Exclusive Interview: Designer Francis Bitonti Talks New Direction for Studio, Product Design, and the 3D Printing Industry
It may not be Silicon Valley, but residing in New York City certainly has its perks for a tech reporter, especially for one with a keen enjoyment for design and fashion. When 3D printing technology is utilized for high-end design or product development, which has been the case more so now than ever before, it offers us a glimpse into a future full of innovation. One of the earliest adapters to use 3D printing technology this way is Francis Bitonti, a New York-based designer with roots in architecture and civil engineering.
When he launched his studio back in 2007, 3D printing technology was in a vastly different place. The only hardware out there capable of proper design work were industrial-grade 3D printers, and the price point was extremely high compared to where it is now. But still, Bitonti saw something special about this emerging technology, and has since made waves across the design and fashion industries with his work.
Some of his most renowned projects include the 3D printed dress for Dita von Teese, the Molecule 3D printed shoe, and the gold-plated 3D printed Mutatio shoe line created in collaboration with United Nude. At first glance, it may seem like Bitonti’s foray is restricted to high-end fashion, but that is far from the case. In fact, the designer and his studio team take immense pride in their work with product development, and are looking to do more than make high-end products fit for a museum. Recently, Bitonti reformatted the name, logo, and overall direction of his studio, which is now simply named Studio Bitonti.
I was fortunate enough to get the opportunity to meet up with Bitonti in his Brooklyn-based studio, which is still in the midst of expanding. During our interview, we discussed the new direction of his studio, their recent collaborations, and his thoughts on the 3D printing industry.
How did 3D printing technology become the primary medium for your work?
“When I opened the studio, I didn’t have the intention of strictly working with 3D printing at the time, I thought we were going to be a product design company. But, because of our passion for this technology, we kept solving more and more problems for clients by using it. Gradually, we became known for doing this type of work, and that’s where we are now.”
How did the design studio become so integrated with high-end fashion?
“When I was starting out we were working with a lot of small fashion labels, it was mostly because of my personal network or just being in New York, where a lot of fashion designers are based out of. It’s just sort of something we fell into, we started doing accessories, shoes, belts, bags, we were working in that kind of space with small designers. What was happening there was they couldn’t afford tooling, they might be selling very expensive high-margin designs, but might not necessarily be producing high volume. So it was difficult for these brands to do accessories, but they could do something 3D printed. There wasn’t much risk. You can just make one, you didn’t have to keep much of an inventory, there were no minimums. So, the parts were more expensive but the price points were so high anyways it didn’t even really matter. That was where we started looking at how to make things more flexible, how to make textiles, a lot of body related problems when dealing with rigid materials, which led to Dita’s dress. Since then, we’ve done a lot of work with fashion designers.”
What recent collaborations or projects has Studio Bitonti excited?
“We’ve been collaborating with Feetz over the last two years, working on a variety of things. I think they’re one of the companies that we are working with that, I have to say, I’m probably most proud of. I never intended to do high fashion, I never really wanted to make $8,000 gold shoes, that isn’t why I started doing this. I started because I thought that this was a production technology that was going to bring that language down to every consumer good. I still believe that is going to happen one day, but the work that we’ve done with Feetz is great because it’s shoe that you can wear, walk around in, it’s customizable, and the price point is reasonable. If you compare that with any other 3D printed shoe I’ve seen, no one really has that price point or level of functionality.”
Why did you recently decide to modify the name and logo of the studio?
“The real reason behind the name change was because, originally, it was just called Francis Bitonti Studio. My name was thing first, kind of singular thing. Studio, to me, kind of meant there were people just helping or supporting me, but that really wasn’t the case. Although a lot of design studios run like that, I never wanted to run mine like that. I like to think that we work together, that’s the kind of environment you want to cultivate, you want to hire talented people that you can work with. These are subtle, but to me, are also very symbolic. Putting the word ’Studio’ first to me means it’s a group of people. I chose to keep ‘Bitonti’ in there because it’s been around and we have a lot of brand recognition, but I did take my first name out of that. I hope it sort of abstracts itself and becomes a brand, not just about one person. That’s my hope for the long term.”
Will there be a major change of focus for the revamped studio?
“Over the last year, one of the biggest changes is that we’ve been doing a lot of product development and innovation consulting for larger companies, you’ll probably see some of the stuff come out in the Fall. That work has been everything from investigating what customizable products might be to seeing what kind of new material we can create from a performance perspective. Somewhere in between design and material science. The other side of the practice is working with early stage companies, like Feetz or a number of others, that’s really be our emphasis, stepping away from speculation and figuring out how we can do this, how we can play a more supportive role.”
What’s your view on the current state of the 3D printing industry?
“I’m particularly excited abut HP, I think that’s going to be a huge game-changer. There was a moment where we saw, on the investment and financial side of things, it didn’t really live up to expectations. There wasn’t anything wrong with 3D printing, it’s not like we built a bad industry, it’s certainly going to work. It’s come way too far, and people forget that. I think what we’re seeing now is a big shift towards more industrial applications. There was a bit of an over-excitement about desktop printing and what it would do, myself included. It’s going to take a lot of evolution in these machines before you can get out of a controlled production environment onto the desktop, and be highly repeatable. But it will happen, it’s already happening. To be honest, I think the industry is very healthy. From our side, we are not seeing any waning interest from our clients. In spite of all the bad publicity, people are still very interested in figuring out where this technology fits into their innovation roadmaps. That, to me, means it has a future, these are people who are very serious about making things, their lives depend on it. It will certainly be what it was promised, it’s just taking a little longer than expected.”
According to Bitonti, a lot of the studio’s most exciting collaborations yet should be coming to light this coming Fall. After noticing his bubbling excitement for their long-standing collaboration with the 3D printed shoe company Feetz, I’m inclined to believe in the future success of that project as well. Whether the outcome is a consumer product or a high-end fashion piece, the Studio Bitonti team is prepared to take their client’s ideas to the next level of development, using 3D printing technology and computer generative design to provoke innovation. Are you a Bitonti fan? Let’s discuss further over in the Bitonti on 3D Printing forum at 3DPB.com.
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