Every year, the average American throws out around 70 pounds of clothing and other textiles like shoes and sheets. Part of the problem is the fact that clothes are so cheap that it’s easier to replace something than repair it if a piece happens to tear. Many of us no longer even know how to sew; one survey in the U.K. found that 7 in 10 young adults couldn’t even sew on a button, let alone make a more complicated repair.
The Fabric Pen, a concept design from Lithuanian designer Ingrida Kazėnaitė, attempts to make repair as simple as drawing. Point the pen at a torn dress, and it scans the fabric to match the color, pattern and texture, and then 3-D prints a patch to match.
The design, a finalist in this year’s Electrolux Design Lab challenge, is just a concept at the moment and not fully developed. But Kazėnaitė believes it’s feasible. She points to an existing technology called Fabrican that sprays a mix of tiny natural and synthetic fibers from an aerosol can. Once air hits the mixture, it instantly hardens into fabric. Something similar, the designer says, could be used with a small 3-D printer.
“3-D technology is moving fast,” she says. “There are also nano-particles being incorporated into fabrics to improve fabric properties already. I believe something similar would be very realistic in the near future, building on the idea of a unified fabric particle delivery system as a way of creating fabric like for cotton or polyester clothes.”
The same technology could also be used to customize or alter clothing if someone is tired of a particular piece and considering getting rid of it. Kazėnaitė hopes it could help start to slow growing rates of consumption in places like the U.S., where consumers now buy nearly three times as many clothes a year as they did in the 1960s.
“We’ve been focused on producing for some time now and it’s not looking too good for us in the future if we keep it up,” she says. “It is important that we put more effort on recycling and repair, now more than ever.”