With the goal of reducing the amount of embodied energy in an article of clothing, a young entrepreneur is developing a 3D printer that can create customized, on-demand apparel. Aaron Rowley, founder of Electroloom, which is also the name of the product, says that the idea was generated from a conversation with his roommate about the manufacturing of clothes, noting that there hasn’t been much advancement in the way of creating clothes.
“Looms, sewing, manual labor – it’s mostly an unchanged process,” Rowley says. “So I wondered why haven’t we reimagined the way we make clothes? Is there a way to open up that realm of design to the masses? And that’s when we began working on the Electroloom.”
The Electroloom team has printed sheets and tubes of polymer fabric and is, with the grant’s support, working on shaped garments, such as T-shirts, as well as fibers that more closely resemble cotton. Natural fibers don’t hold up in the printing process as well as synthetics, so during the prototyping process, the team will use synthetics or blends of natural and synthetic materials.
Rowley envisions an online database with crowd-sourced designs when the equipment and process is fully functional. “My favorite part about this project is thinking of what it might do for those who want to get their hands on clothing design,” he says. “Of course, I romanticize the future, but the idea of a creative ecosystem where people can share designs for the clothes they wear is exciting.”
The team received a grant recently from Alternative Apparel, an Atlanta, Ga.-based clothing company known for its use of organic cottons and recycled fibers. A year-long membership to TechShop San Francisco and a design mentorship were part of the prize package. Their work in 2014 will be focused on building a solid prototype.