At NYC’s famed Fashion Institute of Technology, Lilach Porges fuses science and creativity into sustainably made garments using Braskem recycled polymers, specially formulated for 3D printing applications.
"The robotic arm can follow any line in space. This line can be as complicated and accurate as a mathematical function can be.”
Lilach Porges, MFA Fashion Design Student
Lilach Porges uses a robotic arm to print cutting edge garment designs in 3D. Her desire to reduce both environmental impact and the fashion industry’s reliance on manual labor prompted her to search for sustainable 3D printing materials. That search ended when she found Braskem and their GR605R-CF pellets — a polyethylene/polypropylene blend made almost entirely from recycled bottle caps and reinforced with 100% recycled carbon fiber for added strength and durability. This material proved to be a perfect blend of sustainability, printability and performance.
Rather than the typical filament fed into a standard 3D printer, Braskem’s GR605R-CF pellets are loaded into a hopper on the robotic arm, then melted and extruded according to a code Lilach programs into the machine. As Lilach is discovering, the possibilities for printing this way are nearly endless. We talked to Lilach to learn more about her process and the unexpected potential of additive manufacturing in sustainable fashion.
How the journey began
Tell us about yourself! How did you go from architecture to fashion?
I’m currently a student at the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) in the Master of Fine Arts in Fashion Design program. Before making the move to FIT, I completed my Bachelor of Science degree in Architecture and then went on to graduate from the Masters in Architecture program at The Technion – Israel Institute of Technology. There I majored in Parametric Design using robotic arms. However, I’ve always dreamed of being a fashion designer and during holidays and breaks from my architecture studies I was working on my fashion portfolio.
What inspired you to begin exploring 3D printed fashion?
I was exposed to 3D printing during my architecture studies, and the abilities and aesthetics of this technology inspired me. As a result, my final project in architecture included designing a building facade to be created by additive manufacturing (3D printing) with a robotic arm. My thesis idea for the program at FIT is a fashion design collection using additive manufacturing via robotic arms using new sustainable materials.
Not your typical 3D printer
Why a 3D printer on a robotic arm?
The robotic arm has some advantages over stationary 3D printers and I wanted to explore these through my fashion thesis. The robotic arm is able to print whole pieces on a larger scale than a standard 3D printer and also has the capability to print on vertical curved surfaces — such as the human body. While some parts of the garments I create will explore the ability to produce body-specific form-fitting looks, others will explore the ability to create large pieces around the body space in one piece.
What were some of the biggest challenges you faced when you started and how did you overcome them?
Because I couldn’t afford to purchase a robotic arm as a student, I started emailing every person in the area who I thought might have a robotic arm to loan out. Only one of these emails got a positive response — it was Mark Parsons from the Consortium for Research and Robotics at Pratt Institute. After a few meetings we signed a collaboration contract allowing me to use their lab facilities, which included ABB’s robotic arms (ABB Robotics is an industrial robot supplier, and pioneer in robotics, machine automation and digital services).
What was the reaction on social media when you first began posting about your work?
The way I combine fashion and technology attracted attention on social media and received many compliments. I enjoy sharing my design and production process because the research and the explorations are part of the result. The mixture of science and engineering with fashion and art breaks some stereotypes of both fields, and holds the promise of diversifying both. (You can follow Lilach’s work on Instagram here.)
The search for materials
What materials did you initially try and why?
Robotic arm technology opened the door to a whole new world of potential sustainable materials we hadn’t considered as fashion designers. Flexible 3D printing filaments, biodegradable pastes, sustainable powders and recycled pellets were at the core of my research into finding suitable material to print garments with. I aimed to find a printable material that’s sustainable, flexible, strong and comfortable.
What led you to try Braskem 3D materials?
Braskem was among many companies I found through internet research and by visiting the material library of Material Connexion. I had meetings and conversations with a significant number of material suppliers in order to find suitable material for my project. I experimented in 3D printing techniques with several materials and chose Braskem because it had the best performance for my purposes.
What did you find unique about Braskems offering and the company as a whole?
Braskem’s responses to my inquiries were fast and helpful every time, and from our first meeting I knew I could count on them. They listened to my research ideas and encouraged me to continue exploring them. Their materials proved to be easy to use and suited my creative purposes. The designs I create using Braskem’s GR605R-CF pellets have a unique shininess and an optimal balance of stiffness and flexibility. It’s also possible to connect zippers to the 3D-printed pieces and easily wear them, which is critical when manufacturing garments.
Sustainability and the future of fashion
How does your method (tools and materials) impact the sustainability of garment creation?
The production method of the robotic arm — which can be adjusted to accommodate almost any material by changing the robotic head tool — allows the creation of garments using unconventional, more sustainable materials. Unlike fabric materials typically used to make clothing, the 3D printing materials I work with can be recycled and reused. It’s possible to melt these materials down and create a new print material that can be used again. Therefore, every garment made using this method and material can be completely recycled and become a completely new creation, without negatively affecting the environment.
What’s your vision for the future of fashion and what’s next for you?
I believe there will be an increased influence of automation processes on the fashion industry, and that these processes will begin to replace some of the hand labor work currently employed. These technologies will also make it possible to use more environmentally friendly materials while at the same time keeping garment costs affordable. I hope to drive my project into a wearable fashion start-up that has less of an impact on the environment and eliminates the dependence on manual labor work as it currently exists in the fast fashion industry. There’s a lot of research to be done until then, but I’m ready to begin.