3D Printed Novelty Accessories and the Failure of E-commerce Search

There are an ever-growing number of products available online. Yet, some of my favorite discovery platforms for fashion, namely Pinterest and Instagram, suffer from the simple fact that I may discover a product months after it’s sold out, out of season, or no longer available on the retailer’s site.

Looking for specific fashion items online is tedious. Take my favorite fashion blogger’s Instagram, Accidental Icon. How do I purchase earrings like her namesake black plastic hoops?

accidental icon namesake black plastic hoops

The Search Experience

Well, Google (Search, Images, and Lens), Pinterest, Etsy, Barney’s… don’t quite serve up what I was looking for.

pinterest large black hoop earrings
etsy black hoop earrings search results
Google search large black hoop earrings
barney's black hoop earrings search results

What’s worse is finding something you like, only to be redirected to a page telling you it’s no longer available or sold out. So what are the next steps? Search each retailer’s page independently for a product that’s similar? Doesn’t it seem like it shouldn’t be this hard?

3D Printing

I’m not advocating that 3D printing knock-offs of your favorite fashion items is practical or even feasible most of the time. However, in this case, it was faster, easier, and probably cheaper to make my own knock-offs than it would have been to find them. Does it seem like we’ve crossed over some e-commerce saturation threshold to anyone else?

Leanne Luce wearing 3D printed black plastic hoops

An added advantage to printing these is that I could size them down a little, tweak the proportions, and make them exactly how I wanted them instead of ‘close enough.’

Printing them also meant they came almost fully assembled (interlocking can be printed in one piece) so all I had to do was glue on the earring post.

If you want the same pair, you can download my CAD file below and print them using Shapeways or your preferred SLS 3D printing service. (Don’t forget to order 2 if you want the whole pair. 😉)

I used the basic ‘versatile plastic’ which is Nylon. Don’t like Shapeways color options? You can also try RIT dyes made for Nylon.

Incase you were wondering if you could optimize to make them cheaper, the answer is probably only by changing the size. (Check out the screenshots below to see the different layout variations I tried for price optimization using Shapeways.)

Screen Shot 2019-03-02 at 3.53.05 PM.png