The N12 bikini is the world’s first first ready-to-wear, completely 3D-printed article of clothing. All of the pieces, closures included, 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 Shapeways, N12 represents the beginning of what is possible for the near future.
N12 is named for the material it’s made out of: Nylon 12. This solid nylon is created by the SLS 3D printing process. SLS stands for Selective Laser Sintering, in which a laser melts plastic together layer by layer with extreme precision. Shapeways calls this material “white, strong, and flexible“, because its strength allows it to be bent without breaking when printed very thin. With a minimum wall thickness of .7 mm, it is possible to make working springs and almost thread-like connections. For a bikini, the nylon is additionally appropriate because it is waterproof.
The bikini’s design fundamentally reflects the beautiful intricacy possible with 3D printing, as well as the technical challenges of creating a flexible surface out of the solid nylon. 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 lays out the circles according to the curvature of the surface. In this way, the aesthetic design is completely derived from the structural design.
N12 is significant in being a ready-to-wear design. While representing a high level of innovation, it is a design that is comfortably wearable and buyable. Much previous experimentation with 3D-printed fashion has been more avant-garde, and not pieces that are readily accessible. Shapeways provides a platform for designers to directly sell their products, in which printed designs are shipped straight to consumers from their point of manufacture.
The bikini is a starting point. It is possible to make a complete 3D-printed dress, zipper included, in a similar way. As the technology develops, it is conceivable that we can make any range of clothing directly from digital designs, without any sewing and on one machine. More immediately, there is much potential in automating custom fit, and creating a bespoke design from a 3D body scan. 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.
Image credit: Ariel Efron