In a dimly lit gallery space somewhere in the Royal College of Art, two dancers are lying in a rectangle of sparkling jet black sand. We stand around the outside, watching silently as the men breathe deeply, making their armour-like jackets crackle. As they begin to contort, stretch and rise out of the sand, one of them sheds his stiff outer layer, while the other moves so that the light catches the intricate details of his.
We’re at the launch of ‘Interfashionality’, an exhibition by Mingjing Lin and her former professor Yingjun Li, which explores the meeting point between tradition and modernity, Eastern and Western culture, and technology and handcraft.
Mingjing is a PHD student at the Royal College of Art who has spent the past three years studying the use of 3D printing within fashion design. Graduating from her degree in Beijing five years ago, she moved to London to complete her masters at the London College of Fashion. Now, halfway through her studies at RCA, she is finding innovative methods of bringing together her Chinese heritage and the untapped potential of wearable technology. She’s passionate about making 3D tech accessible and appealing to young designers who, like her a few years ago, have had little experience working with it.
In between her work at RCA and building a community of collaborators with her own not for profit program, Mingjing is pushing the use of 3D printed tech in exciting, unchartered territory.
Growing up in the Liaoning province of mainland China, Lin, now 27, fell in love with fashion at a young age. “Fashion was always my dream because my mother is very into fashion.” she says. “At that time in China, there weren’t many magazines available, especially magazines like Vogue or Elle, from western culture. But my mum bought lots of things from different sources and I started to see all of those magazines.10 or 15 years ago, when the computer wasn’t available and all of those things get into your head, they change your mind completely!”
Moving to Beijing to study at Tsinghua University after high school, she developed an understanding about art and design practice which shaped her technical skill from a more conservative Chinese perspective. It took moving to London following her graduation in 2012 to expose Lin to a radically different viewpoint on creativity within fashion.
“After I moved to London I felt like there were so many possibilities, and that’s the pluralism of fashion and culture in the city,” she says. “It gives me more creativity and open mindedness.” Her studies at LCF and RCA taught her a new perspective on fashion design, and lead to her interest in 3D printing tech.
“Play is the research. There is a focus on speculative design, so it’s inspiring in a way that you don’t form yourself in an existing shell.”
Through our discussion, certain designers crop up that give an insight into Lin’s inspirations within the industry. Issey Miyake, Iris van Herpen and Hussein Chalayan are all mentioned, as well as design houses like US based Nervous System, which creates computer programs to design 3D printed jewellery, art and homewares. Because the use of 3D technology in the fashion industry is still relatively new, Lin also keeps up with its application in fields like architecture.
Wearability is a major focus of Lin’s work. She believes that developments within the industry must revolve around this to become commercially viable in the future. Without the element of wearability, designs can be considered ‘wearable’ technology but will never fit the criteria of fashion.
“In my opinion, from a fashion background, if it’s called clothing it must be skin friendly and wearable, especially when you move. You see lots of 3D printed fashion and when it’s worn, it’s like a shell,” she says. “They are trapped in this shell and they can’t move or have any beautiful movement.”
The experimental work Mingjing is doing will one day see 3D printing develop to suit the practical needs of clothing production on a larger scale. But for now, she’s equally interested in it as an art form. The process of 3D printing typically uses Fused Deposition Modelling (made from thermoplastics) and StereoLithoGraphy (liquid resin), which Lin has been experimenting with at RCA, and she wants to challenge our preconceived ideas about fashion textiles.
“I wouldn’t say 3D printing is a technology, but a way of thinking. It’s about growing things- growing material and growing geometric objects from data,” she says. “It’s about understanding the 3D printing fashion phenomenon and how technology improvements can change our definition of fashion. If we didn’t have this technology, we wouldn’t be able to create these interesting structures.”
“I am tired of the fear and anxiety that the world has, especially towards technology. I want technology to be fun and interesting! We shouldn’t be trapped in this horrible shell.”
The ‘shell’ trope comes up more than once throughout our interview, and it might be an accurate metaphor for her perspective on technology, society and fashion. She considers 3D printing in its current physical capacity to be shell-like, made from plastics that are stiff and uncomfortable. In another sense, the constrictive nature of a shell could represent a cultural apprehension and negative stigma surrounding technology and its increasing role in our lives.
Mingjing wants break free of the shell by debunking these myths, sharing her passion and finding ways to make 3D printed materials exciting and wearable.
So what does Lin want to contribute to the world of fashion and technology? Having already launched her not for profit community ABOUNDARY with a group of likeminded friends where they collaborate and share their interest in 3D technology, her passion lies in education.
“I want to get more people involved with the interesting things I have already been thinking about. Especially young fashion designers who don’t have any knowledge about these technologies.” she says. “Somebody has to help them understand how the software works, how you use a way of thinking to create digital structures.”
With creative and bold designers like Mingjing experimenting with 3D printing and it’s potential in fashion design, there is a world of possibilities. She’s finding fresh and unexpected ways to share her work, as is evident with the launch of her exhibition. If Mingjing can fuse contemporary dance with 3D printing for a performance as remarkable as ‘Interfashionality’, there’s no saying what she’ll show us next. “I really care about the future.” she says. And we believe her.
Photography by Kiva Huang, Ignacio Tovar and Shane Chang.
INTERFASHIONALITY Main collaborator: Yingjun Li. Physical performance design: Waterwill, Hexagon collective. Dancer: Luke Crook, Waddah Sinada. Technical support: Filippo Nasetti and Peng Xie
About Meg Doyle
Meg Doyle is an Australian born, London based fashion writer. Having recently graduated from London College of Fashion, she’s now finding her feet in the city’s fast paced industry. Passionate about supporting young designers, Meg has covered Graduate Fashion Week and uses her own blog Titian Thread to spotlight emerging creatives. Beyond fashion, hobbies include self-inflicted sleep deprivation and desperately attempting to avoiding Aussie-in-London stereotypes, failing miserably due to her love of avocado on toast.