regulation so they are not inspected and consumers are at risk due to the unknown origin of the materials used to produce their goods. As shown below, counterfeit electronics can be a hazard, as there is no regulation on the production and quality of materials used. Problems such as short circuiting are most likely a common issue.
I would love to buy a Céline bag as much as the next 20-year old young woman following the new trends. However, at the current retail price for these bags range from $1,500 to upwards of $5,000. Their popularity in America is partially contributed to the A-list celebrities often spotted sporting the latest designs. I have seen discounted bags from past seasons online at certified retailors and also at the Céline outlet. However, the price is still out of my budget.
A personal anecdote I always share when the subject of counterfeit bags is one I was told by a woman in China who was trying to persuade me to by her high quality replica. She claimed her bags were so authentic that a customer had the $3,200 authentic Céline bag at home, then purchased the woman’s $300 knockoff and switched the bags. Although this may have just been a sales tactic, it proved that there is still a need for authenticity. Clearly this woman wanted the bag at a lower price but still valued the authentic $3,200 bag.
So, what if designers could make their genuine products more affordable. This could all be possible with VR and especially 3D printing. As I mentioned before, I see an opportunity for the simplification of exchanging ideas/ designs and quicker production. I foresee the possibility for couture designers to sell their original sketches as design templates for 3D printers. They could also sell exclusive leather from their factories which are mostly overseas. This leather or other authentic fabric would be certified by the designer and available as a filament to be put into the 3D printer. If this were to happen it gives consumers the authenticity of having a designer bag. However, the price would be much more affordable due to the production process being broken up between the designer and consumer. It would also allow for customization.
Society and culture play a big part in trendsetting. The celebrity impact on fashion has and always will be a driving force. The popularity of the Met Gala’s Manus x Machina theme opened the door for those who may have never shown interest in the convergence of fashion and technology. Culturally, this is getting more attention which should lead to the acceptance of VR and 3D printing working to build a more globally connected society.
One other aspect that suggests the success of VR and 3D printing in the fashion industry is the reversing effect it could have on deculturation. Mingjing Lin explains the concept of “Interfashionality” which bridges traditional designs with modern technology such as 3D printing. Minority groups living in America or other foreign lands may want to purchase goods, specifically clothing and are unable to find items similar to what is available overseas. The VR and 3D printing experience could allow for integration of production overseas. Textiles, fabrics and VR access would give interested consumers access to these underground designers/fabrics only found in non fashion capitals.
The State of Fashion 2017, reported the geographic division of markets of different aspects of fashion. Tokyo is the leader for clothing, NYC reigns over footwear, athletic wear and Hong Kong controls the jewelry and bag/luggage markets. The segmentation is interesting and supports the need for a more interconnected network for markets, designers and retailers of fashion. Virtual reality and 3D printing will streamline these aspects of the fashion industry.
Looking forward, we are destined to see the expansion of VR in the fashion industry. The use of the Oculus rift for viewing shows during fashion week will be considered common place by next NYFW. The State of Fashion 2017 dedicated a section to “shrewder shoppers”. These are the shoppers who demand instant gratification. With fashion, it is important to be one of the first people to own an item off the runway especially if you are a curator. Your taste matters more than the average consumers. This instant gratification through VR is already here. Alibaba’s VR allows customers to purchase items with the nod of a head. I predict this being used in fashion week within the next few years.
Current media companies need to accept these trends in order to help the industry move forward. There are great opportunities for brand partnership, advertising and contracts with exclusive access for fashion/media brands to utilize. Anna Wintour, her publishing house Condé Nast and Karl Lagerfeld would be essential for the acceptance and growth of VR and 3D printing in the industry. Tech companies must pitch to them in order to see success on their end.
However, it is also possible that tech companies become just as important in curation and the fashion industry in general. They are the driving force behind making the future of VR and 3D printing continue on accelerating at rapid speed.
Although I have spent hours of research persuading myself that 3D printing will benefit the industry and consumers, there are multiple versions of this reality. One problem that could be a blocking force is the division of payment. If VR and 3D printing can streamline the creation and distribution of fashion it may be problematic when it comes to dividing revenue splits. The designer in a third world country who sends their prototypes and sketches to London/NYC/ Paris could easily be taken advantage of. The production/ 3D printing of the product will most likely occur in a country with access to lawyers and power. They will be able to exploit funds from sales without question from the design partner thousands of miles overseas. This is an ethical and legal issue that could prove to be a hindrance and prevent the acceptance of 3D printing in fashion.
Another possible setback could be the rising technology of blockchain scanning. This is in its early stages but it is it likely in the next 5–10 years it will evolve just as all technology does. As I mentioned, the counterfeit industry could expand or decrease with 3D printing. If it were to expand blockchain scanning could work to identify knockoffs. From a legal aspect this is an opportunity for law enforcement to crackdown on the selling of counterfeit designer goods. In Italy, there are steep fines for buying a knockoff bag. This may be reflective of their place in the fashion industry. Milan is one of the fashion epicenters of the world and known for their leather goods. I think their steep fines may be an attempt to keep the prestige of their city in the fashion industry. Obviously they do not want civilians of lower socioeconomic status to devalue the designer brands that are made there.
One final setback I could foresee is certain designers resisting the instant gratification model. The fashion industry is already so ahead of the seasons. It is winter 2016 and the Céline website already has Summer 2017 available for sale online. The instant gratification model may be great for economic reasons and gathering analytics on what consumers want right after new lines are debuted on the runway. Or, it could push designers to create new lines even faster than they are now. This could lead to an oversaturation in the market and too much competition.
The future is predictable to an extent. Fashion will always be moving forward. Technology, especially VR and 3D printing have tremendous room for growth. The future is now.