3D-printed bikini hit of the RAPID 2012 Fashion Show

The 3D Fabulous Fashion Show was one of the kick-off events at the RAPID 2012 additive manufacturing conference in Atlanta (May 22-24), sponsored by Materialise of Leuven, Belgium. The show featured all things 3D printed, including hats from Brussels master milliner Elvis Pompilio, necklaces by renowned designer Daniel Widrig, and the top 20 designs from the “Hats off to 3D Printing Challenge” conducted by Materialise’s consumer division, i.materialise.

But the “Wow factor" came when a model hit the runway in a two-piece, 3D-printed bikini "N12," named for the material the bikini is made from: polyamide 12 (nylon). To manufacture the swimsuit, the PA-2200 nylon powder was processed on the FORMIGA P 100 laser-sintering system from EOS (Electro Optical Systems) GmbH.

The N12 bikini is the world’s first, ready-to-wear, completely 3D-printed article of clothing. All of the pieces, including the closures, are made directly by 3D printing, and snap together without any sewing. Designed by Jenna Fizel and Mary Huang of Continuum Fashion, and made possible by laser-sintering technology, N12 represents the beginning of what is possible in fashion for the near future.

According to a release from EOS, one of the main principles behind Continuum Fashion is pushing the possibilities of digital fabrication tools to create designs that specifically reflect the technology behind the manufacturing process. With the N12 bikini, the designers were trying to reinterpret the textile design through a computational lens, and they have initiated a kind of paradigm shift in the textile industry.

In creating the fabric, the designers’ idea was to subdivide the surface into small patches that are connected to each other by thin elements in order to achieve both coverage and flexibility. The shape of the elements had to conform to the curves of the body, enable movement and support the transition of the pattern from one size to another. Triangles and polygons can only approximate curves, said EOS, but circles don’t suffer from this issue. “They are, of course, always perfectly round,” noted EOS.

“With the N12 system we are attempting to use the variability, continuity and precision of complex 3D modeling in combination with laser sintering to produce a textile with new and unique properties,” said Fizel.

In the finished bikini design, the top is composed of four pieces that hook together to provide a modular system for sizing. It packs flat in the build chamber, which means a comparatively small amount of material is needed. “We felt it was important to design something that could be produced affordably enough for retail,” explained Fizel. “And of course, it makes it easy to put on and take off.”

Since it requires no additional finishing, the top can be ordered and shipped directly from the online community and market place (www.shapeways.com).

“The design of the bikini fundamentally reflects the beautiful intricacy possible with laser sintering, as well as the technical challenges of creating a flexible surface out of a solid polyamide,” said Huang. “Thousands of circular plates are connected by thin strings, creating a wholly new material that holds its form as well as being flexible. The layout of the circle pattern was achieved through custom-written code that distributes the circles according to the curvature of the surface. In this way, the aesthetic design is completely derived from the structural design.”

Fizel added that there is much potential in automating custom fit, and creating a “bespoke design from a 3D body scan more immediately.”

According to EOD, the combination of accessible rapid fabrication and direct interaction with consumers presents many exciting possibilities for the future of fashion and the future of products in general.

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