Custom 3D printed garments that fit like a glove and mean you’ll never have the trouble of dragging yourself around a locker room again are still likely to be sold out years from now. But the fashion space is touching on 3D printing technology. And there are other initiatives underway to harness the power of on-demand additive manufacturing to produce custom designs.
One such mover and agitator is UK startup WonderLuk, founded in July last year, which is using 3D printing to fuel a market venture for bold and unusual accessories that can be further personalized by the buyer. . Think statement pieces rather than normcore.
He has seven designers in his books so far who create 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 cumulative visitors so far are over 20,000, with visitor numbers increasing “week by week”.
Prices are generally more expensive than mass-produced mass-market accessories, but reduce the cost of one-off designer or custom-made pieces. It’s also faster than the latter, thanks to the use of 3D printing as a manufacturing method, with custom designs being able to arrive in buyers’ hands within weeks. According to Lucca, approximately 80% of WonderLuk buyers request some form of custom designs.
WonderLuk’s accessories are printed from nylon, but the startup is currently testing other materials to tackle the luxury category more directly – with samples of 18k gold and titanium on its workbench at present. (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 household items in the near future, with some dabbling with 3D printing clothing also on the cards.
Both WonderLuk co-founders (Andre Schober being the other) have prior experience in the luxury fashion category, having worked for luxury phone brand Vertu.
“The reason we started with jewelry is that it’s a little less difficult…from an e-commerce perspective. From a proper perspective as well – jewelry, accessories – then we’ll go into shoes , then we’ll go into housewares, then we’ll go into apparel,” Lucca told TechCrunch.
“I can tell you wearable, 3D-printed clothing is probably about five years away. I wouldn’t be so optimistic on this side. But what we tried and experimented with one of our designers is to combine certain elements of your outfit with your dress, for example we made a kind of cape that looks like a lace. Everything was 3d printed in one go and it’s really nice and soft and anyone can wear it over any dress and it’s beautiful. So these things are really our embryonic experimentation with clothing.
Challenges that need to be overcome for 3D-printed clothing include finding materials that can produce garments that are warm enough to wear, says Lucca, and also overcoming the pervasive e-commerce problem of ensuring fit without the buyer is there to physically try something out – which itself has spawned a myriad of tech startups.
“It’s a combination of things. Currently, there is no 3D printed material that could functionally warm you up. So it’s something really basic about our clothes that they need to warm you up. And not all the materials available right now would do that,” says Lucca. “But also fitment, from an online perspective, you have to scale. Fit is a big thing for any e-commerce business.
WonderLuk uses a UK-based 3D printing supplier to fulfill orders, but Lucca says she wants to identify local suppliers as the company expands to more markets around the world. “I want to make sure we’re not making products that travel thousands of miles every day. I want to make sure that once we have a presence in the United States, for example, I will have the right suppliers there to fulfill all the orders locally,” she 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 – more narrowly focused, as it targets vertical fashion. Another competitor she names for the online accessories e-commerce piece is Boticca, while noting that they don’t offer 3D printing.
WonderLuk has just closed a £150,000 ($240,000) seed funding round from Symvan Capital. He is now raising an A-series to evolve on all fronts, says Lucca. “We’re basically expanding the customers, expanding the platform, expanding the designer base, expanding the team, so we all want to grow,” she adds. “Cultivate everything.”