Mary Huang & Jenna Fizel / Continuum Fashion
This entry questioned the very nature of the category. What is a soft good? What is production? Surely a sign of things to come.
The N12 is a 3D-printed bikini and textile system. It is the world’s first 3D-printed ready-to-wear item of clothing.2. The Brief: Summarize the problem you set out to solve. What was the context for the project, and what was the challenge posed to you?
How could the process of making clothes be reinvented? We wanted to be able to make garments in one piece, closures included, where no sewing is required. 3D printing offers possibilities of complex forms without constraint. The nylon material created by SLS (selective laser sintering) 3D printing is flexible, but the direct challenge in working with the chosen production process is being able to create a textile from the raw material. A bikini was a natural choice to start with for 3D printed clothing, due to the low amount of material required and the fact that nylon is appropriately water-friendly.3. The Intent: What point of view did you bring to the project, and were there additional criteria that you added to the brief?
The project was initiated as a demonstration of possibilities. However, we strove for wearability, and the bikini top is actually exceptionally functional. The 3D printed textile perfectly forms curved surfaces that provide lightweight, evenly distributed support. When wet, the material doesn’t cling uncomfortably to the skin. The nylon material absorbs a modicum of water evenly across its surface–an effect similar to sea shells–creating a satiny feel whereas other materials like lycra become rubbery.
We also wanted to make the product approach the accessibility of ready-to-wear. We developed a modular system of straps and cups to accomplish sizing from 34A to 32D, petite to tall. At $250 to $300 for the bikini top, the N12 is not cheap, but is also not absolutely out of reach. The fact that it is buyable gives reality to the concept.4. The Process: Describe the rigor that informed your project. (Research, ethnography, subject matter experts, materials exploration, technology, iteration, testing, etc., as applicable.) What stakeholder interests did you consider? (Audience, business, organization, labor, manufacturing, distribution, etc., as applicable)
We began by trying to think of textile design in a very traditional way—how do we express the tools and materials used to produce the fabric in the design? The SLS 3D printing process fuses tiny spheres of nylon 12 into a solid plastic. The finished nylon is flexible and semi-porous, but the key quality is that the geometric structure of the printed part directly effects the material properties. Printing a spring shape in nylon actually produces a live spring. So, the freedom of 3D printing is that you can create and control the physical properties of your material through form. And since designs for 3D printing are entirely digital, we could approach the task with computational methods that would be impossible by hand.
There has been other work involving 3D printing “textiles”, but in the pre-existing approach was to create a chain mail from separately interlocking pieces. We did not feel the chain mail makes the best use of the possibilities of the nylon material—particularly its flexibility and capability to create springs. Through code we were able to create a system that responds in a continuous manner to the shape it is covering. We also defined this shape in an extremely precise and three dimensional way. Instead of relying on seaming or global stretching we designed a series of interconnected nodes whose properties of elasticity, support, coverage and regularity could be easily varied to respond to the needs of a human body.5. The Value: How does your project earn its keep in the world? What is its value? What is its impact? (Social, educational, economic, paradigm-shifting, sustainable, environmental, cultural, gladdening, etc.)
The process for making clothes has remained virtually unchanged over the last hundred years. There are machines for making sewing and pattern cutting more efficient, but overall, clothes are made from cut fabric and sewn by hand labour. The manufacturing process that this entails is often notorious in labour and environmental standards. We created N12 as an integrated vision of fashion design, textile engineering, and digital manufacturing. We believe design innovation requires oversight into supply chain and manufacturing, as well as the capability to inspire wonder in what is new and unfamiliar. The bikini is a beginning point, a defiance of how garments are currently produced, and a bellwether for emerging technologies.