Today, fashion’s future is being built 1s and 0s at a time thanks to 3-D printing, which is revolutionizing what a bespoke garment means and looks like.

By Lorraine Sanders

To Francis Bitonti, who created the shoes you see above as part of a design experiment with San Jose–based software company Adobe, the bio-futuristic appearance is a side note. It’s the colors – or rather, the way the colors transition from royal blue to azure to sky and sea foam green before settling into a limeade hue – that make Bitonti nearly giddy as he describes his creation.

“I had struggled with this for years,” says Bitonti, one of the world’s foremost experts in 3-D-printed design.

The problem? Massive, unwieldy amounts of data, lurking beneath digital renderings of the heels and their pleasant, ombré colors. Unlike a typical fashion designer, Bitonti works with geometry, algorithms, and software to turn digital designs into tangible objects using 3-D printers, which create objects by putting materials down layer by layer based on binary data. The process has been around since the 1980s, but it’s only in the past couple of years that the machines have become widely available.

3D fashion

Photo courtesy of Albert Sanchez Photography

Bitonti is one in an ever-expanding pool of fashion designers ushering in an era of tech-enabled couture. With 13,000 hand-sewn Swarovski crystals and a cost reportedly exceeding $100,000, the 3-D-printed Dita dress, created by Bitonti and Los Angeles designer Michael Schmidt for burlesque performer Dita von Teese, was one of the first such creations to attract international attention when it debuted in 2013.

High costs and limited access to materials and machines keep statement-makers such as these cordoned off and – much like the haute couture of Parisian ateliers – out of reach of the masses. For now. With the 3-D printing market expected to be worth $4 billion by 2025, don’t expect things to stay this way.

“We’re talking about a future in which all physical things are digitized,” Bitonti predicts.

It’s universally agreed that new raw materials are a next crucial step in taking 3-D-printed fashion mainstream. Materials that mimic the softness of traditional fabrics are not here yet, but there are hints they’re not far off. San Francisco–based startup Electroloom is at work mining wisdom from biomedicine to develop 3-D-printed fabrics that result when liquid polymers are treated with an electrical current.

That’s all a fancy way of saying that your next piece of couture might come off a printer before you buy it off the rack.

Couture, the Old-Fashioned Way

While the high-tech future of fashion may be here, stunning handcrafted items still have their place in Valencia destinations.

Hatbox [Austin, TX]

Visit this modern haberdashery for custom-made hats, vintage restorations, and private fitting for bespoke headwear.


Edwin Tankus [Houston, TX]

By appointment, call on third-generation owner Allan Weinerger for custom shirts, suits, and boots.


Hamilton Shirts [San Antonio, TX]

Available in-store and online, made-to-measure shirts are the hallmark of this family-owned brand founded in 1883.


Sloan/Hall [San Jose, CA]

Fashion-forward names that hang from the racks include Iris Van Herpen, whose latest collections have landed 3-D-printed pieces on the runways of Paris.