Interview by Marija Butkovic (@MarijaButkovic)
Sylvia Heisel is a fashion designer and creative director working with new materials, manufacturing and physical computing for fashion and wearables. Based in New York, Sylvia is an expert on 3D printing, functional fashion, design for smart wearables and new materials manufacturing applications for fashion.
She is currently developing a work-flow and manufacturing system for 3D printed apparel she was named one of the "12 Amazing People You Need To Know In New York Fashion Tech".
What is the idea behind your project / product and how did you come up with it?
We are developing a workflow and manufacturing system for 3D printed apparel. The concept evolved from other fashion-tech and 3D printing projects we were working on. My background is as a fashion designer but I have focussed on new technologies for clothing and wearables for the last few years. My husband is a sculptor and we were introduced to 3D printing in 2012 when the first desktop printers became available. We designed and sold customized 3D printed accessories and iPhone cases to justify purchasing the printer. The first 3D printed dresses we made were catwalk pieces for fashion-tech events and completely unwearable in real life. As we did new pieces and saw the technology and materials improve it became clear that 3D printed clothing will be possible at scale and that it offers a lot of opportunities for sustainable and affordable fashion and apparel that is different and in some cases much better than what currently exists. Our focus and goal is to build the software and infrastructure necessary for other designers and brands to 3D print clothing.
When did all start and do you have other members in your team?
The first 3D printed dress we made was in 2015. We started putting together plans for the workflow near the end of 2016. Currently there are three of us working on the project but we are building a team and looking for people to join us.
How long did it take you to be where you are now?
We are at the very early stage on our current project but I’ve had a long career in fashion and wearables before this.
What was the biggest obstacle?
Connecting the two worlds of fashion and tech is very challenging. Both are very conservative and unaccepting of change in their own way. Fashion is very embracing of human creativity and new design ideas but apparel manufacturing is based on technologies from the original industrial revolution - sewing machines and garment factories are pretty much the same as they were 200 years ago - so there is little change on a mass scale. Technology embraces the new in manufacturing but relies on data for information. Sometimes design and creativity get lost in the code.
What are the challenges of being an entrepreneur in the niche you are in? How about being a female founder / entrepreneur?
Being an entrepreneur is challenging no matter what niche you’re in. Sadly, being female still makes it much harder.
What are your biggest achievements to date?
I built and successfully ran a women’s designer evening wear company for many years. I’m very proud of having built that business and then closed it down and pursued a new career in wearables before it pulled me down.
What are projects you are currently working on within your company?
My primary job with our company is to be the person that knows clothing design, the apparel industry and how we interact with the things we wear. Currently we're building a database of 3D printers and materials that are relevant for apparel. I’m trying to figure out which parameters will be most important as the technology improves and how each one will affect a piece of clothing.
What will be the key trends in the wearable tech and fashion tech industry in the next 5 years and where do you see it heading?
Our clothes will start to do a lot more and we’ll expect a lot more from them. We will always ask “what does it do for me” as well as “how does it look on me” for a piece of clothing, jewellery or anything else we put on our body.
Is #WomenInTech movement important to you and if yes, why?
YES!!! Women make up 1/2 of the world’s population. The world would be a better place if we also made up 1/2 of the technology industry.
What is the most important piece of advice you can give to all female founders and female entrepreneurs out there?
Do what you believe in and don’t let anyone tell you it’s not possible or you’re not the right one to do it.
Who are your 3 inspirational women in wearable tech and / or fashion tech?
Coco Channel from the past, Sabine Seymour and Anouk Wipprecht from the present, GirlsWhoCode for the future.