Q&A: Shapeways, 3D Printing, and the Future of Fashion

Shapeways Kimberly Ovitz

With the introduction of its custom ring-creation app, leading 3D printer Shapeways looks poised to push 3D fashion production into the mainstream.  The company already had a number of apps making 3D modeling accessible and easy, but the ring creator got quite a bit of attention, in no small part because it suddenly put designing a common accessory into the hands of…anyone.  And it does it at an incredibly reasonable price (even most designs using premium silver, the highest-grade material Shapeways offers, stay in the two-digit range).

We chatted with Elisa Richardson, Shapeways’ social media manager, about how the custom ring app has been received, what other fashion-related initiatives the company has on the docket, and how the fashion industry might come to embrace 3D printing.

The High Low:  How has the custom ring app been received so far?

Elisa Richardson, Shapeways:  This is our first entry into releasing apps that make designing this way this accessible.  The app enables anyone to make anything they can imagine.  Normally 3D modeling is hard, but the ring creator is something people love because it’s easy.  So the app usage has been really stunning.

HL:  Fashion-wise, what’s coming next?

ER:  As of right now we’re toying with a couple things, one of which is a custom engraving app.  It might start with necklaces but will extend to a range of objects.  There’s a lot of power in giving people the ability to add text to an object — initials, a saying.  A large majority of our users are using metal printing as a means of production [so this will enhance customization].

3D printed and cruelty-free!

3D printed and cruelty-free!

HL:  Who are the people using the Make + Sell feature?  What’s the breakdown in general of how Shapeways’ customers use the service?

ER:  We have a community of over 300,000, so it’s definitely a mix, but over 10,000 users are shop owners.  We see a lot of people who use us just as a means of production.  However, and this sometimes seems to stay under the radar, if you open a shop on Shapeways we actually take care of printing and all the shipping for you.  The creators collect their mark-up, get paid every month, and have a means to start marketing themselves.   If someone orders their design, it gets printed and shipped, with no standing inventory.

HL:  That’s awesome.  How do you think the fashion industry will use this?  We loved that recent collaboration between Shapeways and Kimberly Ovitz.

ER:  I think we’ll start to see more brands get involved in 3D printing, because once their customers are using it, it’ll change how they [the consumers] see things around them.  You see these big brands who have all these products but they want to find new ways to retain customers, in part by employing more customization.  I wouldn’t be surprised to see big brands start using us, partly because of the appeal of the limited inventory and overhead.

Working with Kimberly Ovitz was innovative in and of itself, because for the first time, a jewelry line was on sale as it was walking down the runway.

In the meantime, fashion production is limited because we aren’t yet printing in fabrics.  But somewhere down the line, it’s definitely possible.  As we keep using these machines and pushing them to their limits, you’ll start seeing some very innovative things.

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