The Future of Garment Production: 3D Knitting

In recent years, the textile and apparel industry has been forced to change its ways, with sustainability becoming a major priority. In 2022,  60% of consumers worldwide considered sustainability important when purchasing clothing (Statista, 2022). To support this effort, fashion brands look to innovative new methods in circular design that will help them reduce their environmental footprint and distinguish them as more ‘eco-conscious’. One emerging production technique that has been gaining attention is 3D knitting. So, let’s chat about it!

What is 3D Knitting?

As the name implies, 3D knitting consists of computer-programmed knitting machines responsible for constructing entire garments in a three-dimensional structure. Also known as whole garment knitting, this garment production method involves directly knitting yarns into a seamless shape, removing the extensive steps of cutting and sewing pieces together manually. By the end of the process, you have a completely knit single garment on the spot. 3D knitting also distinguishes itself by its ability to easily add various knit designs to the garment. Although this technology has existed for a few decades, it has only started becoming more accessible due to recent new advancements in machinery and programming. 

Photo by Uniqlo.

History of 3D Knitting 

Seamless circular knitting machines were introduced by Santoni, an Italian hosiery company, in the 1980s. Although it was initially designed to produce underwear, it expanded into the production of a variety of garments such as sweaters, bodywear, outerwear, swimwear, and activewear, to name a few. 

In 1995, the seamless wholegarment knitting machine was developed by Shima Seiki, a Japanese company. It specialized in creating whole single garments that were seamless and contributed to significant advancements in what we know today as 3D knitting. So far, they have sold over 10,000 wholegarment knitting machines and this number is only projected to rise as more companies become interested in implementing this technology into their apparel manufacturing.

Recently, many fashion brands have been experimenting with this technology. Examples include Adidas with its “Knit for You” pop-up store in Germany which uses 3D body scans for an elevated customized product offering; Nike’s Flyknit sneakers for athletes which combines 3D knitting and 3D Printing; and, Uniqlo’s new 3D Seamless Knit collection in collaboration with Shima Seiki’s wholegarment technology. As a whole, this technology has provided brands with a competitive advantage and a unique opportunity for innovation.

Adidas’ “Knit for You” Pop-up Store via designboom.

Advantages of 3D Knitting in the Fashion Industry

Some of the main advantages of 3D knitting in the fashion industry include reduced inventory costs and excess stock for on-demand products, reduced textile waste, higher productivity level and fast response to market trends, reduced energy consumption, increased product quality and options for customization. Let’s break that down: 

Reduced inventory costs

By producing garments on demand and based on each customer’s needs, brands can limit the quantity of merchandise they produce, essentially saving on costs that come with overstock.

Reduced textile waste

3D knitting requires the input of a specific code to produce a specific garment. It is mainly used for on-demand garments, using an exact amount of yarn, reducing fabric waste by 30% (material – often virgin resources – that would have otherwise likely been thrown out) and pre-consumer waste which ends up in landfills around the world.

Higher productivity level

Due to its automated nature, 3D knitting requires less time and labour to create a garment. A garment that would have taken days or weeks using conventional knitting, can now be made in a matter of hours, saving time and money. 3D knitting technology enables brands to quickly produce garments in response to changing market fashion trends. Though this isn’t always a good thing, it does alleviate the risk of having excess inventory of on-demand products as a result of a dying trend. 

Reduced energy consumption

A substantial amount of energy is used to generate power for machines in garment manufacturing facilities. By using 3D knitting technology, instead of having multiple machines for each step, the garment is produced in one go using a single machine. According to Oliver Charles (a seaweed and yak wool sweater brand based in San Francisco), 43% less electricity is used compared to conventional knitting.

Product quality consistency and comfort 

Since 3D knitting provides garments with no seams, this ensures the uniformity and consistency of the quality of the product, essentially giving the garment an enhanced look and feel, and increased likelihood of durability as there are fewer seams that could deteriorate over time. When there is a decreased reliance on manual labour, product defects stemming from human error are reduced, enhancing product quality.


3D knitting also offers customizable and personalized products according to consumers’ tastes. Consumers can customize each garment to size and body shape, choosing from endless designs, colours and patterns. Examples include a shoe with initials embroidered onto its upper or a perfectly fitted-bodycon dress in their favourite colour. The one-of-a-kind nature of these pieces would make for an attractive sell, leading to the consumer hopefully feeling more attached to the garment, and more likely to keep it  longer, increasing its lifecycle. 

Customization also offers a great opportunity for the fashion industry to counter the issue of unhappy customers who end up returning their products

Challenges and Limitations of 3D Knitting

As with all great innovations, there are bound to be some challenges. In the case of 3D knitting, these include high initial investment costs for machinery and the necessity for training and education on 3D knitting.

High initial investment cost

One of the drawbacks of Seiki’s 3D wholegarment knitting machine is its high initial investment cost of an estimated $180,000 USD. With advanced technology comes advanced software, which is another high cost to consider. Depending on the size of a company, this technology may not be accessible on a large scale, seeing as only larger companies are able to afford it. 

Need for specialized training 

With the speed of advancements, there has been a growing gap between designers trained in circular design of knitted garments. Research conducted by Jess Power (Professor at The University of Salford and lead for the newly formed Learning and Teaching Enhancement Centre), explains that design teams will need to be constantly training and retraining on things like fibre properties, structures, and engineering. What does this mean? In order to keep up with the rapidly-advancing 3D knitting technology, designers will need to be up-to-date on which fibres, textiles and programming methods to use, which is a potential barrier to wide-scale adoption. 

Opportunities of 3D Knitting 

All things considered, 3D knitting technology has the potential to revolutionize the garment production process, and has great potential to be a sustainable alternative to traditional knitting. While there are challenges to keep in mind when it comes to its adoption, its ability to significantly reduce both pre-consumer waste and energy consumption makes it a promising technology for reducing our environmental impact. 

Through it all, the need to produce and consume less needs to stay at the center of the 3D knitting conversation. Although 3D knitting allows quick response to market trends, it is easy to continue to mass produce garments due to the ease of quick output. However, this would only bring us further away from reducing our carbon footprint and would be eerily similar to the beginnings of the current fast-fashion industry that we are trying to change. Instead, this technology could be used to ensure quality and durability while producing only a limited quantity of garments. 

With continued innovation, investment, and proper training, 3D knitting technology could become a standard in the garment production process. It is time to take a step forward and embrace these technologies to create structural changes in the fashion industry, before it’s too late.


Enjoy the piece? We’ve loved delving into the innovative responses to the issues our industry is currently facing. Tune back in to check out our next installment – Harnessing the Power of AI: Revolutionizing Sustainable Garment Production and Design to learn about artificial intelligence and its role in scaling down our carbon footprint. 

Share this post

Get our Newsletter

Get our Newsletter

The inside scoop on what's happening

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website.