In conjunction with each issue of St-W, we challenge emerging designers to answer a topical question with a future-forward design concept.
Sparked by media reports that robots are likely to replace half of all jobs over the next 20 years, for St-W 117 we commissioned five makers to desgin an item, tool, space or service that relates to the anticipated automation of tomorrow's workspace.
Your concept is rooted in technology and sustainability – not terms normally associated with fashion. Did you intentionally design something revolutionary?
Clément Balavoine: Yes and no: I love traditional techniques like embroidery, pattern making and stitching. I hope these handcrafts will always be a part of fashion. But my goal was to create a concept that could erase the negative points of the current fashion industry.
Tell us about your Proto-Unit.
It allows any designer to prototype or produce a garment really quickly without touching any fabric or a sewing machine.
How does it work?
The first step is making a body scan of the person the garment is for (or selecting a pre-programmed size). These dimensions are the basis for a digital avatar on which you can design tailored garments in 3D. This avatar is then 3D printed in organic wax. Once this has cooled, the Kuka robots start knitting around it. When the garment is finished, a special solution is applied on both the garment and the wax avatar, resulting in the wax melting and leaving the garment untouched, ready to wear.
Do you see the Proto-Unit being used for mass production or individual pieces?
This is where I think it gets interesting: robots are tools, and how you use them defines their function. Depending on the time or craft you put into the design process, the Proto-Unit can create a very complex and detailed haute couture dress, or semi-complex/basic pieces for mass production.
It sounds like this could completely change the way clothes are made and designed?
Leaving out all the complex traditional and technical parts of clothing (like seams, for example) would open new possibilities in terms of shape, structure, fit and feel. As the Proto-Unit can make extremely detailed pieces in one single pattern, it would be easy to make things that were previously impossible, or too time-consuming, for a single person to make.
As well as being efficient and effective, it’s also sustainable.
Absolutely. There’s no waste of raw materials - or energy, as the machine runs on solar power. On top of that, it could finally render sweatshops obsolete. Nobody would need to stitch garments 16 hours a day, so these people could be trained to enter safer employment, like programmers or management. It might take a generation or two, but at least we have to try.