I’m republishing here a feature I originally did two weeks ago for the site Irenebrination:
For quite a few seasons now we have been charmed by the power of digitally printed garments showcased by hip designers during glamorous fashion weeks. Yet, though eye-catching, some of these designs can be extremely expensive, they may not be available in all sizes and, in some cases, their vibrantly trendy colours and hyperreal images are destined to be fashionable for just a few months. But, if you like digital prints and want avoid these pitfalls, try Constrvct, a system deviced by Mary Huang and Jenna Fizel, the bright minds behind Continuum Fashion.
Fans of the technology and fashion connection may remember the Continuum duo from previous projects including the N12 – the first 3D-printed wearable bikini, made in solid nylon and assembled without any sewing – and the D.dress app that allows users to draw a dress, turn it into a 3D model and export a cutting pattern to make a real garment.
Constrvct is a brand new site that allows users to upload their own digital images, play around with them on different garments – including a sheath dress, a T-shirt, various skirts and summer dresses – and finally order that specific design in their own sizes. Once the order is sent, the Constrvct team creates a set of digital patterns and, using the highest quality process of inkjet textile printing, manufactures the custom fabric, and then cuts and sews it into the chosen garment and into the requested size (the entire process takes place in the USA).
The project moved from 3D, animation and digital printing, but Huang and Fizel may have actually found the missing link not just between craft and advanced systems such as interactive softwares and the web, but between couture, technology and customisation: users type into the system their own measurements and are also able to preview how the garment will look like in their own size. They get therefore an idea of where a specific image will be printed and change its position if needed.
Each garment is also produced reducing waste since no pattern is actually printed and designs are manufactured on order so there are no unwanted and unsold stocks lying around.
The high degree of interactivity means users directly participate in the design and even production processes (you can also request some swatches of fabrics if you want) – phases none of us can control in our mass marketed economy.
Constrvct may allow each of us to create a very personal wardrobe and entire collection or even open our own design studio, but it also leads us to understand more about our bodies and about consumption, re-educating us to buying fewer things that really fit us.
Prices range from $125 for a T-shirt to $350 for a sheath dress, quite reasonable prices for a unique and totally customised garment (also the label is personalised).
Constrvct comes with a caveat, though: it is a highly addictive website and once you’ve tried your hand at making your own garments, you’ll definitely keep on returning to design more customised items.
How did you come up with the idea for Constrvct?
Jenna Fizel: It started while exploring 3D printing and fabric. A couple of years ago we did the N12 bikini that employed an algorithmic textile system creating forms that follow the shape of your body. It was a very cool and fun experiment, but 3D printing isn’t ready to be a production process so we tried to think about how to move on by highlighting the most important parts of the project. We realised that following the shape of the wearer’s body and making something that was really made for a specific wearer were really vital points. We also understood that people like things more when they have a hand in their making, so we tried to find a way to link all these points and we feel that we reached our goal with Constrvct since it allows people to express themselves and get a unique garment.
Since you print both the visual pattern of the image and the pattern pieces at the same time, you’re customising while reducing waste, which is not an easy thing to do: was this aspect one of your priorities while working on this project or was it a consequence?
Jenna Fizel: We thought about it while developing the system since we wanted to cut down on waste, customising a process by making things more efficient than in traditional manufacturing, avoiding at the same time intermediate stages such as producing for examples 100 unwanted samples of a garment. We don’t feel the future is thousands of mass produced identical garments, we feel the future is one thing, when you want it and made for you.
In this customisation process there is also another key aspect involved: each of us has a very different body and we all have problems in finding clothes that really fit us…
Jenna Fizel: It is frustrating to see a dress in a store and realise that one size fits the top and another size fits the bottom, but there is not one size that fits you everywhere. In our system there aren’t sizes anymore, there are measurements and that’s a key aspect. Besides, I think that what’s happening more and more is that people are buying online, but sometimes this process doesn’t feel that great, while buying in store has started to be an awkward situation since there are too many products out there and it’s difficult to choose. Our system may be the solution to these issues.
Which is the most difficult garment to design available at the moment on Constrvct?
Jenna Fizel: The sheath dress needed a slit in the back and we had to think about how to integrate it. Every more complicated dress takes a lot of thought; for example everytime a lapel or a ruche will be added things will get more complex and the system will have to expand.
You recently announced on the site that you will launch the “Artist Program” that will allow users to sell their own designs and earn a royalty on any orders, but will you also be offering new styles soon?
Jenna Fizel: We have recently launched two new garments, an A-line skirt and a summer dress, but we get emails all the time from people telling us “I wish you had this” or “I wish you had that”, and we take all their suggestions into consideration. At the moment we are also working on how to customise the shape of the dress: this is at the prototype stage and won’t be on the Internet for a while yet. Thanks to this new feature users will be able for example to drag the hem a few inches up or to get longer sleeves and so on. We hope this will please people since in this way they will have even more control on the garments they have chosen.
What kind of feedback did you get so far?
Jenna Fizel: We launched Constrvct in November last year and we did it quietly to listen to our users, see what they wanted and improve things. It has been really nice to see what people have been doing with the site, what they are ordering and the images they have been creating. It’s also very interesting to think about the personal stories behind the images being turned into a design. We did dresses for a couple of weddings as well, not for the bride of course, but for different people and it was very exciting.
You got your BSAD in Architecture from MIT, but you’re also interested in computational geometry, how did you get to fashion?
Jenna Fizel: I made clothes since I was a little kid; I made clothes in high school and did some costuming while at college. The architectural aspect comes in when I’m making things and creating elements such as intricate nets that were often used as the roots for some of the projects we did.
Which is the Continuum fashion and technology project that excited you the most so far?
Jenna Fizel: The bikini. While you can buy it online, this is not a commercial product and we don’t make any money out of it, but it was the proof that it was possible to take a crazy idea, work on it and make it happen. I think that gave us both the confidence to try more things. The D.dress was a fun online experiment with not a great deal of tangible outputs, but the bikini fully proved that we could go from the idea to a code to a computer model and then develop the actual thing. We got a great response from the Internet and the press and it was great to see how our interests are shared by a lot of people out there.