Custom 3D printed clothing that fits you like a glove and means you’ll never have the boredom of hanging out in a locker room again are likely years away. But the fashion space is rubbing shoulders with 3D printing technology. And more steps are underway to harness the power of on-demand additive manufacturing to produce custom designs.
One of those motors and shakers is UK startup WonderLuk, founded in July last year, which uses 3D printing to fuel a market of bold and unusual accessories that can be further customized by the buyer. Think of statement pieces, rather than normcore.
So far, seven designers have created unusual jewelry and other accessories – designs that in some cases are only practical to make using the 3D printing technique, says the co-founder and CEO. Roberta Lucca – which are then printed on demand and shipped to buyers within two weeks. The business model is revenue sharing with designers who sell through its marketplace.
The website opened in April and there are around 60 products on sale so far (see the gallery below for some of its current designs). There are no customers yet, but Lucca says the cumulative visitors so far are over 20,000, with the number of visitors increasing “week after week”.
Prices are generally more expensive than mass-produced mass-market accessories, but lower than the cost of unique designer or bespoke pieces. It’s also faster than the latter, thanks to the use of 3D printing as a manufacturing method, with custom designs able to reach buyers in a matter of weeks. According to Lucca, 80% of WonderLuk buyers request some form of design customization.
The accessories on WonderLuk are printed from nylon, but the startup is currently testing other materials to approach the luxury category more directly – with 18k gold and titanium samples on its workbench right now. (Money is unfortunately technically harder to make, but Lucca says she wants to add it if the printing challenges can be overcome.) He also plans to expand the product categories he offers to include items such as shoes and housewares in the near future, with some dabbling with 3D printing clothing also on the cards.
The two WonderLuk co-founders (Andre Schober being the other) have previous experience in the luxury fashion category, having worked for luxury phone brand Vertu.
âThe reason we started with jewelry is that it’s a little less difficultâ¦ from an e-commerce perspective. From a fit perspective as well – jewelry, accessories – then we’ll move on to shoes, then housewares, then clothing, âLucca told TechCrunch.
âI can tell you that wearable, 3D printed clothing is probably about five years away. I wouldn’t be so optimistic about it. But what we have tried and experimented with with one of our designers is to combine some elements of your outfit with your dress, so for example we made a kind of cape that looks like a lace. It was all 3D printed in one go and it’s really nice and soft, and anyone can wear it over any dress and it’s gorgeous. So these things are largely our embryonic experimentation with clothing. “
The challenges that must be overcome for 3D printing clothing include finding materials that can produce clothing warm enough to be worn, Lucca says, as well as solving the ubiquitous e-commerce problem of ensuring the fit without letting it go. The buyer is there to physically try something out – which itself has spawned a myriad of tech startups.
âIt’s a combination of things. At present, there is no 3D printed material that can functionally warm you. So it’s something really basic in our clothes that they need to warm you up. And not all of the materials available today would, âsays Lucca. âBut also the fitting, from an online point of view, you have to evolve. Fit is an important thing for any ecommerce business.
WonderLuk is using a UK-based 3D printing supplier to fulfill orders, but Lucca says she wants to identify local suppliers as the business expands to more markets around the world. âI want to make sure that we don’t make products that travel thousands of miles every day. I want to make sure that once we’re in the United States, for example, I have the right suppliers there to fill all the orders locally, âshe adds.
In terms of competitors, she compares the business model of the 3D printing market to Shapeways in general, although WonderLuk is – at least for now – focused more narrowly, as it targets the fashion industry. Another competitor she names for the online accessories ecommerce part is Boticca, while noting that they don’t offer 3D printing.
WonderLuk has just closed a Â£ 150,000 ($ 240,000) funding round from Symvan Capital. He is now building an A series to develop on all fronts, says Lucca. âWe’re basically expanding our customers, expanding the platform, expanding the designer base, expanding the team, so we’re all focused on growth,â she adds. âGrow it all. “