Sylvia Heisel is a former fashion designer working with 3D printing, new materials, manufacturing and physical computing for fashion and wearables. She was named one of the “25 Forward Thinkers Defining the Future of Fashion”, “Top 100 Women in Wearable and Consumer Tech,” and “12 Amazing People You Need To Know In New York Fashion Tech”, and she consults, leads workshops and speaks on 3D printing, design for smart wearables and technology applications for sustainable fashion. Without further adieu, let’s hear a little bit more about here story and 3D printing within fashion.
You have an impressive resume in terms of time within the fashion world. Could you give us some background on where you went to school and your passions that have evolved over time within the fashion industry?
I didn’t go to school. I did not study fashion. I dropped out of school. I was in New York and had already started making jewelry and selling it. I thought I was going to come back but I decided against it. I came from a family that treasured education. I came from a family where data was really important. My father is a retired demographer. It really helped. It killed them to know I was not going to college. But their background got me interested in tech at an early age.
It seems that you evolved through your creative career? When do you remember specifically being interested in the intersection of technology and fashion?
I love fashion. Around 2007 a lot of the clothing stores I sold to were starting to have a lot of financial problems. These stores are not adapting to how the world is changing. People are going to buy stuff online. Lifestyles are different and people and fashion was not. I got into fashion because I loved what is new and creative. A lot of the clothing has not changed really. Retro 90s is not new. The digital and physical meeting is really interesting. My brand is focused on designing clothes differently in terms of working on AR. There is a software called Cloe for real clothing. A lot of people in fashion cannot adapt to this though.
I have seen some of your work in terms of 3D printed garments such as your custom 3D printed coat on the website. Where does a lot of your inspiration for design come from?
I think that a lot of it comes from the material and the technology there for making things. Some of it comes from other images. The coat was commissioned for this technology lounge in London. It had to be something everyone could fit into. Everything about 3D printing before then was focused on custom fits, so that piece was very interesting. Ninja Flex at the time was the only material that could be used. We were printing a lot of swatches at the time. Some ideas for visuals were mocked up and we had a lot of focus on something sleek and mysterious. Then we wandered into the realm of what can I make. We still are limited in terms of printers and the materials. It was all printed with desktop printers in bit by bit segments. This causes a design to be streamlined for simplicity. The software called morphee is useful for these type of ideas.
What is required to be a fashion designer in the digital age we currently live in?
A dream, a lot of hard work, and a good idea. I think that a combination of what can be done. You must know 3D printing. You must know a bunch of different technologies. You must have a bit of an idea what is actually is possible. A knowledge of the technology. It is also important to pay attention to your consumer and what they want.
Where do you see the industry of fashion going within ten years? You are considered one of the more influential designers when it comes to forward thinking design.
I do think there is a lot of amazing innovation. The design process is really different. The clothes will be very different. Customization will be key. A lot of new materials are coming. Biomaterials are coming which I think will change things a lot. Sowing and knitting will are going to be outdated. A lot of the clothes will be smart clothes as well. There will be so much cool technology integrated. We also have a giant industry that is in trouble. It is not changing well and it supports millions of people. As automation comes there will be a crisis when it comes to a bunch of people put out of jobs when it comes to robots. Sustainability will be a question to answer as well. We will have to focus on these realities too. I think mostly that clothing will also have function.
Who are some individuals in the field that you would suggest others be acquainted with as well?
I spend a ton of time finding and looking at a lot of different stuff and ideas. It is important to look at various media outside of what I know. I think there are so many brilliant people. I think it is important to absorb as much as possible. Instagram, linkedin, and going from thing to thing is great. I have a short attention span, so anything more than a minute long is too much. We just finished the Names Dress. It has 300+ women names in STEM fields. There are just so many people it is hard to bring them into light.
What are some resources for someone to learn more about 3D printing in terms of fashion design?
Join my meetup group. 3D print fashion. Follow 3D printing blogs of course. There are a few fashion tech resources but not a lot yet. Fashnerd is one. WTVOX. It is a really small community right now. LinkedIn and instagram are great. There is a lot of interest but there is no established community just yet. There is a lot of people split into the fashion side and cosplay which is cool. Then there are people who are just into sustainable fashion. There is a lot coming out in terms of the sneaker companies. Some people do not really like that trend.
If one wanted to get involved with fashion and technology in New York currently what would be the best route?
I do not think the where you are matters. I think making some cool stuff and getting it out there is important. I think New York is great for being super inspired. A lot of it is going to be online though. I honestly think that LA is even cooler pop up wise anyways. I think it is important to have people making stuff with technology first.
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