Lizz (Hill) Wiker grew up in the Pacific Northwest where she spent her days learning, crafting, designing and making. Her long time love of textiles and sewing led her to New York where she pursued an education in Textile Development and Marketing and Accessories Design at the Fashion Institute of Technology.
Two years after graduating, Lizz landed her dream job as a hardware developer at Coach Inc and spent several years developing hardware, traveling overseas to work with hardware suppliers and ultimately trained herself in Rhino 3D. Since working in 3D software, she has been able to fully realize her love of conceptualizing, engineering and 3D printing hardware for fashion accessories.
Lizz, could you let us know about your background and what brought you into 3D printing in the first place?
In 2008 I was hired as a Hardware Developer at Coach Inc. During my first week on the job, I was introduced to the only person at Coach who was working with 3D technology at the time. He had a commercial 3D printer which printed in castable wax and was using Rhino and Solidworks to create (primarily) wax models of jewelry designs which he sent out to be casted locally for prototyping. As soon as I saw him working in Rhino, I knew that THAT was the path I wanted to take my already hardware-focused career in. After a couple of years of learning the business and getting up to speed with the ins and outs of metals manufacturing, I trained in and taught myself Rhino 3D and transitioned into a full-time role as a 3D modeler, eventually overseeing the team that currently handles 3D prototyping for Hardware and Jewelry categories for Coach Inc. today.
Could you explain furthermore your role at Coach and what are the main uses of 3D printing in the company?
I am one of the team leads within the greater Product Visualization Team (PVT) at Coach, Inc. The PVT itself is responsible for the visualization of many different product categories however I specifically oversee the portion of the team which is exclusively responsible for the modeling and prototyping (3D printing) of hardware and jewelry. We work closely with the Design team in the early stages of the product development calendar by helping our creative partners through the technical design process and ultimately 3D modeling and 3D printing of new concepts. We engineer and model both functional and decorative hardware such as lock mechanisms and closures, branding items, dog leashes, anchors, chains and really anything metal that will be applied to handbags and small leather goods. In addition to hardware, we also model for all jewelry categories as well.
The 3D models and prints that we create for the various brands under the Coach Inc. umbrella are used for internal design review meetings and once they are design approved, are ultimately shared with our factories who use our models as 3D blueprints for sampling and production.
You also created your own jewelry design business, Toolry. Your creations can be seen on your Instagram account: lizz_hill_wiker. Could you tell us more about it?
Well, you see, I’m a total metals junkie and fan of all things weird and thought provoking! I’m always looking for ways to model, make and wear something unexpected and ideally, a little shocking. I created a shop called Toolry, through Shapways. Toolry began as a collection of pieces which are inspired by tools, the first piece (and still my favorite) being the Calipers Pendant. I’ve always been obsessed with finding the beauty in function and classic tools have always been very visually appealing to me. I’ve since expanded into other design imagery but the approach is the same. For me, Toolry is about taking something universally recognized and rethinking its function and iconography… statement pieces meant to engage my customers and poke fun at their own, real-life counterparts.
IMAGES: Calipers Pendant and Wrench Pendant
What are your main inspirations?
As I mentioned, I enjoy pieces that have some shock-value. Pieces which, at first glance seem familiar but upon further inspection, reveal their features in unexpected ways. This theme can be seen in nearly all my work but a great example is the Troubled Teddy series. My first piece in this collection, the Teddy Bear Pendant which is actually based off an embroidery piece I did. The embroidery was meant to read as a classic piece you might see in the hands of your Grandmother, however when you look more closely at it you notice that the bear has bloodied paws and a torn up stomach. I love playing with conflicting themes, in this case, by juxtaposing the sweet, cartoonish imagery of a teddy bear with the ferocious, human-threatening reality of certain real-life bear species.
IMAGES: Teddy Bear Embroidery and Teddy Bear Pendant
Another source of inspiration for me are bones and teeth which I collect and have on display in my home. My husband, knowing I have a fascination with these kinds of oddities, gifted to me his extracted wisdom teeth as a birthday present a few years back. I (only somewhat jokingly) told him I would have loved to have had my engagement ring made with his tooth instead of my current sapphire! A few weeks later, the Tooth Ring and Tooth Cufflinks were born from one of his teeth.
IMAGE: Tooth Stud Earrings and Bone Ring
Why using 3D printing for your creations?
3D printing is not only my chosen manufacturing method but is also at the heart of the type of work I do. Having access to 3D printing services is what singly-handedly allows me to create highly unique pieces at a relatively competitive price point. As an independent designer, not having to worry about mold charges, minimum production quantities, long lead-times or having to establish wholesale accounts, I’m free to design and sell what I want without having to worry about substantial overhead costs. Online 3D printing services like Shapeways, which have a community marketplace (similar to Etsy), allow me to sell directly to my customers with ease and without risk. The only investment I have to make is with my time! I can sell 2 pieces or 200 pieces and still make a profit.
What types of 3D software do you utilize in your design process?
I have to say, I haven’t strayed too much since I first learned how to 3D model. The majority of my 3D modeling is done in Rhino 3D, my native software. Within Rhino however, I rely heavily upon a sub-division mesh modeling plug-in called T-splines which was formerly sold by Autodesk (though it was recently discontinued). The use of T-splines allows me to achieve highly organic, highly editable shapes, which have previously been more problematic to create with Rhino alone. Some of my designs, like the Teeth collection mentioned above are sculpted, (post-modeling) in Sculptris. I, more recently have begun using Fusion360 as well which is a solid-based, parametric modeling software. For those who have dabbled in or are familiar with Solidworks, I highly recommend checking out Fusion360 which has a lot of the same type of functionality but has a fairly shallow learning curve for the basic modeling and renderings interfaces. You can get functional in it within a few days whereas Solidworks can take weeks or months.
Do you have any (fun or not) story about your career to share with us?
I do! One of the greatest benefits of having a 3D printer at Coach is that we are able to support those extra special, last minute design requests that happen in the week(s) leading up to a runway show. An especially enjoyable project was for the Fall 2017 runway show in which design wanted to have custom script necklaces made for the runway models to wear. However, since the talent list is finalized only days before show they had to rely on our ability to turn around 3D printed models for metal casting within an extremely short period of time. When the concept was first being discussed, I modeled a “Coach” prototype in my own handwriting, so that design could review the overall concept. They ended up liking my handwriting which ultimately ended up being the approved “font” for all the script nameplates and that original Coach pendant actually ended up in stores!
IMAGE: Coach Script Pendant
Have you ran into any challenges from being a woman designer and manager in 3D Printing?
I consider myself an extremely fortunate and rare example of a woman in a technology based field which has almost never felt at odds in a stereotypically male-gendered role/career. I believe that this has to do, in large part with the fact that I work in fashion which still tends to be a female-dominated industry. Since college, I’ve been down a fashion-focused path even though I’ve veered into more of a technology-focused career which I believe has kept me insulated from some of the gender-equality struggles of many of my peers. It is only during 3D industry conferences, trade shows and meetings with vendors that I’ve noticed the abrupt lack of women in this field, though that is something in which I’ve also seen a shift in, over the past 5 years as more women are entering the workforce in technology based roles.
Anything exciting coming up you’d like us to know about?
Yes! I’ve teamed up with TechGirlz, a nonprofit organization dedicated to reducing the gender gap in technology occupations. I have pledged to donate 50% of all proceeds from the sales of my Rosie Ring to support their organization. In addition, I am happy to announce that I am currently creating a workshop for them, titled Intro to 3D Jewelry Design & 3D Manufacturing which aims to teach young girls about 3D technology through a 1-day workshop in which they will learn to model a piece of jewelry. Our inaugural class will be offered in NYC, this Fall, details coming soon!
IMAGE: The Rosie Ring
What is the most impressive or impactful use of 3D printing you’ve seen so far?
I’ll stay in realm of art and fashion to answer this one because I would likely give a different response for every industry currently utilizing using 3D technology!
I am incredibly impressed by people and brands who celebrate the beauty of 3D as an art form as much as an emerging technology. The fashion industry is a bit late to the game in adopting the technology so I give a lot of credit to those in the industry who have embraced it. One great example is the self-described “bionic pop artist” Viktoria Modesta whom, after having part of her left leg amputated in 2007, has used 3D printing to create fashion-forward, futuristic prosthetics. She has recently begun incorporating 3D printed parts into her music as well. This multi-talented artist is defining a generation of new, multi-disciplinary designers and is turning her physical set back into an opportunity to re-define herself and her art through examining how humans interact with machines. Talk about an empowered woman!!
How do you see 3D technology applications for fashion evolve in the next 10 years?
In terms of fashion-specific innovations that I expect to see in the coming decade, I think there will be a few big shifts worth keeping an eye on…
As awareness about 3D technology continues to be mainstreamed, I believe it will begin to rapidly infiltrate the industry on the consumer engagement side. I think we are going to see 3D technology on the retail side of larger brands emerge through the use of virtual fitting rooms, in-store/online promotions of bespoke product and in ad-campaigns like we are already seeing with some of the bigger names like the Louis Vuitton ‘Series 4’, back in 2016.
Driven largely by emerging designers and smaller brands that have proven to be more flexible in their use and adoption of the technology, we’re currently walking right up to the edge of how 3D printing can be used on the manufacturing side through the use of 3D printed textiles in place of the of the traditional “cut and sew” method. This can be likened to the industry’s current “full-fashioned” approach to garments which are knit in segments and then those segments are joined together to create full garments. Some labels are experimenting and prototyping with 3D printing (largely on FDM desktop printers) by printing “textile” panels to create garments and though it is currently quite cost and time prohibitive, I think this represents a promising direction that 3D technology will evolve into over the next 10 years.
Another big shift that is likely coming that we have yet to see many hints of thus far is how new creatives entering the workforce in the next 5-10 years will affect how design happens in fashion. Only in recent years have colleges begun teaching 3D technology in their degree programs, a shift that we have yet to see happen in programs which feed into fashion-related jobs. The current favored design tools are Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator. And while Adobe is addressing the need for 3D features in their existing software, I predict that as fashion-specific 3D software makes its way to the market we will see more and more new design talent entering the workforce with an existing 3D workflow. Who knows, in 10 years, perhaps Autodesk will be the new Adobe!
In your opinion, how could we encourage more women to become involved with 3D Printing?
I’ve had the opportunity to speak with various educators and some leaders of women + technology based organizations recently and the consensus seems to be that it’s extremely important to engage with girls when they are very young, prior to high-school even. Girls tend to be very social people so we should give them opportunities to engage in STEM based groups, especially ones that are targeted specifically to them which focus on group collaborations in social environments. I think it’s really important too for women who have paved the way in previously male-dominated industries to speak out and share their success stories as broadly and frequently as they can. And of course, casting women in leading roles in movies and TV series is something we must continue to push for. I think we all can agree that role-models take ALL forms; real or fictional!
Thank you for reading and for sharing!