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Future Generation: Charne Esterhuizen

Emma Macdonald

Charne Esterhuizen wants to change the way we create and consume fashion.

The 23-year-old CIT graduate is using 3D printing technology to “build” garments in a way that has never been done before. And now the rest of the world is watching.

Emigrating from South Africa at the age of 16, Charne has always had a passion for the intersection of technology and design. She established her own label MAAK (which means “to make” in Afrikaans) in 2016 and has shown at two FASHFESTs (also modelling her own designs) using 3D printing to manufacture the garments. It makes the concept of a needle and thread seem entirely old-fashioned. Her designs have caught the imagination of musicians including Vera Blue and Hayley from The Jezebels, and this year an intricate black dress made of hundreds of 3D rubber butterflies and taking more than 300 hours to make

Her designs have caught the imagination of musicians including Vera Blue and Hayley from The Jezebels, and this year an intricate black dress made of hundreds of 3D rubber butterflies and taking more than 300 hours to make debuted on the catwalk at Vancouver Fashion Week.

Charne’s futuristic approach has now been the subject of international interest, earning column inches in German style magazines and in Vogue China. Her ambitions within the industry extend to improving sustainability by manufacturing in an ethical and environmentally sound fashion. And her ultimate goal is to manufacturing butterflies that move – taking her into the fourth dimension.

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How does one set about actually “printing” a butterfly dress? What are the steps?

First you draw your ideas, second you use Computer-Aided Design to test models to see if it will work. The file then gets taken off the computer onto a Secure Digital memory card and inserted into the printer (the one I used is a 3D Gence One printer).

After all the testing is completed then you start your final pieces. Keep in mind that even though it sounds like an easy process, it does take a lot of time. You can also print in multiple fabrics (wood, plastics, copper, rubber, chocolate!).

I am working on developing a new fabric that is biodegradable but has the same functions as man-made fibres. This will help our future waste problem within the fashion industry.

Can technology be beautiful?

Yes, the technology can be beautiful in a variety of different ways. For one thing, it can make it a lot easier to measure your clients to the exact millimetre and online shopping can be made much easier simply by downloading a file and printing your exact shoe size at home (this will take shipping time frames from a few days to a few hours!).

Production of biodegradable products can eliminate fast fashion non-biodegradable goods. Even special enhanced fabrics can help provide nutrients for your skin. This might sound a little far-fetched and out of a science fiction movie but this is closer than we think.

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How can fashion and technology work together?

I hope to see technology provide a better future for the client and for the environment. I see 3D technology as helping cut down on waste, providing more custom fitted garments, more creative opportunities, local manufacturing and less unfair trade.

How can you even conceptualise 4D garments?

Heat-activated filaments can help give a perspective on 4D Garments, this technology is still in its trial period but we might see this as being a reality in the near future. On a side note, can you imagine a dress for a special event that is themed to your liking and has the ability to move as soon as the sun hits the fabric? Something to think about.

Read the entire Future Generation series here

Photography by Martin Ollman

This article originally appeared as part of our Future Generation editorial in Magazine: Future for Winter 2017, available for free while stocks last. Find out more about Magazine here

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Emma Macdonald

Emma Macdonald has been writing about Canberra and its people for more than 20 years, winning numerous awards for her journalism - including a Walkley or two - along the way. Canberra born and bred, she’s fiercely loyal to the city, tribally inner-north, and relieved the rest of the country is finally recognising Canberra’s cool and creative credentials. More about the Author

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