Spotlight on The Henry Ford's Innovation Nation: Season 2, Episode 10
Forgo the needle and thread — all you need to make clothes from scratch is a computer and an idea.
In fashion, “printed” usually refers to patterned fabric. But when it comes to one company, it actually describes the way clothing is made.
Bay Area-based startup Electroloom is using 3-D printing to create seamless garments that are soft as butter. Its innovative electrospinning process ultimately makes it possible for anyone with some CAD ability to design and produce fabric items on demand. Dubbed field-guided fabrication, it entails making a mold, placing it in the Electroloom machine and watching as 3-D printer nozzles layer microscopic fibers up around it. Still in its infancy, the technology has so far been used to make simple garments such as beanies, tank tops and skirts.
After the Electroloom appeared on The Henry Ford's Innovation Nation earlier this year, The Henry Ford Magazine caught up with co-founder and CEO Aaron Rowley to talk more about the technology and the possibilities yet to unfold.
THF Magazine: How did the idea for Electroloom come about? Rowley: I’ve been working in the technology industry, as have my co-founders, and we saw an obvious lacking in terms of 3-D-printing capability — it couldn’t make soft goods and material things like clothing, towels, shoes — anything that’s soft and flexible. We wanted to expand 3-D printing to produce those items. We knew that it would be extremely valuable, so we set out on this hypothetical task. We just started prototyping and designing, and that’s where the original genesis came from.
THF Magazine: How has your company evolved? Rowley: When we first started working, we were in a garage and in our apartments working on the kitchen floor. Then, we began to work out of a technology shop and maker’s space, a community of people that supports a facility that has equipment, classes and training. We also participated in accelerated programs, which catapulted us to the next level. While the origins of this project were truly conceptual, when we were successfully getting fabrics and soft material, that’s what propelled us into building these larger, more robust machines.
THF Magazine: How does the Electroloom work? Rowley: The simplest way to describe it is that we convert liquids into textiles. Basically, we use electricity to pull on the liquid, and the liquid, as it’s being pulled on, then hardens into a fiber and as you pull that across a gap — let’s say inside of a machine — that liquid converts into a fiber as it dries. The final product is completely seamless.
THF Magazine: So what does the fabric feel like? Rowley: The fibers that we work with are actually single fibers, really tiny micro- or even nanoscale fibers. They’re very, very small, which makes the material very soft. The fabric has been described as a hybrid between cotton and suede. The texture on the surface is soft like suede, but it’s got the look and dimensions of cotton and polyester with comparable thickness.
THF Magazine: What’s next for the Electroloom? Rowley: We are in the middle of fundraising right now. We also received a grant from the National Science Foundation specifically for projects pursuing advanced technology and nanotechnology. We are exploring some private investments, too. The goal is to expand the team to refine the technology and, later this year or early next year, have an actual set of machines “out in the wild” as well as our own clothing brand.
THF Magazine: How do you see this technology being applied? Rowley: We’ve been approached by several clothing brands interested in working with the technology and product design teams who want to work with this method. A few stores are even interested in having the tools in-store to engage with customers. We’re flushing this out to determine what’s most doable in the near future. We’ll be settling on something soon and making some cool announcements.
THF Magazine: Do you really see people using Electroloom to make clothing in their own homes? Rowley: I try to discern between near-term realistic stuff and what’s our bigger vision. Having people make things in their homes is far off, but the goal is to, over the years, refine this technology so if somebody did want to have this in their home to print fibrous products — from kitchen towels to socks and underwear — to supplement actually going out and purchasing these items in stores, we would love for that to happen and for people to be able to add customization, colors and shapes.
Did You Know? It takes between eight and 14 hours to encapsulate a mold with printed fibers in the Electroloom.
How it Works
See the full episode of The Henry Ford's Innovation Nation here.
While most people are celebrating Independence Day, this Fourth of July is the 190th anniversary of Thomas Jefferson’s death. Thomas Jefferson compiled multiple libraries during his lifetime; one of which he used to restock the Library of Congress in 1815 after it had been destroyed during the War of 1812, and another that was auctioned three years after his death in February 1829. The auction catalog can be viewed in our digital collections and you can learn more about his libraries here. Continue Reading
If you’ve visited Henry Ford Museum, you’ve probably seen our collection of Presidential vehicles, which includes a 1972 Lincoln limousine used by Ronald Reagan (notably on the day in 1981 when he was shot by John Hinckley). If you’ve ever wanted to learn more about how this car was originally built, you’re in luck. We recently discovered in our collections a series of detailed photographs documenting the original construction of the Reagan limo by Ford's Special Vehicles Engineering Department, mostly covering the period between August 1970 and October 1971. The early stage image shown here was taken on August 19, 1970. Explore more than 130 additional photos taken during the construction of this historic vehicle by visiting our Digital Collections.
Ellice Engdahl is Digital Collections & Content Manager at The Henry Ford.
The Vietnam War is remembered as “the Helicopter War” for good reason. The Huey helicopter played a pivotal role serving the U.S. Armed Forces in combat as well as bringing thousands of soldiers and civilians alike back to safety. The helicopter’s prominent rotor “chop” and striking visual as it flew in groups across the sky, became iconic symbols of a challenging period in our nation’s history; symbols that continue to evoke powerful feelings today.
The Henry Ford is proud to host a special display on the front lawn of Henry Ford Museum: Take Me Home Huey is mixed-media sculpture created from the remains of an historic U.S. Army Huey helicopter that was shot down in 1969 during a medical rescue in Vietnam.
Artist Steve Maloney conceived of the piece to draw attention to the sacrifices made by veterans of the U.S. Armed Forces, and the 50th anniversary of the start of the Vietnam War. Maloney partnered with Light Horse Legacy (LHL), a Peoria, Arizona-based nonprofit and USA Vietnam War Commemorative Partner focused on Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. LHL acquired the Huey helicopter – #174 – from an Arizona boneyard, re-skinned and restored it, and delivered it to the Maloney to transform into art for healing.
Because our collections are so vast and predate the computer age, we are always stumbling across interesting artifacts we weren’t expecting to find. We recently rediscovered a set of eight letters sent to writer Frank Dorrance Hopley from various notable personalities in 1921. Hopley hoped to write an article on the “most thrilling moment” in these men’s lives, and had asked them to share those stories. In the letter shown here, James W. Gerard, Ambassador to Germany during World War I, related that his moment was when “the German Kaiser shook his finger in my face”—a thrilling moment indeed. Unfortunately, many of the rest of the letters we located provide less thrilling—but perhaps more amusing—responses: former president William Taft noted his life had not been thrilling and he therefore could not single out any one moment, and Robert Lansing, Secretary of State during World War I, suggested his most thrilling moments were personal ones he did not care to reveal. Not surprisingly, we couldn’t turn up any evidence that Hopley’s article was ever completed. Visit our Digital Collections to read all the letters, including a momentous answer from Thomas Edison. Ellice Engdahl is Digital Collections & Content Manager at The Henry Ford.
Concert in the Ford Symphony Gardens, Century of Progress International Exposition, Chicago, Illinois, 1934. THF212561
For the past 24 years the Detroit Symphony Orchestra and The Henry Ford have teamed up for Salute to America, our annual concert and fireworks celebration in Greenfield Village. But the affiliation between the DSO and our organization goes back much farther than that.
Preparing for a Performance in Ford Symphony Gardens, Century of Progress International Exposition, Chicago, Illinois, 1934. THF212547
The connection dates back to the 1934 Chicago World's Fair, A Century of Progress International Exposition. Ford Motor Company’s exhibits were housed in the famous Rotunda building and also included the Magic Skyway and the Ford Symphony Gardens. The large amphitheater of the Symphony Gardens hosted several musical and stage acts, including the DSO, who Ford sponsored for 150 concerts over the course of the year. The symphonic notes proved so popular that Henry and Edsel Ford decided to launch a radio program featuring selections from symphonies and operas - the Ford Sunday Evening Hour. The weekly program played to over 10,000,000 listeners each broadcast over the CBS network (the same network that now presents The Henry Ford's Innovation Nation). Musical pieces were played by DSO musicians under the name Ford Symphony Orchestra, a 75-piece ensemble, and were conducted by Victor Kolar, the DSO’s associate director, for the first few years of the show. Pieces ranged from symphony classics including works by Handel, Strauss, Litszt, Wagner, Handel, Puccini, Bizet, and Tchaikovsky (including, of course, the 1812 Overture), to some of Henry Ford’s favorite traditional and folk songs like Turkey in the Straw and Annie Laurie, and even included popular tunes such as Night and Day by Cole Porter.
Each broadcast featured guest stars, soloists, and singers such as Jascha Heifetz, Grisha Goluboff, Gladys Swarthout, Grete Stükgold, and José Iturbi. The broadcast performances were open to the public for free, first at Orchestra Hall from 1934-1936, and then at the Masonic Temple 1936-1942. The show ran from 1934-1942, September-May with 1,300,000 live attendees and countless radio listeners tuning in.
Advertising Poster, The Ford Summer Hour, 1939. THF111542
Salute to America is our summer music tradition, and listeners in 1939 must have wanted some summer-themed music as well because Henry and Edsel started the Ford Summer Hour that year. Like the winter program, it was broadcast each Sunday evening on CBS, from May to September and featured a smaller 32-piece orchestra, again mostly made up of DSO musicians. Guest stars and conductors appeared, such as Don Voorhees, James Melton, and Jessica Dragonette.
The show included music from Ford employee bands like the River Rouge Ramblers, Champion Pipe Band, and the Dixie Eight. This was a program of lighter music, popular songs, and tunes from musical comedies and operettas. Apparently not everyone appreciated the lighter fare; a letter from a concerned listener stated:
“...as the strains of the trivial program of Ford Summer Show float into my room, I am moved to contrast them with the fine programs of your winter series, and to wonder why the myth persists that in hot weather the human mentality is unequal to the strain of listening to good music. Pardon me while I switch my radio to station WQXR which has fine music the year round.”
Strong words from the listening public, though apparently not the majority as the summer program rivaled the winter program with about 9,000,000 listeners per broadcast. The Ford Summer Hour, broadcast from the Ford Rotunda, only ran three seasons, but played a wide range of music for listeners such as Heigh Ho from Snow White, Dodging a Divorcee, selections from Carmen, Oh Dear, What Can the Matter Be, and One Fine Day from Madame Butterfly.
Both programs ceased by 1942 with the opening of World War II. Henry Ford II tried to bring back the Ford Sunday Evening Hour in 1945, broadcasting the same type of music by DSO musicians, but times and tastes had changed and the program was discounted after the first season.
Kathy Makas is a Benson Ford Research Center Reference Archivist at The Henry Ford. To learn more about the Ford Sunday Evening Hour or Ford Summer Hour, visit the Benson Ford Research Center or email your questions to us here.
DESIGNERS DISILLUSIONED WITH FAST FASHION LOOK TO CREATE A GRASSROOTS GARMENT INDUSTRY ONE CITY AND ONE HANDMADE SHIRT AT A TIME
Laura Lee Laroux is full of confidence, even though some peers say she shouldn’t be.
Laroux, 36, moved to Bozeman, Montana, with seven sewing machines and 12 rolls of fabric in a U-Haul earlier this year, intent on making the rugged town at the northern foot of the Gallatin Range the new headquarters of her clothing line. She calls it RevivALL because she upcycles old materials into new garments, such as ruffled dresses fashioned from men’s shirts and hip bags revived from leather scraps bought from a recreational vehicle manufacturer.
Laroux had been overly busy and underearning in her previous home of Eugene, Oregon, running a clothing boutique, co-producing a local fashion week and, in the snatches of remaining time, working on developing RevivALL. But then, like so many bold Americans, from the pioneers to Kerouac on down, she concluded that her destiny, her chance to leave the old muddle behind and pursue her dream full time, lay elsewhere. “I just got some kind of rumbling inside me that said I have to leave Eugene,” said Laroux.
But Bozeman, population 37,000, isn’t New York or Los Angeles, teeming with seamstresses, fashion buyers and media. Why does she think she can make it there?
The same could be asked of legions of other upstart fashion designers setting up shop in locales such as Lawrence, Kansas; Nashville; and Detroit, none fashion capitals likely to be featured on Project Runway.
Something is afoot.
The odds of upstarts breaking profitably into the $2.5 trillion international fashion business remain long, but American entrepreneurs like Laroux have been newly emboldened to try by a confluence of cultural and economic forces. These include an appetite among some activist consumers to opt out of the fast-fashion system; Web stores like Etsy that connect small makers to buyers everywhere; low costs in postindustrial American cities; the decline of New York’s garment district; and fledgling pockets of support for apparel startups by government and not-for-profit groups. The result of all this has been the growth — sometimes halting, occasionally stunted, but often encouraging — of grassroots garment industries across the American landscape.
“Not all designers have to come to New York,” said Lisa Arbetter, editor of the influential fashion magazine StyleWatch, which has a per-issue circulation of 825,000. “Every line doesn’t have to be sold in Saks.” A LITTLE IS ENOUGH It might seem counterintuitive, but the fact that 97 percent of the clothing sold in the United States is now made overseas, up from 50 percent in 1990 and 10 percent in the 1960s, has created opportunity for American makers. While Zara, H&M, Gap and Fast Retailing, the parent of Uniqlo, have annual sales of more than $74 billion combined, some of the fashion-forward want to wear clothes that a million other people aren’t also slithering into.
What’s especially sweet about the kind of apparel businesses those like Laroux are starting is that a little success can be enough. Their ambition is not to become the next Betsey Johnson or Yves St. Laurent, but merely to gain the satisfaction of earning enough money selling dresses made from shower curtains, cruelty-free handbags or bespoke belt buckles to quit their boring day jobs.
“I’m close to making a living on my own stuff,” said Leslie Kuluva, who has seen sales of her line of LFK T-shirts printed in Lawrence, Kansas, rise every year since 2006. Kuluva says when she started, “I used to print them on my living room table and lay them out on the couch to dry, and cats would be walking all over them.”
Now, the “stuff” she creates in her professional print shop on East 8th Street in the college town includes men’s ties she buys at thrift stores and upcycles by printing clever designs on them, along with baby onesies and adult shirts she buys wholesale and unprinted from American Apparel, adds LFK logos to and sells at a profit of roughly $10 a garment. The line is carried at downtown shops such as Wonder Fair and Ten Thousand Villages eager to support local makers.
MORE THAN A HOBBY Of course, having one artist or even a dozen eke out a living printing shirts one by one is not on its own enough to jump-start the economy of a town or change fashion as we know it. The challenges in taking a step up from that by launching a relatively small national apparel brand are formidable, as would-be entrepreneur Lisa Flannery learned over the past few years. A veteran of two decades of toil in various roles at big brands in the Manhattan fashion business, Flannery attempted to start her own surfwear line.
“You need serious capital for development and production; unlimited amounts of time for sourcing, designing and fitting,” Flannery shared in a long and deeply detailed gush during a short break from her current job as a technical design manager at a national clothing brand. “And a partner or really good friends and family to help you with the sales, marketing and PR, legalities and accounting, etc., because you need to handle design and production, which are really jobs for multiple people — if you can manage to handle that, then you confront massive minimums, which is why you need all of that capital — minimums on fabric, trims and the amount of units the factory will produce for you — most China factories want at least 3,000 units — otherwise you are making small lots locally at very high prices, which your potential customers scoff at because they are used to Forever 21/Zara/H&M prices. And then if you do manage to get some traction, you can bet someone is going to knock you off at a much lower price.”
Flannery ended up spending more than $10,000 and gave up when, after subsisting on four hours of sleep a night, her health started to fail. She’s not optimistic about the long-term prospects for Laroux and others.
Such barriers to big dreams are why Karen Buscemi runs the Detroit Garment Group (DGG), a three-year-old nonprofit with an ambitious agenda. “We are trying to make Michigan the state for the cut-and-sew industry,” said Buscemi, a former fashion magazine editor.
Funded by donors including two automobile seating manufacturers, the DGG offers as one of its five major programs a fashion incubator. It takes up to 10 fashion entrepreneurs; installs them in offices in Detroit’s Tech Town building; gives monthly workshops on making business plans; provides access to high-end design equipment for free; assigns seven mentors across legal, sustainability, sales and other fields; and, at the end of a year, sets up a showroom where retailers come and hopefully buy clothes and start a wholesale relationship with the incubees. Those not admitted to the full program can sign on as an associate member for $100 a month to use the high-end printers, pattern-digitizers and other machines to create a fashion collection.
DGG’s apprenticeship programs in pattern-making and sewing machine repair promise to help convert the unemployed into garment workers. (DGG’s certificate classes in industrial sewing are offered at a few schools, including Henry Ford College in Dearborn, which is not affiliated with The Henry Ford.) Meanwhile, DGG is working with a variety of state agencies to establish a full-blown garment district, taking advantage of the decline in New York, where the district, due to high costs and foreign outsourcing, is a shell of its old self. Los Angeles has already shown it can be done, becoming a new apparel-making center.
The idea could very well work in Detroit, too, said StyleWatch editor Arbetter. “They are training people in a manufacturing skill that dovetails into the history of that town as a manufacturing center, and by doing that, they are creating businesses and creating jobs. It seems that particular city is ripe for this.”
One key, Buscemi said, is starting small by helping young designers find stable footing. “They want to come out the door from college and be entrepreneurs,” she noted. “But unless you have had experience, how are you going to do that and turn it into a real business rather than a hobby you are doing on the side?”
A COMMUNITY WITHIN Apparel brands can change a city. In Nashville in 2009, the jeans shop Imogene + Willie opened in a former gas station on 12th Avenue South. Its informal vibe, with cool folks lounging on couches next to stacks of blue jeans and thick belts — a few doors up from the famed guitar shop Corner Music — helped establish a neighborhood aesthetic.
As co-owner with her husband, Carrie Eddmenson explains in the brand’s online statement: “The way Matt and I operate has always involved a mix of uncertainty reinforced by intuition, call it a gut feeling.”
The words could be a manifesto for Nashville, where guts, gut feelings and flights of inspiration have for a century oozed through the city’s honky-tonk veins, only recently spilling out into creative fields beyond music.
Although the jeans are made in Los Angeles, the store’s bustling neighborhood, now known by the hipster moniker “12 South,” is one of the emblems of Nashville’s ferocious resurgence. Chef Sean Brock credits the city’s apparel scene for his decision to open a Nashville outpost of his award-winning restaurant Husk. “I came back to visit friends,” Brock said, moments after slicing a local ham for thrilled patrons in the dining room last winter. “And there was just a buzz. People were coming from New York and LA to do things like make leather belts.”
In Bozeman, Laroux has identified what there is of a garment industry and has taken steps to become a part of it. There are companies producing backpacks there, and Red Ants Pants, a brand that is like Carhartt for women, is headquartered in Bozeman. Even though not all of these companies produce apparel in Montana, their presence, Laroux figures, means there must be expert seamstresses, fabric cutters and other production people around, some of them likely willing to take second jobs for an ambitious, youngish designer.
In her first 10 days in town, Laroux met with a woman who runs a coworking space and a screen-printing business, another who has a clothing boutique and another, Kate Lindsay, who founded Bozeman Flea, a market for artists and makers. Laroux’s goal is to start earning $50,000 annually, after expenses. Some of that income may come from selling patterns for her dresses for $10 each via websites such as Indiesew; some from showing at an upcoming fashion event in Helena, Montana, and at Bozeman Flea; some from opening a local shop with other designers; some from sales of sock garters on the e-commerce maker superstore Etsy; and some, perhaps, from catching the fancy of a buyer from a national retailer looking for a unique American-made product.
The extra bedroom in the faux colonial she rents with friends, her share being $600 monthly, has become, for now, a design studio and sewing room. Not for long, Laroux said. “In three months, in my ideal world, I would have this little storefront I’ve been looking at downtown, with my studio in the basement and three other designers that have studio space, and we take turns running the shop.”
Long ago at fashion school in New York, Laroux had a burned-out professor who told the class none of them were ever going to really make it as designers. “’You’re just going to be getting coffee for people at design houses,’” she recalled him saying, acting as if administering this dose of reality was a favor.
Maybe it was. He made her angry, and now she’s making her stand, assembling a fashion posse.
By Allen Salkin for The Henry Ford Magazine. This story ran in the June-December 2016 edition.
In 1915, Henry Ford began acquiring property along the Rouge River in southeastern Michigan with the intent of building a vast manufacturing complex, aiming to transform raw materials into parts and those parts into automobiles in the most rapid and efficient possible ways. The first major building on the site was constructed in 1917, but work to extend and expand the Rouge plant and its capabilities continued through the 1920s. We’ve just digitized 119 images taken between February and May 1918 that focus on the construction going on at the Rouge, including many like this one that give a sense of the expansive nature of the endeavor. Visit our Digital Collections to see these Rouge images and others from our Automobile Plant Construction Photographs collection, or learn more about the modern Rouge and how you can see the plant yourself on our visit page.
Ellice Engdahl is Digital Collections & Content Manager at The Henry Ford.
Bruce McLaren and Chris Amon won the 1966 24 Hours of Le Mans in the #2 Ford GT40 Mark II. THF252433
Fifty years ago this month, Ford Motor Company earned one of its most memorable racing victories: a stunning 1-2-3 finish at the 24 Hours of Le Mans endurance race. No win in that famed French contest comes easily, and Ford’s arrived only after two years of struggle and disappointment. But that story is among the most interesting in motorsport.
There was Ford’s failed bid to buy Ferrari in 1963, which left Chairman and CEO Henry Ford II determined to beat the Italian automaker on the race track. There was British designer Eric Broadley, whose sleek Lola GT Mark VI car inspired the design of Ford’s Le Mans car, the GT40. There was Carroll Shelby, the larger-than-life designer and team manager who turned around Ford’s struggling program. And there were drivers like Ken Miles, who gave everything – including his life – to the effort.
It all culminated with New Zealander drivers Bruce McLaren and Chris Amon standing on the podium with Henry Ford II on June 19, 1966, having proved that Ford Motor Company could build race cars as good as – better than – any in the world. As if to prove that the win wasn’t a fluke, Ford came back to do it again in 1967, this time with American drivers – Dan Gurney and A.J. Fort – in an American-designed and built car – the Mark IV.
In recognition of the 50th anniversary of Ford’s first Le Mans victory (and, not incidentally, on the eve of Ford’s return to that race), we’ve produced a short film on the 1967-winning Ford Mark IV and the bumpy road that led to it. It’s a story that’s always worth retelling, but especially in a milestone year like this.
Matt Anderson is Curator of Transportation at The Henry Ford.
For the Le Mans 24 Hours this year, I’m part of the new Ford Chip Ganassi Racing GT team that is attempting to win the big race again for Ford, 50 years on from that first victory in 1966, and I will be carrying The Henry Ford logo on my helmet. How did that come to be?
When people think of Ford and its famous victories at Le Mans, most think of the MKII GT40 that took the win in 1966, or the Gulf liveried cars that won in ’68 and ’69 races, but for me it’s all about the Mk IV car that won the race in 1967 with Dan Gurney and A. J. Foyt. It’s one of my very favourite cars, not just for the result it achieved, but for the story of its development into a winner and how drop dead gorgeous it is. By complete coincidence I’m in the No. 67 car this year, though I was secretly hoping to have that number, to be able to carry it makes me very happy indeed, hopefully we can do it justice!
There is an incredible page on the The Henry Ford's website that allows you to take a 360° tour of the car, I highly recommend it.
As for my connection to the museum, I’ve been lucky to get to know the good folks at The Henry Ford over the last few years, especially Christian Overland and Spence Medford, and through their passion for The Henry Ford and all that it does. I’ve become a massive fan of the museum, all of the amazing things it contains (from Beatles memorabilia to Thomas Edison and, of course, the cars!) and the way it immerses visitors in history.
I wanted to help the guys spread the word in some small way, so I suggested to Christian that I carry The Henry Ford logo on my helmet for the Le Mans 24 Hours and he kindly agreed.
Nothing would make me happier than being able to win the big race with Ford and be able to give back in some small way to an institution that gives so much to so many. You never know, if we can achieve a great result here at Le Mans, maybe some of our story will be a part of the museum in the future? Now that would be cool…