A Fashionable Affair: Epson’s Digital Couture Project

13 designers bring digital textile printing to life.

Big Picture

Fashion lovers, press, and curious print service providers flooded the organically shaped IAC Building on the western edge of Manhattan last Tuesday evening for the third annual Epson Digital Couture fashion show. Attendees – including camera crews from E!, writers from Nylon and Forbes, and a few local celebrities – came to discover what digital textile printing could mean for the world of fashion.

The Main Event
To showcase the machines that make it all happen, Epson displayed its dye sublimation and direct-to-garment printers near the entrance to the event before visitors turned the corner and witnessed 13 platforms where models clad in digital print highlighted the work of North and Latin American designers. Printed garments included jackets, leggings, and dresses, but also boots, high heels, backpacks, menswear, and more.

The designers’ devotion to digital ran the gamut, as well; some, like Lindsay Degen, enjoy the way different processes play together in one design.

Models clad in Lindsay Degen's designs.

“I’m mixing printed denim with real denim, printed quilting with real quilting … The idea is to force the viewer to look more closely at the details and enjoy the textile’s construction in addition to the garment’s construction,” Degen says in a lookbook that was released prior to the event. The RISD and Central Saint Martins grad has had her work featured in the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show and was once named to Forbes’ “30 Under 30.”

Others, like Sarah Richards, have gone all-in with the technology. Richards’ work is exclusively digitally printed and has been for half a decade.

“I approach print design with a desire to push the possibilities of the medium and to create textiles that traditional methods are incapable of producing,” she says in the lookbook. Richards is also a graduate of RISD and is a native of New York.

Sarah Richard's digitally printed fashion.

Richards says about 90 percent of her work is dye sublimated; she works with a fabric agent to find textile producers abroad. “Everyone I know is using digital,” she added in an interview with Big Picture. But to date, it seems producing locally is simply too cost-prohibitive.

Bringing Production Closer to Home
Earlier in the day, Epson collaborated with The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) to present the first-ever Fashion and Technology Forum at Pier Sixty. Eight panelists weighed in on textile printing and more, with moderator Anthony Cenname (WSJ) leading the discussion.

The question of local production threaded throughout the afternoon as the panelists returned repeatedly to the idea that the industry is demanding manufacturers be closer to the market.

“How are we going to compete with a company that does 26 seasons a year?” said Barry McGeough, group VP of the newly formed Innovation Next division of PVH. “It’s about short runs and fast integration.”

The company’s brands, which include Calvin Klein and Tommy Hilfiger, are being forced to have new styles ready just days (rather than months) after they’ve hit the runway to beat out fast-fashion brands that are poised to bring copycat designs to the market seemingly overnight.

Seiko Epson President Minoru Usui said in a later interview with a small group of press, via a translator, that the local-to-local push will require a shakeup of the current supply chain. One day, he imagines that designers themselves may be able to control the entire production process.

Epson America President Keith Kratzberg added that companies like UnderArmour may soon begin “farming out” printing in the US via its Lighthouse research and development arm. The market seems to be anything but out of reach for North America; “digital is becoming so much more top of mind,” he said, adding that “the great thing about textile and packaging is that those businesses should scale with the population.”

Innovation, Innovation, Innovation
Another oft-mentioned topic was how fashion buyers interact with the market, which of course has changed dramatically with the ascent of e-commerce.

“Technology is rapidly accelerating the way we do business,” said Erin Fetherston, a boutique womenswear designer.

Mark Sunderland, Philadelphia University, emphasized the power of information, saying “There’s just data floating around, waiting for us to find it, waiting for us to innovate. … Digital printers are going to have to innovate and reverse the supply chain.”

The panelists offered perspectives from across the supply chain, alluding to innovations in fiber creation, textile transport, and more. It was clear that no one segment of the business would be able to create change alone – nor would they be able to bide their time.

“Makers of driverless cars are looking to meet unanticipated needs. We as an industry are just figuring that out now,” said McGeough.

Digital print is the next paradigm, the next frontier,” added Sunderland. “I’d like to see digital people get involved in textile innovation now.”

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