Ever fall in love with a shirt or dress while out shopping only to find it didn’t fit right or wasn’t in your size? Ministry of Supply is leaping into the future to change that. A 50-foot crane was used to lower a massive 3000 pound machine made by Shima Sheiki into Ministry of Supply’s Newbury Street store. That machine, costing a hefty $160,000, is capable of printing a personalized garment of clothing in under 30 minutes. Paired with computer-aided design software, Ministry of Supply currently offers customers fully customized blazers printed right in the store, as well as a number of other 3D printed knits online.
Ministry of Supply is operating at the cutting edge of textile manufacture and design as one of the first clothing retailers to utilize a 3D printer in-house. While it may sound a bit gimmicky at first glance, 3D printed textiles have the potential to completely uproot the retail clothing industry. The digitization of designs combined with the in-house manufacturing that 3D printing enables may one day allow Ministry of Supply to completely eliminate a huge portion of their supply chain, going from the multi-staged approach pictured on the left (Fig. 1) to the drastically shortened supply chain on the right – or even shorter if a customer visits the store themselves, which would eliminate the need for distribution and delivery as well.
However, eliminating such a large portion of the supply chain could have major consequences. 3D printing’s largest consumer-facing front has been through inexpensive desktop printers that can print anything from a bottle opener to a functional firearm. With the rise of these desktop printers, online marketplaces and exchanges such as Shapeways and Thingiverse cropped up, allowing anyone to share and download designs around the world. This sharing and exchange of designs has resulted in copyright claims and illegal use of online designs, not dissimilar to pirating movies and music. Furthermore, 3D printing fab shops have also emerged, allowing anyone without their own printer to bring in a design of their choosing and have it created for them. One can imagine a not-too-distant future where these concepts are applied to 3D printed textiles, with fab shops allowing customers to create personalized clothing using online designs and clothing design software as ubiquitous as Photoshop. This would drastically lower the barrier to entry for clothing designers and could give rise to an entirely new competitive landscape for traditional clothing retailers.
Fortunately for Ministry of Supply, they’re far ahead of the curve. In addition to offering 3D printed items produced at their production facilities, Ministry of Supply prints customized knitted 3D printed blazers for $345 at their Newbury store, making them one of the first retailers to utilize point-of-sale 3D printing in their stores1. They are rapidly learning from the use of their printers and plan to expand the use of 3D printing in their production facilities, aiming to produce up to a quarter or even a third of their supply via 3D printing within the next few years. Ministry of Supply recognizes 3D printing’s ability to provide a personalized experience to their customers and CEO Aman Advani will likely continue to push the envelope.
Looking ahead, the future of 3D printed clothing is filled with opportunity. While the ability to print clothing is available now, the tools and processes behind customized fit are still in their infancy. Ministry of Supply has the opportunity to pioneer the development of these tools and offer value to their customers through personalization, where traditional retailers may fall short. Beyond customization, 3D printing can push the idea of just-in-time inventories to the extreme, printing off new inventory in direct response to demand with minimal delay. 3D printing can reduce the supply chain to the delivery of raw materials, largely eliminating the need to predict consumer demand and providing significant cost savings. 3D printing has also been demonstrated to be more cost-effective at smaller quantities than mass manufacturing (fig. 2). Given the nature of the fashion industry, which employs many different colors and sizes of clothing articles, it may fall closer to cost-effectiveness via 3D printing than other industries such as household goods or electronics that utilize plastic injection molding.
Ministry of Supply is pushing clothing design and retail to the cutting edge of the future, but trailblazing doesn’t come without hiccups. Developing the tools to tailor custom fit may be more capital intensive and challenging than anticipated, and there are still concerns about the cost-effectiveness of 3D printing, which hasn’t proven to be particularly cost-savings in most retail manufacturing settings. Furthermore, the company may face challenges regarding returns if their products are custom-produced. Perhaps there are other industries from which Ministry of Supply can take lessons? Here’s hoping they figure it out so we can all find perfect fits! (799)
 Schiffer, Jessica. “Ministry of Supply Is Betting Big on the Power of 3D Printing.” Digiday, Digiday, 23 May 2017, digiday.com/events/glossy/ministry-supply-betting-big-power-3d-printing/.
 Takada, Kazunori, and Emi Urabe. “These Hi-Tech Knitting Machines Will Soon Be Making Car Parts.” Bloomberg.com, Bloomberg, 1 Oct. 2017, www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-10-01/heir-to-1-9-billion-knitting-empire-is-taking-it-into-car-parts.
 “3D Printing Impact on the Supply Chain | Infographic | Stratasys Direct.” Stratasys Direct Manufacturing, www.stratasysdirect.com/resources/3d-printing-supply-chain-infographic/.
 Koslow, Tyler. “UPDATE: Just3DPrint Loses Defamation Lawsuit Against 3DR Holdings.” All3DP, 18 Aug. 2017, all3dp.com/just-3d-print-ebay-controversy-reignites-with-lawsuits-accusations/.
 “3D Printing and the Future of Supply Chains.” DHL, DHL Trend Research, Nov. 2016, www.dhl.com/content/dam/downloads/g0/about_us/logistics_insights/dhl_trendreport_3dprinting.pdf.
 Halzack, Sarah. “This Machine Can Knit a Custom Blazer in 90 Minutes – and May Herald a Clothing Revolution.” Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles Times, 29 May 2017, beta.latimes.com/business/technology/la-fi-tn-custom-clothing-20170529-story.html.
 Bhasin, Varun, and Muhammad Raheel Bodla. “Impact of 3D Printing on Global Supply Chains by 2020.” MIT Center for Transportation and Logistics, MIT, June 2014, ctl.mit.edu/sites/ctl.mit.edu/files/library/public/2014ExecSummary-BhasinBodla.pdf.