Named as one of the “25 Forward Thinkers Defining the Future of Fashion”, Sylvia Heisel is a fashion designer and creative director working with new materials, manufacturing and physical computing for apparel.
An expert in 3D printing, functional fashion, and design for smart wearables she is currently developing a work-flow and manufacturing system for 3D printed apparel.
Sylvia, could you let us know about your background and what brought you into 3D printing in the first place?
My background is in fashion. I designed an evening-wear line that was carried in US specialty stores for many years. Every season we would create a new collection and promote what was “new” but our customer’s wanted our classic/best selling items and our manufacturing structure limited us to a small range of fabrics and sewing techniques. As a creative it started to feel very limiting and as a human I became aware of the sustainability issues related to the apparel industry.
I started to looked for solutions in technology and discovered additive manufacturing.
It has been a long process of education and change but I am currently developing new technologies for more sustainable apparel manufacturing through 3D printing.
What was your very first experience with 3D Printing?
I had read about 3D printing but it didn’t “click” until I saw the MakerBot kit at MakerFaire NYC in 2011. It was love at first sight.
Could you explain furthermore what your company is and the services that you are providing?
Our goal is to develop additive manufacturing as an alternate production method for fashion. We believe it offers the opportunity to design and produce fashion that cannot be made through traditional manufacturing methods.
Currently we create one-off 3D printed clothes that push the boundaries of innovation, produce 3D printed accessories though our brand, teach and speak on 3D printing for fashion, and we are developing software and tools to connect the dots from fashion to tech.
How did you came to build the company? Why using 3D printing in fashion?
Our current company, Heisel, evolved out of my previous company. Initially I wanted to be only behind the scenes enabling other fashion designers to use 3D printing but we found it was impossible to show what additive manufacturing could do without designing and making things.
Our first pieces were 3D printed accessories. 5 years ago I didn’t believe you could make a piece of clothing from a single material like PLA. The first dress we made was for a 3D printing exhibition and it was totally unwearable in real life. From doing that I began to see the potential for clothing. At this point each piece we make has innovations from the previous pieces. 3D printing clothes at scale isn’t possible yet but we are moving closer very quickly.
Do you have any (fun or not) story about your career to share with us?
Our first 3D printed product was a custom monogramed iPhone case. We designed a case in OpenSCAD that would only require typing in the correct initials and printing each time one was ordered. At the time (2013) 3 variables of 26 letters each was too many options for e-commerce. One of our retailers requested that we offer cases with “SEX” and “WTF” as well as custom. “SEX” didn’t sell very well but “WTF” quickly became one of our best selling products.
Have you ran into any challenges from being a woman entrepreneur in 3D Printing?
Not a specific challenge but I see a big gender divide between the fashion and tech industries. The engineers and technology executives we work with are mostly men and the designers and fashion industry professionals are mostly women. Both industries would get huge benefits from a more equal gender ratio.
Anything exciting coming up you’d like us to know about?
We are working on a 3D printed solar heated vest. It’s the first piece to incorporate innovations in construction we think will be very important to future clothing.
What is the most impressive or impactful use of 3D printing you’ve seen so far?
This is a very hard question. I think of 3D printing as a platform for making almost every kind of things. As such it is so huge and there are so many types of things that it would be hard to select just one.
What makes the 3D printing industry particularly interesting for you:
As a entrepreneur person?
I see myself equally as an entrepreneur, a maker and a designer. 3D printing offers tremendous opportunities to connect all of these areas.
As a woman?
Because we are still at the beginning of the development of additive manufacturing there is a great opportunity for women to influence how it develops. Current clothing manufacturing systems were all developed when women were much less able to be part of the development process.
What do you consider game-changing technologies in additive?
The printers, materials and software are all evolving very fast right now. In terms of 3D printing for fashion I’m most excited about printers and software that will vastly speed up large format FDM printing and new sustainable/compostable bio-plastic filaments
What do you think of 3D printing in the Fashion industry today? And how would you like to see it evolve?
Fashion is sadly far behind every other global industry in it’s use of additive manufacturing.
It’s crazy that we can 3D print jet planes and human organs but we still can’t print a dress that someone could wear in their everyday life.
When I speak and lead workshops there is a great deal of interest from fashion students but the industry as a whole hasn’t embraced additive manufacturing and there are only a few of us working to develop it. I hope this group will grow quickly and that we can develop 3D printing as an alternate manufacturing system within the next 10 years.
In your opinion, how could we encourage more women to become involved with 3D Printing?
Groups and articles like this are a great start! The more we can show women the potentials of additive manufacturing and the opportunities that exist for them in this very broad field the better.
Thank you for reading and for sharing!
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