Of course, all the designing and planning requires significant skill, but in terms of the actual craftsmanship, the printer can do in a few hours what one person or a team of people would need days or weeks to finish. Production and lead times to market are there to be slashed.
Fashion and jewellery appear to be at most risk here, because the products are relatively small (and easier and quicker to print than, say, a Learjet… for now) and demand is consistently high. Whilst the fashion industry is used to rising above cheaper knock-offs and copycat brands, it is used to doing so on the grounds of quality. A fake Chanel belt with ‘CHANNEL’ emblazoned across it is an easy fight to win, compared to a fake Chanel belt that looks identical, indeed effectively might be identical, to an actual Chanel belt.
But whilst this means the nature of copycatting might be changing, it also means opportunities are emerging too. In this excellent piece, Elizabeth Canon highlights the potential that customisation has for established brands. In the near future, should a customer want something in a slightly different shape or colour than what’s on the shop floor, this suddenly becomes possible with 3D printers offering, for the first time, a cost-effective solution.
The food industry is also on the alert, with 3D printers already printing impressively complicated chocolate concoctions. The future seems to be fairly limitless here, with talk of food cartridges licensed by Michelin star chefs and/or celebrity dieticians, printing exact replica restaurant meals in our own kitchens!
Whichever way you look at it, 3D printing looks set to further democratise the world of luxury brands. The key to successfully embracing this change will probably lie in the emergence (and recruitment) of a new, non-category traditional tech and engineering workforce (perhaps not dissimilar to social media’s labour market disruption) and an understanding of how consumers will want to be a part of the 3D printing age.
Forecasters predict that mass, home 3D printing is coming soon, it’s just a matter of which printer manufacturer gets there first, so perhaps there’s even a role for licensed home printing. Like that broach on Pinterest? Well what if you could buy the official brand-licensed 3D design file for a 1/3 of the physical copy and print it at home yourself? Sounds all a bit futuristic we know, but it actually might not be that far away.
Finally, of course, there’ll always be a role for marketing to play too. A compelling brand story continues to be one of the most powerful tools to inspire purchase and higher-category loyalty, when compared to a cheaper, albeit similar model. That’s why different people pay different money for an Audi Q3 SUV compared to a Skoda Yeti, even though they’re made in the same Slovakian factory with almost identical specifications!
As with all new tech developments, the brands that manage to pull 3D printing into their commercial activities have the potential to flourish. Those that don’t might just be printed into the history books.