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Designing the Future

Forward-thinking fashion designer Sylvia Heisel, who launched her career in the early ‘80s, has long championed the use of progressive materials—from a cocktail dress in stain-resistant Teflon and a bullet-proof Kevlar evening gown to a tutu with built-in LED lights. The Princeton, New Jersey native debuted her latest brand and consultancy Heisel (heisel.co) in 2013, focusing on sustainable, high-tech materials and 3-D printing techniques. A leader in the fashion-meets-tech realm, Heisel is pioneering the path for a new wave of designers, such as 25-year-old Designow contributor Snezhana Paderina [LINK TO ARTICLE: MembersArticle_3_SnezhanaPaderina]. We chatted with Heisel about high-tech fashion and where it’s headed.

How did you get involved with 3D printing and where do you see your work headed in that discipline?

We started 3D-printing accessories almost four years ago, mostly custom iPhone cases and keychains. For a long time, I didn’t think 3D printing would work for full garments, because the printers can only handle one material and the average piece of clothing has about 12 (fabrics, buttons, thread, etc). Then I started to see this as an opportunity to design something new, rather than as a hindrance. With sewn garments, you are always cutting out bits of different materials, connecting them together, and throwing away the excess pieces. A 3D-printed garment is made from a single element, so there is no waste. Going forward, I think 3D-printed clothing offers huge opportunities for clothes that are truly new. There are a lot of amazing new materials, printers and CAD software programs that offer innovative ways of approaching fashion design and production. It can be challenging, but the range of possibilities is endless and wonderful.

Tell us about the process of designing the 3D-printed coat and dress that you recently displayed at the Flux Innovation Lounge in London.

The pieces were designed in Tinkercad, a very simple 3D design software invented for kids. We printed flat panels and then assembled them together with a soldering iron, so it is sort of a hybrid process, somewhere in between traditional garment making and true 3D rendering. The coat and dress are made of NinjaFlex, a flexible filament by NinjaTek; it is a very strong, lightweight material that can be made into very thin sheets. We printed a lot of little swatches with different patterns and then created doll-sized versions of possible garments to get acquainted with the material. The dress was designed and printed in December 2015 and debuted on the runway at CES in January 2016. It was our first piece and getting it right was very stressful. The coat was a very slow printing process (almost 400 hours of printing time) but we were more experienced with the material so it was much easier. 

How does your work around technology and fashion play into the idea of sustainability?

I’m passionate about sustainability. Fashion is one of the world’s biggest polluters and we have to change that…New technologies can offer solutions, ranging from zero-waste 3D-printed clothes that can be melted down and reprinted into new styles to nano-coated fabrics that clean without water to a million other innovations.

Shop 3-D printed styles on Designow. [ADD LINK]

All images provided by Sylvia Heisel

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