Print Your Own Clothes?May 18, 2012
What does DTP mean to you? Probably much less than it did 25 years ago. Back in the late 80s there was an explosion in Desk Top Publishing driven by the advent of new technology, such as desktop PCs with scalable fonts.
In 1984 an HP laser printer sold for around $3,500 – about the same as a 3D printer does now. That was way too much for the average home user but within the reach of the new small scale printing businesses that sprung up on Main Streets across North America and Europe.
These days a printer will cost you well under $100. Of course they’re often sold as loss-leaders by manufacturers hoping to get you hooked on peripheral crack in the form of over-priced ink cartridges. These days most of us store documents digitally and avoid printing wherever possible. Yet we buy home printers for the convenience of being able to print out the occasional letter or document, even though they do no more than print 2D ink on paper.
The potential for 3D printing is way greater. The technology isn’t there yet but, depending on what sorts of micro-manufacturing capability it delivers, we could be facing a revolution.
Imagine if you could buy a robo-tailor – a machine that would make cloth and turn it into garments and other items. Even better, imagine one that would recycle old fabrics and use the material to make new things?
A long way off? Perhaps. Far fetched? No. The social drivers for such technology are powerful. Our world is one where resources are finite and waste is increasingly hard to justify yet a world which ceaselessly pushes us to consumer new items. Celebrities are berated by magazines for wearing the same dress twice or the same top as another star at the same event. Where celebrities lead, millions follow.
In a future world people could simply feed unwanted garment into a recycler, reclaim its component parts and get a robo-tailor to create something new.
Of course robots need instructions and that’s where we might see a new world of opportunity. E-publishing and music downloads have radically undermined existing business models but they’ve also given smaller bands and writers the means to market themselves directly to a public. Yes their audiences are fragmented, but so long as that offers a living, even if it doesn’t always offer great wealth, there will be writers and bands willing to experiment with it.
In the realm of fashion or interior design out goes the star designer and in comes the talented newcomer producing CAD-CAM (computer aided design/computer aided machining) files and pushing them out online.
A piece on Extreme Tech earlier this year suggested that top designers would use DRM to protect their IP but that this would be cracked and their files would find their way onto Pirate Bay or its successors. Maybe so. However many people will happily pay for digital content that’s appropriately priced. Analogue industries have typically run into trouble where they’ve tried to give less but charge more (think .mp3s here – you don’t own music downloads, you only rent them, there’s no artwork, the sound quality is inferior – compared to a 1970s gatefold LP you’ve gained enormously in terms of convenience but lost out on virtually every other metric).
Top designers are less likely to be undermined by hacking per se than undercut by younger and more competitively priced newcomers. After all the more obscure the designer, the greater the chances of getting to wear something no one else in your circle has or have even seen. Better still you can commission something uniquely for you.
Again it all points to a growing market for intangibles and a shift in power in the marketplace away from those who own the means of production to the consumer and those who sell directly to them, and a market for intagibles is, de facto, a knowledge market.