When it comes to the evolution of global industries, no greater facet of human creation has had greater influence than technology. Such is especially the case with fashion and the way it is made.

For centuries, artisans have developed the skills needed to create quality pieces that feel unique to the wearer. Over time, technology has evolved to serve different purposes, from a necessity, such as a loom, to a practical aid like a sewing machine. Now, creators are welcoming technology that can replace the majority of the artisan’s hands-on work altogether.

In jewellery, one of the most talked about, and controversial, additions to product making is the use of lab-grown diamonds. Also known as cultured diamonds, these minerals are crafted in controlled laboratories using existing atoms of natural gems. Mimicking the natural process of a gemstone’s formation beneath the Earth’s surface, the lab environment cultivates the duplicate with extreme pressure and heat. The results are said to be so undetectable from natural diamonds that specialist equipment is needed to spot any differences. In a time when more brands are adding value to sustainability, lab-grown diamonds make a step towards minimising human impact on the physical environment and ensuring that they have not been involved in the funding of conflict in war-stricken regions.

Image courtesy of ALTR

The circumstances surrounding the creation of a lab-grown diamond also mean that the final product is less expensive than the natural counterpart. The apparent infinite supply and lower production costs have inevitably led to a decrease in price. This has raised questions as to whether such a creation can be considered ‘luxury’. Deborah Marquardt, CMO of the Diamond Producer’s Association says that ‘when evaluating luxury purchases, the luxury consumer seeks items that are genuine, unique…not mass-produced, and have inherent meaning and value.’ This has not stopped prestigious brands from venturing into the ‘cultured’ diamond industry, however; De Beers recently announced plans to grow their gemstones from a laboratory in Berkshire.

3D printing has equally proven to be a developing technology in jewellery production. Models are made using wax to achieve a mold before being cast by metals such as brass, silver and gold, allowing for more intricate details. The process also offers clients further flexibility in the personalisation process; if they are unhappy with wax prototypes, the designer can simply make edits using the software. Because 3D printing constructs jewellery with one piece of material, rather than pieces welded together in traditional craftsmanship, the final product has the advantage of being sturdier. Again, critics chastise this method as removing the allure of artisanal craft and the savoir-faire that goes into jewellery making. However, the lack of touch that goes into the creation does not negate the process of design itself. The artists remain present– it is simply a different type of artist that exists within the realm of 3D printing, one that works within the digital realm.

Alexander McQueen SS10. Image Courtesy of Victoria & Albert Museum

When fashion is concerned, 3D printing has a vast range of use. In footwear, 3D printing allows the designer to print soles according to the foot of their client. This is especially important in sportswear where the designer can manipulate pressurised areas, customise flexibility and maximise the performance of the shoe.

Iris Van Herpen, fashion’s best-known technophile, used a process called ‘Foliage’ in her SS18 collection, initiated with the Delft University of Technology in which leaf-like patterns are 3D printed as thin as 0.8 mm before tulle is laid into the printer to print directly onto the fabric, creating flexibility and softness.

Other famous 3D print in fashion includes the draconian shoes in Alexander McQueen’s Plato’s Atlantis collection. This particular collection, the designer’s final one, is noteworthy for its use of innovative technology. McQueen additionally employed the use of inkjet printing to create complex patterns emulating reptile skin and coral reefs on his dresses, allowing the print to match at every seam.

Image Courtesy of Wall Street Journal

When it comes to finalising the appearance of the garment, laser technology is a much-discussed trend thanks to Levi’s. The jean company has recently adopted the use of what is called F.L.X technology – lasers burn away the fine cottons of cut jeans to create Levi’s personalised distressed details. F.L.X (future led execution) takes less than three minutes before a final hour-long wash, replacing the 20 step process of traditional methods with labourers. Not only is this method quicker, the removal of chemicals used to create fading means that factory workers are not in risk of skin irritation – not to mention that Levi no longer requires the vast amounts of water to create the effect. In addition to safety and sustainability, Lev’s F.L.X technology additionally allows for client customisation; consumers are invited to personalise their fade effect simply using an iPad before placing their order.

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