Anti-Counterfeiting, the Fashion Industry, and the Rise of 3-D Printing

By Amelia Wong

When you think of “fakes”, you think of a stroll down Canal Street in New York City, where street hustlers attempt to appeal to the public by yelling “Louis, Gucci, Rolex” at passersby, scooting potential buyers into side alleys or hidden upstairs rooms. Counterfeiting is not a recent problem, but rather has been a long-standing trend that has plagued corporations endlessly. The fashion industry specifically has taken big hits due to the legal problems of counterfeiting. A fashion law professional recently described counterfeiting efforts as “fighting a losing war,” because a fashion brand’s name is diluted once the counterfeits are accessible to the public. However it is not only on the street, but now also online where the counterfeit market rages. E-Commerce and online counterfeiting has been the major focus of corporations, which have been fighting counterfeiters through the courts with “take down” orders and threatening cease-and-desist letters.

Although E-Commerce has been the recent focus of counterfeiting, the rise of 3D printing has brought unanswered questions. At Fashion Law Week 2013 in Washington, DC, Keynote Speaker Mr. Harley Lewin strongly expressed that 3D printing would be the upcoming “new front” focus in terms of anti-counterfeiting. 3D printing is a technology that allows one to “print out” 3D objects from computers.[1] These printers can now output plastic materials, semi-liquids, cheese, chocolates, concrete, and, most recently, titanium.[2] Experts have been calling 3D printing the “Third Industrial Revolution” because now consumers can choose the color, texture, and design to custom make their items.[3] The average consumer can hit “make” instead of “print” to create their new products.[4] Terry Wohlers, an independent analyst of the 3D printing sector and expert in the field,  stated, “You are almost unlimited as to the geometric complexity.”[5] Although in its infancy, 3D printing will soon be available for printing in homes, according to Massive Dynamics President Oscar Hines.[6]

The fashion industry has been quick to take up 3D printing. At the Mercedes-Benz New York Fashion Week, designer Kimberley Ovitz partnered with Shapeways to send 3D printed jewelry looks down the runway for her Fall 2013 collection.[7] This year, 3D printed garments hit the runways in both New York and Paris.[8] According to Michael Schmidt, one of the designers of a 3D printed dress, Dita Von Teese wore an entire dress designed on an iPad, refined over Skype, rendered digitally by Francis Bitonti, and printed by Shapeways for a private runway event.[9] The entire dress was printed in 17 parts on a 3D printer EOS P350.[10] This concept demonstrates that 3D printers can make garments as well.[11] Also, New Balance has been quick to the 3D printing game in customizing running shoes for athletes.[12] New Balance’s manager of studio innovations, Katherine Petrecca, stated in an email that “printing will allow us to be incredibly efficient by making products on-demand and eliminating large chunks of a traditional supply chain…we will see significant opportunities to expand our usage and the scale of production.”[13] 3D printing stores are scheduled to launch in Russia, Ukraine, and Kazakhstan, bringing upscale shopping experiences to these places.[14]

If used properly, 3D printing could revolutionize garment making. Customized clothes could be easily made and sent quickly to the consumer. Factories and manual labor could be eliminated. But if 3D printing falls into the wrong hands, counterfeiting can quickly develop into a big problem. 3D printing can open up an entire can of worms and even completely undermine the entire trademark registration and protection system. 3D printing is predicted to become available for consumer purchase soon.  If the common consumer desires, he or she can print a pair of red bottom heels quickly, infringing on the Christian Louboutin design. In fact, it would be extremely difficult to enforce trademarks if the consumer had the capability to custom design any clothing, jewelry, or item he or she wanted. What measures of accountability can be taken when the consumer can quickly design, print out, and go off with the 3D printed item? A potential solution would be to keep the 3D printing technologies at a higher cost, limiting those capable of purchasing the machines to corporations. The corporations could then customize merchandise consumers wanted at an agreed upon cost.

However, this would undermine the very notion of allowing the public access to 3D printing technologies. What then would be an appropriate measure to take to allow the public access to 3D printing and attempting to prevent abuse? Monitors on 3D printers to prevent printing of trademarks registered with the trademark office could potentially be effective. Perhaps with the development of advanced technology to match 3D printing, methods of enforcement will be available to protect fashion corporations’ intellectual property rights.

Overall, anti-counterfeiting is an up-and-coming legal niche that is rapidly developing. Counterfeiting stretches over fashion, transportation, food, pharmaceuticals, and many other industries. But the new trend of 3D printing raises new trends in intellectual property infringement and counterfeiting. Although some may argue that counterfeiters will always have the newest technology to sell counterfeit goods, 3D printing is said to be the “Third Industrial Revolution” and able to change the entire garment manufacturing and textile industry. If 3D printing is abused to a great extent, infringement and counterfeit issues may unravel the entire trademark system. Therefore, with the new 3D printing technology, new methods of enforcement and accountability must be established.



[1] Barnatt, Christopher, 3d Printing, Explaining the Future, available at: http://www.explainingthefuture.com/3dprinting.html.

[2] Id.

[3] Mass Dynamics, Experts call 3d Printing “Third Industrial Revolution” (2013), available at: http://www.fibre2fashion.com/news/textile-news/newsdetails.aspx?news_id=122027.

[4] Id.

[5] Id.

[6] Id.

[7] Steele, Chandra, 3-D Printed Jewelry’s Designs on the Future, PC Mag (2013), available at: http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,2415536,00.asp.

[8] Meltz, Jeff, Dita Von Teese Flaunts Fibonacci-Inspired, 3-D Printed Gown, Wired (2013), available at: http://www.wired.com/design/2013/03/dita-von-teese-3-d-printed-gown/.

[9] Id.

[10] Brdjanac, Damir, 3D printers in the fashion world, Decrypted Tech (2013), available at: http://www.decryptedtech.com/news/3d-printers-in-the-fashion-world.

[11] Id.

[12] Reidy, Chris, New Balance uses 3D printing technique to customize track shoes, Boston Globe (2013), available at: http://www.boston.com/businessupdates/2013/03/08/new-balance-uses-printing-technique-customize-track-shoes/v0GgY5NN9efZpCWrfq0pTN/story.html.

[13] Id.

[14] Heater, Brian, Solidoodle 3D printing stores set to bring “upscale fashion shopping” to Russia, Ukraine and Kazakhstan, Engadget (2013), available at: http://www.engadget.com/2013/02/28/solidoodle/.

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