Q+A: HEISEL, New York's 3D Printing Fashion Pioneer

Q&A with Sylvia Heisel of Heisel, 3D printed fashion

by Carver Wilcox

3D printing and other emerging technologies are enabling innovative possibilities for fashion, and Sylvia Heisel is keen on pushing beyond previous limitations. With a practice that puts as much emphasis on the process as the product itself, her company, HEISEL is pioneering new territory by developing a work-flow and manufacturing system for 3D printed apparel. She has been named one of the "25 Forward Thinkers Defining the Future of Fashion”, "Top 100 Women in Wearable and Consumer Tech" and "12 Amazing People You Need To Know In New York Fashion Tech".

Learn more about Sylvia Heisel at heisel.co

Carver Wilcox: You've described HEISEL as being "a project to develop the [new] ways to make clothing". What inspired this approach?

Sylvia Heisel: As a fashion designer I’ve often been limited by the materials and manufacturing processes that are available. I would dream up amazing clothes and then get brought down because the material didn’t exist or there wasn’t a way to manufacture the product. Technology is bringing innovation to manufacturing and materials but not much of it is being used to make clothes. We want to change that.

CW: What do you look for in partnerships  and what qualities / dynamics have made them fruitful particularly when working within undefined territory?

SH: This is pretty broad and it really depends on the project. In general a willingness to collaborate and a skill set that’s different than mine. I would love to work on more projects that combine fashion, technology and experiences. Fashion is very siloed from other lifestyle fields (product design, interactive design, architecture, etc.) and I think that needs to change. The Internet of Things is really the Internet of People and I’m excited by collaborations that bring what we wear closer to how we live.

CW: What do you feel is over and underrated culturally right now?

SH: Overrated - social media. It’s probably the best/fastest/most efficient way to share information but most of the time it’s very emperor’s new clothes.

Underrated - IRL events and connections between people.

Overrated and underrated at the same time - I’m really interested to see where VR goes.

CW: What are your thoughts on brand strides such as Adidas Futurecraft?

SH: I’m a huge fan. Small companies like mine can create prototypes and introduce new ideas but fashion needs the big brands to step up and produce new products at scale. The Futurecraft shoe is a great example of using technology to make something new. Even if you don’t know how it’s made it’s a cool looking shoe.

"Technology will enable what we wear to do things and affect our lives in ways we’re only beginning to imagine."

CW: What kind of cultural impact do you think 3D printing will have?

SH: Wow, good question. I don’t think anyone really cares how their products are made. We buy things because we need them or like them so it will depend on what we make. 3D printing enables us to make things that could not have existed in the past but it’s only as good as what we make. In terms of fashion, my guess is that clothes will be very different 20 years from now. Technology will enable what we wear to do things and affect our lives in ways we’re only  beginning to imagine. The cultural impact of smart clothing will be massive.

  HEISEL Custom 3D printed coat - made with a body scan and out of recyclable materials

HEISEL Custom 3D printed coat - made with a body scan and out of recyclable materials

CW: You’ve found unique opportunities in Asia (ex: leading workshops, your AXIS magazine feature, and product feature at CES Asia in Shanghai), what have they entailed and how have you been making them happen?

SH: At this point all of them found us but I’m starting to look for opportunities there. We led a workshop in 3D Printing for Fashion at FashionX Global, a tech incubator in Shanghai, last fall and the experience was amazing. There is so much innovation and creativity happening in Asia right now. We found a much closer connection between the fashion and tech industries and more willingness to step outside of tradition and explore possible innovations. I’d love more collaborations with fashion and tech companies in Asia.

   HEISEL 3D printed bag    made of compostable bioplastic at the CES Asia 2018 fashion show

HEISEL 3D printed bag made of compostable bioplastic at the CES Asia 2018 fashion show

"There is so much innovation and creativity happening in Asia right now. We found a much closer connection between the fashion and tech industries and more willingness to step outside of tradition and explore possible innovations."

CW: What advice might you have for those navigating the emerging arena of fashion + tech?

SH: If you’re coming from the fashion world understanding the importance of data and learning how to work with facts, information and measurements is key. Coming from the tech side it’s the opposite, let go of relying only on data and allow emotions and gut feelings to enter the equation.

CW: Any favorite quotes relevant to these times?

SH: Not exactly a quote but there is a Japanese word: MONOZUKURI - there isn’t an exact translation but it is: “the cultivation of craft that enables to engrave human soul on his material, in which technology can be nurtured into a part of direction in art.”

Learn more about Sylvia Heisel at heisel.co