Why you should care
Because one day your closet may be a USB.
Danit Peleg started making her own clothing when she was 9 years old, using her mother’s sewing machine and old bedsheets. Twenty years later, the sewing machine has turned into a printer and the fabrics have changed from household linens to FilaFlex, a thermoplastic elastomer-based polyurethane.
If you’d told 9-year-old Peleg that she would one day become the first person to sell 3D-printed clothing online, she probably would have laughed — but that’s exactly what the 29-year-old is doing.
Peleg grew up in a suburb between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem and got an early glimpse of 3D-printed fashion during an internship at New York City’s Threeasfour fashion collective when she was 25. She remembers the finished product — made from hard plastics — was breakable and the materials scratched the models. So when she began printing as a final project for a class at Shenkar College in Israel, in 2015, she made the fabric a priority.
“The first piece of textile was made at, like, 5 a.m. at this lab in the south of Tel Aviv,” Peleg recalls. “And I was, like, ‘OK, this is fabric.’” How’d she do it? She cites three factors: using a desktop rather than an industrial printer, using FilaFlex as the filament and using a flexible structure combined with soft materials.
Peleg spent hundreds of hours printing the materials to complete the project. She borrowed multiple printers from a local store — finishing the job on a single printer would’ve taken about 2,000 hours — and offered to let the shop show her clothes on a business card in exchange for using their equipment. A room in her Tel Aviv apartment morphed into a design studio with six 3D printers.
Fashion, for me, is the only physical thing that’s left, so it only makes sense that it will go digital as well.
Fast-forward to now, and Peleg is selling her customized jackets online. You choose the color, size and slogan for the back, and do a virtual fitting before heading to checkout. The printing has shifted from the apartment she shares with her fiancé to a studio in Spain. But production still takes quite a while, so don’t count on Amazon’s two-day shipping.
“It takes about 100 hours to print a jacket, then we ship it from Spain to Tel Aviv,” Peleg explains. “The whole process takes around a month and a half.”
In Tel Aviv, she assembles the 30 pieces of fabric that make up each jacket by supergluing them together, adds a layer of lining and voilà! (Of course, it’s not that simple.) The cost? A cool $1,500.
Of the 100 jackets available for sale, only five have been purchased so far. Peleg wouldn’t reveal the buyers’ names, but she identified them this way: the fashionista, the fashion writer and the museum that wanted a collector’s item. The price is clearly an obstacle for the average fashion maven, but the designer predicts the price will drop as the printing process becomes faster and the material improves.
In terms of comfort, Peleg’s clothing has evolved as she continues to experiment with fabrics and lining. When I stopped by her studio, she handed me two jackets to try on. The first, nude-colored, and from an early collection, wasn’t as stiff as I expected, but the fabric was a bit itchy. Once I shimmied out of it, Peleg handed me a black jacket from her current collection. The design was similar to the first, but with an added layer of lining. I found this one more flexible and easier to put on, and the lining, aside from keeping me warm, made the jacket softer to the touch.
I haven’t rushed to my computer to order one yet, but if everything goes according to Peleg’s plan, one day I will.
“Today, fashion, for me, is the only physical thing that’s left,” she says, “so it only makes sense that it will go digital as well. The idea of having digital files or keeping your closet on your USB card, that’s what I’m pretty sure will happen.”
Maybe, maybe not, but expect to see Peleg at the forefront of fashion technology. Catherine Andreozzi, professor of apparel design at the Rhode Island School of Design, calls Peleg a “true visionary” and a “pioneer in this arena.”
But can 3D fashion find a market, or will it be relegated to novelty status? Andreozzi believes certain people are “definitely ready for clothing manufactured this way.” The technology, though, may not be ready for them.
“[A] drawback I have encountered with 3D-printed fashion is having enough patience for the print to be done and getting the machine to behave properly,” Andreozzi tells OZY. Moreover, so far “the materials that can be 3D printed do not seduce the sense of touch, and if being worn on the body with direct contact to skin, [they] can be a bit uncomfortable.” Hence the lining on Peleg’s jackets.
Which suggests that it may take many years before we can print our own clothing at home. Journalist Shay Ringel has followed 3D printing since the early 2010s and is aware of Peleg’s work. He says even tech-focused journalists such as himself may not purchase 3D printers for at least a decade, maybe longer.
“It was a very big promise five years ago that by now, 3D printers would be much better and much faster and people would start buying the printers themselves. That’s not happening yet,” Ringel tells OZY. “What we do see is that young designers are starting to be the manufacturers themselves and they don’t need the factories anymore.”
Peleg is that young designer, and her jackets are a first step to 3D-printed clothing hitting the streets. For now she’s focused on selling those jackets and continuing to find ways to enhance her fabrics and processes. Plus, she tells me, she’s designing her wedding dress — or rather dresses. One traditional, the other 3D.