I rarely, if ever, buy clothing online – I like to try things on myself first. I just don’t trust clothes I buy online to fit properly, and to all the people who tell me that I can just send it back if it doesn’t fit, I ask in all honesty – who has time for that? It just seems like a big hassle that I don’t feel like dealing with, and so, when I do buy new clothes, I venture out to the mall instead. So it makes sense to me that part of the major appeal of 3D printed clothing items is that they are usually custom-made, not mass-produced, and therefore have a much lower risk of not fitting properly and needing to be returned. From 3D printed shoes to 3D printed dresses and activewear, 3D printed clothing has the capacity to disrupt the industry as we know it. In 2011, three MIT students came together, with the idea to use 3D printing technology to make better clothes, and started Ministry of Supply.
Ministry of Supply is named for famous James Bond character Q, who is based on Charles Fraser-Smith, a real person who designed clothes and cool spy gadgets for the British Special Ops; the Ministry of Supply was Q’s cover. The team launched a successful Kickstarter campaign in 2012 for its cutting-edge performance dress clothes, which they referred to as “the future of business wear.”
“During the day, your body temperature fluctuates, moisture accumulates, odors develop, and you go through a wide range of motions — nothing is constant,” said the team on the campaign page. “Currently, business clothing is unresponsive to a changing environment. We believe it needs to be.”
The team went to work at the British Sports Technology Institute to study specifically how clothes are strained by temperature changes and movement, and to learn how to apply science to improve clothes. Ministry of Supply doesn’t 3D print just any type of clothing – the team designed 3D Print-Knit garments, which can move with the motions of your body without constricting you, or losing shape, and were manufactured based on joint movement. While this isn’t the first time we’ve seen clothes manufactured through 3D printing and knitting, what’s interesting about 3D Print-Knit is that the garments are totally seamless: seams are the weakest points of traditional clothing items, so instead of being sewn or cut, the shape of these clothes is programmed right in.
Not all of Ministry of Supply’s clothing is 3D printed, but for the ones that are, the team uses a Shima Seiki MACH2X computerized flat knitting machine and WHOLEGARMENT technology to take the process right from yarn to garment, with less overproduction and waste. 35% of fabric is wasted in conventional clothing manufacturing methods, and Ministry of Supply aims to make a better overall clothing cycle, and except for some loose threads, the 3D Print-Knit process does not produce useless and wasteful clothing scraps. The 3D Print-Knit clothes are designed to breathe, stretch, and wick moisture.
“With 3D Print-Knit, we’re inventing whole new way of thinking about manufacturing. The entire process takes place in store, and can be managed by our retail team. We’re making clothing to order instead of mass producing, so we’re cutting down on waste early in the clothing cycle. Keeping production close also opens the door for exciting innovations like rapid prototyping and personalized designs” the team explains on its website.
The team designs multiple prototypes for each new garment, and gets feedback from existing customers and field testers. Once the 3D printed knit clothing hits the shelves at Ministry of Supply’s multiple stores and showrooms, customers can either order online, or come in to the store themselves to order their custom pieces.
Ministry of Supply offers complimentary tailoring at its stores, and the clothes will be ready to pick up within three business days; if, however, the clothing does not work for you, simple exchanges and returns are available. The stores also offer same-day delivery for clothing try-ons (if you order in the same city as the store is located), and all the stores have free WiFi, chargers, and printers, along with coffee, wine, and beer.
“With 3D Print-Knit, we’re working to reinvent clothing production,” the company states. “The entire process takes place in store, and we’re making clothing to order instead of mass producing.”
There are a few options that cost less than $100, such as the Easier Than Silk Shirt, the Luxe Touch Tank and Tee, and the Women’s All Season Scarf, but all of the pants are $145, and the 3D Print-Knit Women’s Seamless Blazer is nearly $300. The men’s clothing offers options like socks, jackets, and sweaters, and the 3D Print-Knit 3D Blazer will set you back $450. Discuss in the Ministry of Supply forum at 3DPB.com.
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