Have Luxury Goods Lost Their Allure Amidst New Emerging Technologies?
3D printing has been around since the 80s but it is only in recent times that this technology has slowly become more commonly used in the luxury sector. Should these luxury brands be fearful of 3D printing or should they embrace it and create a new form of partnership?
Our society’s ability for mass production started in the 1800s after undergoing various industrial revolutions. This has opened up society to a myriad of manufacturing capabilities such as using steam engine to power textile machinery. While this is a giant leap in terms of our advancement in technology with innovation at its nucleus, there is also the untimely demise of traditional craftsmanship as it slowly becomes economically unviable for the mass.
However, what this creates is another opportunity whereby these ateliers proud themselves in producing extremely high-quality handcrafted products that cater to a niche group of people that have the eye and money to make these purchases. Hence, this allowed for the advent of luxury brands such as Louis Vuitton, Hermes, Chanel, Prada and others. But as society continues to innovate, new forms of production will certainly emerge and cause a ripple effect on the luxury sector.
Moving forward to the 21st century, our society has progressed by leaps and bounds and now we are in the age of 3D printing. While the use of this new technology hasn’t been widely adopted for commercial purposes, 3D printing is slowly but surely trickling down more widely across the population.
If you are new to the game of 3D printing, simply put, it works similarly to how a regular printer would function. But unlike traditional printing where you can only have the product in 2D, 3D printing uses additive manufacturing to realise your dream creation. Layers upon layers of molecules fuse together which builds up and forms a three-dimensional shape. Using 3D printing, no special tools are required such as cutting tools or moulds, and the precise addition process renders the process for complex structures, hence the possibilities are limitless.
In the realm of luxury fashion, brands have started to incorporate the use of 3D printing into their design process. Take a look at Balenciaga’s Autumn Winter 2018 collection and you will be surprised to know that the clothes consisted of 3D printed pieces. Each model’s exact measurements were recorded and input into the computer so that they are printed as per the fitting requirements. From this, we can derive another strong case for 3D printing, which is sustainability, an issue pertinent to the fashion industry. Using 3D printing produces almost no waste at all—a standard that many fashion houses are striving for these days. Brands under LVMH have employed 3D printing in making the prototypes of their products as with Adidas and their footwear. More prominently, in the making of the accessories such as sunglasses and jewellery, 3D printing help to create a customised mould that is unique to the customer, elevating the luxurious experience.
Taking a look at the current trend within the fashion industry, one would observe that personalisation ranks at the top of the list. In the past, owning a luxury product is the ultimate aim but now with the ubiquity of luxury brands, the prestige and elusiveness that are often associated with luxury have been diluted. That is not to say these luxury brands are not desirable anymore, in fact, there is a growing appetite for them amongst the burgeoning younger generation.
Compounding the ease of access to these luxury brands, 3D printing makes it even easier for brands to produce their products and at a shorter period of time in order to make up for the increased demand for their products. How then can top brands continue to justify their price points? If one could simply 3D print out luxury goods where the appearance looks virtually the same, the cost should be lowered.
To justify the prices, one has to look at the heritage, craftsmanship and material used to make these luxury goods. Brands like Chanel, Louis Vuitton, Prada have a storied history where its craftsmen have spent almost their entire lifetime perfecting their skills. When you purchase a product, you are essentially buying their time in producing that item. And while some parts of a product could be 3D printed out, the technology is not able to replicate the natural drape of a fabric or stitch up a piece of clothing. Luxury buyers are appreciative of the artisans spending utmost attention on the details and that for them, justifies the exorbitant prices that tag along with the products.
3D printing cannot recreate the experience of buying a luxury product in a store along with the opportunity to be part of the brand’s philosophy but it can complement the process of perpetuating these brands’ legacies to a broader audience. Moving forward, 3D printing will only become more entrenched so rather than shun its presence, a synergy should be encouraged.
Slider image from Vodj Studios