Fashion Weeks and Fashion Shows all around the world increasingly provide an opportunity to discover new designs and fabrication innovations involving 3D printing and digital design. This year, Alexis Walsh, an NYC based designer and artist, caught our attention. Her Apex Series, which we featured as one of our #TechTuesday picks, combines new technologies such as 3D printing with more traditional techniques, and 3D printed pieces (also called custom hardware) applied on fabric through a special design software she and her partner built. Due to the important and innovative aspects of her work, we decided to go a step further and feature Alexis as a #CyantistWeLove! Alexis kindly shared about the process behind her collection, her thoughts on sustainable fashion and fashion design, her advice for young Cyantists and more. A great inspiration for anyone interested in the intersection of 3D printing, design, sustainability and traditional craft!
Cyant: Can you please tell us about the Apex Series and what led you to this collection? What was the creative and design process behind it?
Alexis: Apex Series initially began as a single piece - the Apex Coat. This was an idea that had been brainstormed with my design partner Justin Hattendorf. We were really excited about the idea of creating customized hardware [e.g. 3D printed decorative pieces that adorn a garment] that could have an engineered placement on a body. New expressions are possible through 3D printing that are either impossible or extremely difficult to attain in other mediums. With additive manufacturing, new ways of integrating different materials can be utilized, combining traditional handcraft and hardware elements with modern performative materials. After the creation of Apex Coat, the piece was so well received that we decided to expand the idea further into a continuing body of work. Apex Series is the first collection.
Cyant: Once designed, what was involved in making the collection come to life, in terms of materials, processes and technologies? And what problems were you able to solve?
Alexis: We created a custom software to develop our 3D models for this piece. The software took about 6 months of iterations before we were ready to start prototyping. From there, we tested a number of methods to apply the 3D printed hardware onto fabric. Rather than prototyping for a specific, isolated design problem, we decided to prototype a process for making an expansive collection of fashion products. This allows us to focus on each new garment in the collection with a sharp attention to detail, ensuring that our designs maintain a high quality of craftsmanship while giving us full creative freedom when we have an idea for a new hardware application. With 3D printing, small studios and independent designers are now empowered to work on new and disruptive design ideas with production on-demand. In the past, fashion hardware development required access to large scale manufacturing and would require extremely large minimum order quantities, which has often been unattainable for small businesses. Today we can use desktop 3D printers to prototype, and small fabrication companies to produce high quality hardware, allowing us to rethink old design standards and develop a new interpretation of fashion hardware. Using the custom software app that we built together, we mapped out the flattened pattern pieces and were able to engineer the exact placements of hardware to each specific pattern piece, before physically creating the garment. This efficient method allows us to rapidly test our designs until deciding on a final form, with absolutely no wastage of materials or labor. Though the designing of the software took six months, we were able to physically create all the pieces within Apex Series in about two months. Each piece was hand-sewn and the hardware was manually applied.
Cyant: Your work is at the intersection of fashion, technology and physics! How did your studies prepare you for your current work? Conversely, what else did you have to learn and what collaborations did you have to put in place?
Alexis: In 2015, I graduated from Parsons The New School for Design, with a focus in both fashion design and product design. My experiences with digital design, including computational design and 3D modeling, has been largely self taught. I was a student during the period where 3D printing was just becoming a mainstream concept. In order to learn more about 3D printing, I enrolled in industrial product design courses, and classes focused on fabrication materials and manufacturing processes. Through this, I was allowed access to the manufacturing buildings on the Parsons campus, which included an array of 3D printers, laser cutters, and metal fabrication machinery. I had an incredible four years of experimenting, and I definitely got lucky in having such encouraging professors who allowed me to explore. One particular instance was in a steel welding class, where I create a cage dress out of welded steel rods. I found a mannequin and would carry it up and down the stairs into the welding studio, welding directly onto the mannequin. Two crucial experiences to my current work were two 3D printing based internships. When I was a junior, I interned for the designer Bradley Rothenberg at his namesake company (now nTopology, a really cool software company!) This was at the height of 3D printing in fashion, and it was such a great learning experience. I was able to see how the studio collaborated with more traditional fashion design companies to work with technology. The next year, right after I graduated, I worked as the studio manager for Studio Bitonti, under the designer Francis Bitonti. Studio Bitonti worked with fabricating and designing projects focused on 3D modeling/3D printing, as well as teaching a workshop class about using 3D modeling for wearable designs. Without a doubt, the most important collaboration I have ever had is with my partner Justin Hattendorf. We work so well together, and our skill sets compliment each other. Justin has a background in architecture and industrial product design, and his knowledge of computational design is incredibly important to our process.
Cyant: What other innovations do you see possible, that combine traditional craft and new technologies such as 3D printing? And what other materials do you hope to work with in the future?
Alexis: I’m really excited about the potential of fully 3D printed fabrics. As a textile, I don't think the technology is completely realized yet, but there is so much possibility around fully 3D printed garments. I would also love to work with more sustainable materials, such as lab grown leather or mycelium.
Cyant: How do you think your work can advance more sustainable design in fashion? And to facilitate that, what are techniques that exist, or you think would be possible, that you hope to use?
Alexis: 3D printing is surprisingly sustainable! PLA filament is plant-based, and your print can be biodegradable. There are several companies focusing on the "recycling" of 3D printed filaments, too. Another printing method, SLS, is completely zero waste by utilizing nylon powder. Any excess powder is continuously reused for the next prints. With 3D printing, the amount of wastage can be drastically reduced as compared to more traditional methods of clothing/accessory/hardware manufacturing.
Cyant: What would be your advice for young (and older :)) cyantists interested in fashion, and looking to use 3D printing and related technologies?
Alexis: If you're interested in 3D printing, now is the time to explore it! There are so many resources available online right now, as well as intuitive guides to help first time 3D modelers learn the programs. Several colleges are also beginning to offer courses focused on 3D modeling for wearable items, like clothing, shoes, or hardware. It might seem intimidating at first, but it's so worth learning and it's also fun!
Cyant: Finally, what is your favorite thing to draw? :)
Alexis: I love drawing portraits! In my free time, I enjoy sketching with graphite or painting watercolor.
Thanks Alexis for sharing your insights and experience with us! If you want to learn more about Alexis, make sure to visit HERE!