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Thousands of pieces of plastic become fashion innovation with 3D printing at MIX Lab

Posted in: 3D printing

Altarik Banks and Natalie Rodriguez with the dress
Altarik Banks and Natalie Rodriguez with the dress, inside MIX Lab. (Photo by Mike Peters)

Clothing made from fabric is so yesterday.

At least that’s the case in the MIX Lab.

A 3D printed dress, made from thousands of pieces of plastic, was unveiled June 15 at the MIX Lab. Natalie Rodriguez, the lab’s design entrepreneur in residence, created the dress over several months.

“I just want to share the dress with people, to inspire people to hack the model and do their own iterations of the dress,” said Rodriguez, 25.

The Montclair resident has always been interested in fashion, but has a background in architecture. The dress project was an opportunity to combine those two worlds – in fact, Rodriguez said architecture played a bigger role than fashion in creating the dress.

Rodriguez credited MIX Lab—and specifically Altarik Banks, a senior who is a MIX Lab assistant—with providing assistance on making the 3D printed dress.

“It really helped to have people in the lab who gave feedback and gave advice on the technical side,” said Rodriguez, who lives in Texas but has been living in Montclair for a year while her husband attended graduate school. She learned about MIX Lab after meeting Prof. Iain Kerr.

“He invited me to take advantage of the lab to explore and experiment,” said Rodriguez about Kerr. The MIX Lab—an innovation center with 35 3D printing devices—serves as a resource for the entire campus, as well as schools and businesses in the local community.

“This has been a remarkable success. It’s both an amazing design and a fantastic opportunity for our students to really learn from a great, young designer,” said Kerr.

Banks said the best part was seeing all the panels of the dress put together. “That was the most interesting and exciting part–all of the hard work and iterations finally coming together,” said Banks, an Economics major. “It helped me become more knowledgeable of what’s possible with 3D printing, from the technical side.”

The project started Feb. 1 when Rodriguez used a portable scanner from MIX Lab to do a full-body scan of a model to get precise measurements. (The model, Desiree Archie, a senior Psychology major who is also studying fashion merchandising, was the one sporting the dress when it was unveiled June 15.) Then it took about three months to design the dress, another month working on prototypes for the garment, and then a final month assembling it. Rodriguez also worked on prototypes of high-heeled shoes to go with the dress.

The project would not have been possible without MIX Lab.

“I was able to prototype and go through iterations and test ideas out quickly,” said Rodriguez. “Because you have so many machines, it’s easier to jumpstart the project.”