Three-dimensional printing may seem more akin to sci-fi conventions than fashion ateliers—Makerbot did call their newest machine “The Replicator” after all. But for industrial design and architecture students, 3D printers and computer-aided design (CAD) modeling make up a big part of their curriculum. A lot like a regular paper printer, 3D printers read information from a computer, then translate it into something you can touch. These just have one more axis and some super hot melted plastic. But this time, architects Biying and Matt have applied their keen sense of geometry and form to something a little smaller: they design and print jewelry pieces from their Toronto apartment under the moniker Hot Pop Factory. They talk to WORN about their process and the dichotomy of small scale digital production in the handmade world.
With backgrounds in architecture, your skills lend themselves both to 3D modelling and thus printing. Why did you choose to make jewelry objects?
Jewelry and architecture operate at vastly different scales, and yet, fundamentally, they are both about establishing relationships with the human body. For us, this was an amazing opportunity to apply our skill at creating space and form at an extremely intimate scale. We found the kind of connection that a person has with jewelry is much more personal and immediate. Contrasting our experience in architecture, designing at this individualized scale can help shape personal identity and style in a way that has been very rewarding for us.
What inspires the forms you use?
For our initial foray into 3D printing, we drew inspiration from the fabrication process itself. We wanted to establish a deep understanding of the technology, both in terms of the opportunities it affords in the creation of novel forms and also in the terms of the wider social and cultural implications. Our first collection, Strarigraphia, which, as the name implies, is about this stratification of many layers, seeks to uncover the inherent beauty of the additive manufacturing process and at the same time evoke the accretion of knowledge and sharing of resources that are prevalent in the wider maker community.
What does your design process look like?
While working on architectural projects, one is always limited to iterating their work through forms of representation: sketches, models, drawings. For our jewelry collection, this process was radically changed through the use of the 3D printer. We were able to touch, feel, and wear every iteration of our design from the very start of the project. This resulted in a design process that was essentially a litany of ever evolving prototypes. Each generation accumulated several small changes which were ultimately reflected in the final product, this allowed us to create highly personal and evocative objects which was the ultimate goal of our work.
You sell your work at craft shows and on Etsy. Do you see a distinction between “handmade” crafts and batch 3D printed work?
Digital design and fabrication technologies are merely tools in what is ultimately an artisanal process. There is an art form that is developed in how they are finessed and manipulated to fulfill a design vision. Like in any other craft, they can be used more or less successfully depending on the talent and experience of the artisan. In this respect, there is a striking resemblance between the way we design and fabricate our work and more traditional handicrafts. Ultimately, the biggest difference might be that, due to the digital nature of our work, there is the opportunity for it to be shared and modified freely among many artisans allowing it to become a platform for other creative works instead of a singular object.
Where do you see digital fabrication technologies fitting into the world of fashion manufacturing at large?
It’s difficult to pin down where this is all going so early on. I think the most prominent and exciting feature of this technology is how it radically lowers the barriers to entry in the creation of physical objects. This means that many fresh innovations will begin to arise from unexpected places. We will no longer be boxed into the role of “consumer” but will all have the opportunity to be the author of the objects that define us. This whole process will be compounded by the fact that all of this knowledge and work can be shared freely over the internet due to its digital form.
Any plans for large scale Iris Van Herpen statement pieces in the future?
Yes. Iris Van Herpen is a huge inspiration for us in that she uses rapid prototyping of unconventional materials to dress the body. Like Van Herpen, we are very interested in the intersection between traditional fabrication techniques and rapid prototyping technologies. Currently, we are experimenting with creating textiles with our 3D printer—a spin on chain mail structures. The idea is to design printable modules with its individual links already interlaced. This process allows us to create extremely intricate designs computationally, and produce those designs with more precision and less time.
What jewelry inspires you?
We love Kate Cusack’s zipper necklaces; she is a great example of an artist who has really mastered her medium and material. We also covet the bold use of elemental materials and clean lines in Mimi Jung’s Brook and Lyn Jewelry. In the 3D printed jewelry world, we love Michiel Cornelissen‘s coin necklace, which is a great example of the kind of innovation and unique vision that can rise from jewelry created with a digital fabrication approach.
video // Daniel Reis
photography // Laura Tuttle