The Rise of Laser-cut Fashion

Innovative laser applications are making headlines on a near-daily basis, with no sign of slowing. It was only a matter of time before the manufacturing end of these applications collided with another ever-evolving industry. Enter the age of laser-cut fashion.

Just this month, popular footwear & lifestyle brand VANS launched a new line of signature leather footwear for women. This time, however, the popular high top and skate shoe designs featured an upgrade that was equally stylish and functional: intricate laser cut outs.

The design, while visually intriguing, serves a functional, second purpose. The idea behind the laser cut outs is to provide relief from the summer heat, while still maintaining the ability to wear quality, leather shoes. While VANS is far from the first brand to introduce laser cut outs in their footwear, the intent is one that may prompt an increase in collaboration between laser manufacturing and fashion brands. Currently, a quick search for laser cut shoes will land you dozens of options, for nearly every budget. (The VANS line averages around $60.00, whereas Christian Louboutin designs will set one back around $1,500.)

While the technology itself is far from new, the demand created by the prominence of these designs on the runway as early as 2013, has made the technology available to a greater number of manufacturers –leading to the inevitable affordability of laser cut fashion to more markets. Today, laser cut outs and hemlines are just as likely to be found in fast-fashion retailers as they are in designer collections.

So what separates a laser cut garment from, say, a more traditionally cut piece? Lasers can create intricate patterns that would require unprecedented precision from blades or other fabric cutters. Similar to the use of lasers in medical applications, the heat of the laser provides a clean cut, minimizing the potential for fraying over time.  Additionally, the only thing that needs to touch the fabric, in production, is the laser itself. Thus, the materials and equipment are kept cleaner, reducing the potential for flaws before shipment. Leather, silk, lace, and nylon are ideal materials for laser-cut fashion, due to the need for precise, clean cuts to maintain durability and appearance.

Typically, manufacturers use one of three types of lasers: a CO2 laser, a neodymium laser, and the neodymium-yttrium-aluminum-garnet laser. The CO2 laser is preferred, mostly due to its interactions with organic materials, like leather.  The other lasers are used more prominently in engraving and metal applications, making them a better candidate for jewelry and accessories, rather than clothing and shoes. For clothing applications, the CO2 laser works by firing the beam through a tube-shaped enclosure, reflected by multiple mirrors. The beam then reaches a lens, which targets the portion of the fabric that needs to be cut. The laser is then adjusted according to the amount of fabric that needs to be cut.

The demand for laser cut garments seems to be on the rise. For fashion brands, it provides an interesting opportunity for original, difficult to replicate garments. For consumers, intricate, visually-striking designs will be more affordable than ever. At the very least, the rise in demand and public exposure is great for laser-based manufacturing.