I wrote a review of Jaron Lanier’s book, Who Owns the Future, earlier this year. In it I described one of Lanier’s ideas: 3D printing of clothes at home, recycling yesterday’s wear for today’s fashion. There are all sorts of problems with this vision in terms of energy and waste, I argued. So I have to report on Eliza Strickland’s article on the company, Shapeways, in IEEE Spectrum this month. Strickland’s article features a picture of a 3D-printed gown produced by the company for a burlesque performer, Dita Von Teese. Yes, it’s plastic, but it really does look like (very porous) clothing.
But the real take-away from this article is that Shapeways may be on to a very smart niche in the world of 3D printing. They have their manufacturing services in New York, and the business model is that you send them your 3D designs, they jigsaw-puzzle your needs together with many other customers’ needs, just like a board company might do, and then they produce it using high-end 3D printers that you would never have at home. So this intermediate stage between mass-manufacturing and home printing may just be a reasonable middle ground, where people exercise creative expression without the logistical tail and cost of actually doing manufacturing in their own home, from ordering raw materials to keeping the equipment running. Of course Shapeways adds more monetization paths by creating a community marketplace where you can sells your designs to others, and this leads to a sort of physical-world app store.