If you have ever watched an episode of Project Runway, one of the most stressful moments is when time is running out for the contestants before the runway show. Often a hot glue gun, pins, staplers and haphazard cutting pops up in a frenzy to get a ready garment for the judges to critic. But you know deep down that those hanging hems, rough seams or unbalanced patterns will get them an ‘Auf Wiedersehe’n from Heidi Klum. That’s because fashion has come so far that both designers and customers expect higher standards. Whether you’re tackling an intricate design or keeping things plain and simple, it’s the execution that matters.
Whether you’re tackling an intricate design or keeping things plain and simple, it’s the execution that matters.
This series has unintentionally focused on 3D printing quite a bit, but one buzzword in the world of fashion and design that is also trying to create those immaculate standards is laser cutting. As its name suggests, laser cutting is a manufacturing method that utilises lasers to cut materials. Laser cutting has been in the manufacturing industry for years and slowly creeped into the world of fashion and design; starting in the haute couture division before transitioning into ready-to-wear collections as well.
*Warning, some science-ee looking terms up ahead*
To achieve those levels of extreme accuracy, there are three types of lasers designers can choose from; namely the Neodymium (ND) laser, the CO2 laser, and the Neodymium yttrium-aluminium-garnet (Nd-YAG) laser. It’s easier to identify the laser by what you want to achieve. Take for example the CO2. It’s a gas laser that produces an infrared light. It’s also the preferred method if you’re looking to cut wearable fabrics such as neoprene, silk, leather, nylon, cotton, and polyester. This is because organic materials easily absorb it. If you’re looking to weld, engrave, or cut metals, you’re best bet are the solid-state Nd and Nd-YAG lasers.
To create the light beam, all these lasers rely on crystals for that high-powered effect. All three lasers use light beams that travel through a tube-like device fitted with several reflective mirrors. Once the light beam eventually reaches a focal lens, the laser is focused on a single area on the material to easily melt, burn or vaporize the material away to begin creating the desired pattern or effect. Depending on your pattern, the laser is then adjusted to nip away the right amount of material as per the set parameters.
*phew, now that we’ve navigated that landmine, let’s look at the benefits shall we*
Kicks up the design complexity level
What design have you always wanted to execute but thought would be too difficult to materialise? Lasers are ready for any and all complex shapes; they really are a breeze in the park for them. No shaky hands here because the sketch or design is done on a computer and then a computer will control the laser beam. Hence the sharp precision aspect that makes them perfect for even the most delicate of jobs such as jewellery design.
Speed & Repeat-ability
The thought of creating a complicated cut with a pair of scissors or a blade can make any grown designer cry, but with the laser cutter, you can produce high volumes of the same complicated cut; saving on costs in the long run. Whether you’re cutting 10 or a 100 pieces, it will do it faster and it’ll be identical. As a designer, no one has to tell you twice how important time is. And this tech wants to help you have more control over it.Professional Finish
Now higher standards means things like fraying edges just won’t fly. So when working with materials such as cotton and leather, the laser beam is able to seal in the edges. And because it’s only the laser beam, and not the machinery, that comes into contact with the material, it’s reduced risk of material contamination. It also has a low thermal influence, which means it immediately lowers the risk of material warping. With traditional methods, there was the possibility that the heat created during the cutting process would heat up the material causing it to warp. So you can write off the fear of warping or burn marks and focus on bringing your vision to life.
The thought of creating a complicated cut with a pair of scissors or a blade can make any grown designer cry. But with the laser cutter, you can produce high volumes of the same complicated cut; saving on costs in the long run.
*So, which designers have used this before?*
The fact that you can now find laser cut products in ready-to-wear collections means it’s a widely used manufacturing method internationally. But here are some designers to inspire you to give this tech a try:
The London-based designer has made a reputable name for herself, through her innovative and unique shoes made from laser-cut designs. Working with a company called ‘Cut Laser Cut’ she came up with the shoes pictured below, to create shoes that not only made a statement, but fun forms of self-expression.
Proof that laser cutting can work on even the most delicate of fabrics, McFarlane created a chic menswear collection that were laser cut from a variety of silk fabrics.
For his S/S2012 collection, he created ‘Seizure’ which had a baroque tone to its style with Arabic influences. The collections featured fabric and leather garments that that either used laser cutting in a minimal way such as adding same pattern facets to the shirts. Or it was an intricate affair such as with his laser cut fabric jacket which stole the show.
PLAAT is a collaboration that brought together designers Quinten Peuling & Wisse Trooster, of qoowl and menswear designer Dewi Bekker to create a bag made out of laser cut wood. The flexible wooden exterior, complete with linear pattern comes with a leather interior that allows the bag to completely lie flat when open.Eddie Gayriilidis
How can we go an entire article on fashion tech without Lady Gaga? She wore a dress from talented young fashion and textile designer, Eddie Gayriilidis’s Ecstasy collection inspired by the Bernini sculpture, ‘Ecstasy of Maria Teresa’. The concept was actualized through laser cutting gold leather pieces and richly layered.
Even wool felt textile can come out visually impressive with a little help from laser cutting. Seriously, wool felt sounds the furthest from editorial or runway worthy but just look at the final result!
The design company founded by Patrick Fredrikson and Ian Stallard in 1995, has become recognized as a leading company in British avant-garde. This year, they created an outdoor collection, known as Camouflage, for Italian manufacturer, Driade. They worked with aluminium sheets and laser cutting technique to create this limited edition.
The concept of laser cutting or engraving isn’t new, but how designers choose to use it pushes the fashion industry further conceptually and productivity wise. And as Africa competes on the international arena it automatically is judged by the same levels of standard. But are designers willing to take it on? Kooroo, a luxury Kenyan designer label based in Nairobi, have already jumped on this laser cutting bandwagon, having used it for their River Omo Collection; you can see the whole collection here. This article in no way sums up the world of lasers and its best experienced. You can find out so much more, and even create your own prototype, at Gear Box Kenya. As they say, if you’re going to do something, do it exceptionally well?