Ashley Alleyne is a 3D Printing Design Entrepreneur in Residence. She is in charge of planning and post-processing 3D prints daily, maintaining the 3D printing labs, and validating files for 3D printing at Tapestry – the parent company of Coach, Kate Spade, and Stuart Weitzman. She is our Women in 3D Printing Guest #281!

Ashley, could you let us know briefly about your background and your journey into Additive Manufacturing?

I completely got into 3D printing by accident. I originally went to school for fashion photography and I’ve been doing photography since I was twelve years old.

I’ve been published in over 15 magazines including Vogue Italia and I’ve also photographed some awesome people over the years including celebrities from MTV.

In my senior year of college, I decided to take a 3D printing class just so I could fulfill the number of credits I needed to graduate.

The 3D printing class was a part of a three-class program where you get to work for a law firm 3D printing patents after completing the program. The first class was based on innovation and then you learn the basics of FDM 3D printing.

At the end of the class, I started 3D printing and designing my own things, and the first thing I ever 3D printed, designed, and 3D modeled was a full-size 3D printed guitar. And I was like oh my god this is crazy I can literally 3D print anything I want!

It amazed me that I could have an idea in my head and it can become an actual 3D object in the physical world. My professors saw that I was working on the guitar and made me a 3D printing lab tech right away.

At first, I didn’t want to be a lab tech because at the time I just wanted to graduate and I wasn’t really keen on pursuing 3D printing at the moment. But my professor told me I’m at the lab all the time and I always use their materials so now it was time for me to give back. And I was like fair enough, I really was there all the time- sometimes I even slept there!

In the next semester which was my last semester of college, I took the second 3D printing class and I was also a 3D printing lab tech.

In the second class, I learned about SLA 3D printing, which is where I learned how to use the Formlabs 3D printers. I fell in love with the Formlabs printers right away and at that point, I was hooked!

I then graduated college and I was like hmm.. well I’m not sure what to do now because I went to school for photography but now I like 3D printing as well! So I decided to work as a 3D Printing Design Consultant that summer where I worked on some cool design projects.

I 3D printed scientific patents for a scientist (where I got to learn how to use Formlabs engineering resins like their Flexible resin with the help of my professor Iain), and an architecture project where I had to 3D model and 3D print an accurate model of a building without using a 3D scanner. And then when the summer was over, I decided that I really liked 3D printing so I decided to go back to school to get my certificate in Innovation and 3D Printing.

I then graduated from the 3D printing program, and now I work as a 3D Printer for Tapestry, the parent company of Coach, Kate Spade, and Stuart Weitzman.

I’m also a 3D Printing Design Entrepreneur in Residence where I’m in the process of creating my own 3D printed jewelry and home decor business.

In two years I went from a student to a lab tech, to a graduate with a BA in Photography, to a 3D Printing Design Consultant, to a 3D printing graduate, and then to a 3D Printing Design Entrepreneur in Residence- all at the same university I attended for 3D printing.

It just shows that you don’t need a particular background or experience to do 3D printing. With hard work and passion, anything is possible!

What is Tapestry (and/or your jewelry line) and the story behind it?

Tapestry is the parent company of Coach, Kate Spade, and Stuart Weitzman, and I do 3D printing for all three brands. I’m in charge of planning and post-processing 3D prints daily, maintaining the 3D printing labs, and validating files for 3D printing.

Outside of work, I’m in the process of creating my own 3D printed jewelry and home decor line. Looking back, it’s funny because I never thought I would be making 3D printed jewelry, or even doing 3D printing at all!

When I was in college I didn’t have money to buy anyone gifts, and it just happened to be the night before my best friend’s birthday. I couldn’t buy her a gift so I figured… why don’t I just 3D print her a gift? And then I was like ..well why don’t I design and 3D print her jewelry?

So I designed a pair of 3D printed earrings within an hour and 3D printed them the same night. I gave them to her the next day and she loved them!

She always wore them when we were going out and we always ended up wearing them at the same time. One day we were at this restaurant and this guy came up to us and was like oh my god where did you get those earrings? And I explained that I made them and they’re 3D printed. And he was like oh my god they’re amazing! And he then said he ran an entrepreneurship group that had an event night coming up and he wanted me to show and talk about my earrings and then I was like…hmmm I might be onto something here.

And then the following year it was my mom’s birthday and I was still in college and I still couldn’t afford to buy her a gift. So I thought again…well she’s going to get something 3D printed!

It was the night before my mom’s birthday and the original pair of 3D printed earrings I made her kept failing in the 3D printer because they were too complex. A couple of hours later I decided that they weren’t going to print successfully and I decided to start over from scratch. I quickly whipped up and designed another pair of earrings within five minutes and I prayed that they would print successfully.

The next day I went back to the lab and I saw they printed and I was about to cry because I was so happy and I worked so hard on them. The weird thing is I had a dream the night before I gave them to my mom that she hated the earrings.

So I woke up the next day thinking oh this is going to go badly but she loved them! And I thought it was because she was saying that because she’s my mom, but she really loved them. I then 3D printed myself a pair of the same earrings and started wearing them everywhere.

People would come up to me all the time and ask me where did I get those earrings from? And I always replied that I made them and that they’re 3D printed. And people were just like “Whaaaaaaaat?! How did you do that? They’re 3D printed?? Oh my god!! They’re amazing!” And then the next question would always be “How do I get a pair I want to buy them”.

One time someone came up to me and the same thing happened and but then she was like “Name a price. I want them. I want to buy them right now”. So at that point, I realized that I might be onto something and this can turn into something great.

So now I’m in the process of creating my 3D printed jewelry and home decor line.

Before the pandemic, I would spend hours 3D printing my designs on all of the 3D printers in the lab. But because of the pandemic, it’s really hard for me to get to the 3D printing lab. Once I’m able to go back to the lab when the pandemic calms down a bit, I’ll be able to kick things into full gear and hopefully be able to launch everything soon.

To date, what would you say is your greatest achievement in Additive Manufacturing?

I think my greatest achievement in additive manufacturing is my full-size 3D printed guitar which was the first thing I’ve ever 3D printed outside of my 3D printing class.

It’s still a prototype because I haven’t been able to work on it because of the pandemic, but it’s the first thing I’ve ever designed, 3D modeled, and 3D printed.

Looking back, I was completely crazy deciding to do something super complex as a guitar for the first thing I ever 3D printed, but I wanted to do something I was passionate about. Without choosing to 3D print a guitar as the first thing I’ve ever 3D printed, I don’t know if I would truly be interested in 3D printing as much as I am now. And of course, I had the help of my friends and both of my professors.

At the time when I first 3D printed it, I was like oh okay whatever, but now looking back I am really proud of myself because I put my blood (minor accidents from sanding), sweat and tears into that thing.

I think my other greatest achievement was speaking at the Women in 3D Printing’s Meet the Stars event and the TIPE Conference this past year. I was so excited and happy to be able to share my journey and my experience with 3D printing with others.

Even after the event, I was completely blown away by the feedback I received. People emailed me saying the event was so inspiring, and I even inspired someone to turn on their 3D printers that had been sitting in the corner unused.

A lot of people tuned into the event with their children, and they told me it was not only inspirational for themselves but also for their children. That meant so much to me (and I got a little emotional) because that’s amazing that I was able to inspire the next generation to get into 3D printing.

Because 3D printing is going to dependant on the next generation after us. And I think that’s what the Women in 3D Printing Next Gen program is all about.

What is the most impressive or impactful use of 3D printing you’ve seen so far?

I think the most impactful use of 3D printing that I’ve seen so far has been 3D printing homes for people in need.

When I was a college student, I wrote a white paper on the future of housing and came across 3D printed homes. That’s when I came across this non-profit called New Story that really inspired me.

They 3D print homes and communities around the world for people in need. I always found 3D printed homes extremely fascinating (and I would love to do that… if I had a very large 3D printer), but the fact that they’re doing it for people in need is amazing.

Have you run into any challenges (or opportunities) from being a woman in 3D Printing?

Yes, sometimes it’s very hard being the only woman and especially the only woman of color in the room.

I saw a couple of years ago that women only make up 13% of the 3D printing industry. That’s crazy to me. But that’s what’s great about organizations like Women in 3D Printing because they’re aiming to change that.

Women in 3D Printing is creating a more inclusive environment for women in the 3D printing industry- which is beyond needed. And I’m really happy about the Women in 3D Printing Next Gen program which is meant to inspire the next generation to get involved in 3D printing.

I try to do that as well in my own life – I gave my little cousin a 3D printing pen for her birthday and she loved it! In reality, the future of 3D printing is going to be dependent on the next generation after us. If we don’t have an interest in 3D printing, what do we really have for the future?

What advice do you have for women looking to get started in 3D Printing?

Learn everything and anything about 3D printing, and don’t be afraid to 3D print.

By that I mean, don’t feel like “I don’t have experience in XYZ so I can’t 3D print this or that” because I was like that when I first started 3D printing. In my mind, I was just a photographer who didn’t have a background in industrial design or engineering so I thought I couldn’t do XYZ.

But shortly after I realized that “Hey I don’t need to have a specific background in something to do 3D printing”. I’ve never built a guitar before, and the first thing I ever 3D printed was a full-size 3D printed guitar.

I’ve never made jewelry before (unless you consider going to Beadkraft when I was eight years old and made a bracelet) but now I make 3D printed jewelry which I’m turning into a business. So don’t be afraid to 3D print because at the end of the day anyone can 3D print!

Also if you ever need help or are stuck on something, there are so many inclusive and welcoming communities like Women in 3D Printing and even online like Reddit that are always there for you when you need support.

Also, there might be a lot of resources near you where you can 3D print if you don’t have your own 3D printer or are unable to have one.

Check out your local library because they might have a 3D printer. Also check your local university, museum, or even your school if you’re a student because they might have a 3D printer as well.

Many of these places offer 3D printing classes and day programs where you spend a day and learn how to 3D print whether a student or an adult or of any age!

And lastly, I’d say make anything and everything and enjoy the process. Everything else will follow.

In your opinion, how could we encourage more women to become involved with Additive Manufacturing?

I think having more events whether online or in-person (when the pandemic is over), like the TIPE Conference or the Wi3DP Next Gen series can encourage more women to become involved in 3D printing.

A lot of people might not be familiar with 3D printing so definitely having events where people can learn about 3D printing is important. But I want to emphasize that it is important to not only teach someone about 3D printing but to inspire someone to 3D print. Because you can teach someone about anything, but that doesn’t mean there will be interest.

Once you inspire someone, it lights a spark within oneself to 3D print, or learn more about 3D printing. When I spoke at the Wi3DP Next Gen Meet the Stars event, someone emailed me after saying that I inspired them to turn on their 3D printers that have been sitting in a corner unused. And they were an educator, who can inspire others. Once you inspire someone anything is possible.

I think visuals and photographs and physical 3D prints are a great way to show what the technology can do. That’s how I got into 3D printing because at the 3D printing lab I used it was basically like a 3D printing candy land.

There were so many awesome 3D prints everywhere and it encouraged and inspired me to make my own. And I also had inspiring 3D printing professors as well. So again I think it’s important in general to not only just teach about 3D printing but finding ways to inspire women and the next generation after us because I think that’s the future of the industry.

I feel like it’s like that saying “Give a person a fish, and you’ll feed them for a day. Teach a person to fish, and you’ve fed them for a lifetime.” If you teach someone about 3D printing, they’ll retain it. If you inspire someone, they’ll do it.

Favorite 3D tool?

Rhino/Fusion 360/MeshMixer (It’s hard to pick one because I use all of them so any one of those are fine to use if you only need one)

Favorite moment in your day job?

Seeing all the cool designs being 3D printed.

What’s on your 3D Printing wishlist for the next 5 years?

I wish the 3D printing fairy could bring me a Form 3 and an Ultimaker S5. I would be happy for the rest of my life.

Another inspiring woman (or male ally) you’d like us to interview?

Lizz Hill – she was my manager at Tapestry and she was the one who hired me. She’s really inspirational and she does so many cool things and she has her own 3D printed jewelry business.

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