This is the first piece in a two part series about Electroloom, and what the future holds for us.
Just over a year ago, my friends and I found ourselves enamored with the idea of 3D printed clothing. The idea was wild, daunting, and romantic. We wondered — would we one day download our clothes as we do our files? Would we begin sharing clothes as we already do our favorite pictures, songs, and articles?
Ray Kurzweil certainly thinks so. And we also believed it could be done. But while we dreamt of digitizing clothing, and sharing garments as files across the Internet, the actual technological solution seemed elusive.
Until we made a strange connection between metal chopsticks and blood vessels.
In college my co-founders and I studied tissue engineered blood vessels. These artificial cardiovascular constructs were made by passing dissolved polymers through an electric field, where they were pulled out of suspension and into fibers (as GLaDOS would say, “liquid thing goes in, solid thing comes out”). The results were tiny, non-woven fabrics on which we would grow cardiovascular tissue.
Inspired by our familiarity with producing these tiny fabrics, we used some metal chopsticks from our kitchen and a cheap power supply to generate an electric field. With basic materials we were able to create (an admittedly crude) proof-of-concept.
Surprisingly — it worked. Our (profoundly) unrefined demonstration yielded a haphazard collection of fibers between our pair of metal chopsticks. Motivated by this small success, we decided to enter a technology and design competition in San Francisco sponsored by the progressive clothing company Alternative Apparel. At the time, we had little more than a conceptual rendering, our kitchen-floor prototype, and a big vision. We were fortunate enough to win the competition, and were awarded $1000 and a year-long membership to TechShop.
Thanks to the Alternative Apparel grant and the relationships we built, we have spent the past year bringing our idea closer to reality.
Throughout 2014, we have seen incremental progress. After the chopsticks, we automated some of our hardware, enabling us to create fabrics that were cohesive but still fragile.
And by June of 2014, we had finished our alpha machine. It automated nearly all the processes used to create our fabrics. As we compared our progress with our earlier prototypes, we were able to see how far we had come.
It was around this time that we more fully understood what we were building — a 3D printer for fabrics. One capable of producing complex non-woven textiles that could provide solutions for a variety of applications—3D printed clothing among them.
In July we joined Boost VC, a startup accelerator program in the Bay Area. With their expertise and advice, we’ve made important strides as both a business and technology venture. We aim to continue refining our 3D printed textiles and machine in order to bring our future fabrics closer to businesses and consumers.
We believe 3D printing empowers and enables people to create—and we think our technology can help get us to a world that is better equipped to design and build.