Style / Fashion

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?

Mar 09, 2022 | By Joseph Low
Acne Studios accessory from its FW19 collection ;Image Credit: Vodj Studios

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 engines to power textile machinery. While this is a giant leap in terms of technological advancement with innovation at its nucleus, there is also the untimely demise of traditional craftsmanship as it slowly becomes economically unviable for the mass. 

However, this creates another opportunity whereby these ateliers pride themselves in producing extremely high-quality handcrafted products that cater to a niche group of people who have the eye and money to make these purchases. Hence, this allowed for the advent of luxury brands such as Louis VuittonHermesChanelPrada and others. But as society continues to innovate, new forms of production will undoubtedly emerge and cause a ripple effect on the luxury sector.

3D Printing has allowed the democratisation of fashion. Image: Xiaole Tao/Unsplash

By the 21st century, society has progressed by leaps and bounds and now we are in the age of 3D printing. While 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 of molecules fuse and build up to form a three-dimensional shape. Using 3D printing requires no special tools like cutting tools or moulds. The precise addition process helps create complex structures; hence, the possibilities are limitless. 

In the realm of luxury fashion, brands have started to incorporate 3D printing into their design process. Take a look at Balenciaga’s Autumn Winter 2018 collection. 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 to be printed as per the fitting requirements. 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 — a standard that many fashion houses strive for these days. Brands under LVMH have employed 3D printing to make prototypes of their products, as with Adidas and its 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 was the ultimate aim. Now with the ubiquity of luxury brands, the exclusivity often associated with luxury has 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.

3D printing makes it even easier for brands to produce their products in a shorter time to make up for the increased demand for their products. This increases access to luxury goods. How then can top brands continue to justify their price points? If one could simply 3D print out luxury goods that look virtually the same, then it makes sense that luxury brands should lower its prices.

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 artisans 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 cannot 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. For them, it justifies the exorbitant prices that tag along with the products.

LV workshop
A craftsman assembling a Louis Vuitton trunk.

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. Still, 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. 

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