Want a New Bracelet? Just Press 'Print'

Customization is king in 3D printing.

[“D” dress designs from Continuum Fashion]

The first time I heard about 3D printing was in surgeon Anthony Atala’s TED talk about creating a human kidney. My mind was sufficiently blown. What I thought was the stuff of sci-fi movies is an actual reality.

In 3D printing — aka additive manufacturing — a structure based on a digital file is constructed or printed in layers (similar to the statue of Arthur Fiedler on the Esplanade). Different 3D printers can produce a wide variety of objects out of many materials, from scaled models of architectural designs to (edible) burritos.

Read on to meet two local fashion start-ups who are 3D printing pioneers…

The technology is revolutionizing manufacturing in several industries – particularly medicine and engineering. However, the same technology is providing new options for creating art, sculpture, and fashion. Meet two local design companies that are pioneers in 3D printed fashion:

Continuum Fashion

Continuum Fashion’s founders Jenna Fizel and Mary Huang call it “part fashion label, part experimental design lab.” Fizel, an MIT alum, works at Small Design Firm in Cambridge, and Huang is based in New York. The pair creates interactive design processes that allow users to customize the final product.

Their “D” dress collection, for example, is technically just a piece of software. With the D.dress application, you can draw any frock (you don’t have to be Picasso) and the program turns it into a triangulated 3D model that can be printed and sewn to your proportions. The designed results are amazingly avant-garde and one-of-a-kind:

[Continuum D.dress prototype / Photo by Mary Huang]

Continuum’s newest program, CONSTRVCT, churns out digitally printed dresses and shirts bearing a design of your choosing. It’s currently in beta.

Fizel and Huang have also produced a ready-to-wear 3D printed bikini — the “N12” (named for the material it’s made from, Nylon 12). The swimsuit is purportedly strong, flexible, waterproof, and comfortable when wet. It’s also adorable and the best beach conversation piece that money can buy:

[“N12” bikini top, $250-$300, depending on size / Photo by Ariel Efron]

The company also offers jewelry made of the same nylon, like this stunning bracelet:

[“N12” nylon bracelet, $35 / Photo by Mary Huang]

Nervous System

MIT grads Jessica Rosenkrantz and Jesse Louis-Rosenberg founded Somerville-based Nervous System in 2007. They find inspiration in natural generative processes like coral formation and cell structures, and mimic them by creating generative “systems” that allow for changes and customization to make jewelry and housewares.

Their 3D printed jewelry is stunningly intricate, yet remains clean and simple. All in white, black, red, and silver – these pieces are all at once organic and futuristic. Here are two favorites from the “Hyphae” collection.

[“Rhizome” and “Hyphae” nylon with UV protective coating cuffs, $75 and $60 / Photo by Natalia Borecka]

[“Hyphae” nylon with UV protective coating ring, $28 / Photo by Natalia Borecka]

From the website: “Hyphae is a collection of 3D printed artifacts constructed of rhizome-like networks. Inspired by the vein structures that carry fluids through organisms from the leaves of plants to our own circulatory systems, we created a simulation which uses physical growth principles to build sculptural, organic structures. Starting from an initial seed and a surface, we grow a hierarchical network where nodes constantly branch and merge. The densely interconnected structure is at once airy and strong.”

These designers are expanding design possibilities. Not only are the creations gorgeous and unique, but with the popularity of geometric patterns and futuristic shapes dominating the runways recently, they are on-trend.

Because the printers are expensive and highly material-specific, 3D printing still has a long way to go before becoming entirely accessible. In the meantime, I’m already dreaming of downloading and printing an entire new wardrobe.

— Rachel Amico