The luxury of uniqueness: the 3D design of XYZBAG handbags

Luxury of Uniquenessv 3d design

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Concepts such as product customisation and sustainability are now considered prerequisites for the design process. What do they exactly mean? Beyond catchy slogans, what does it really take for a product to possess these qualities? We discussed these topics with Annalisa Nicola, the founder and designer of XYZBAG, a brand specialised in the creation of highly customisable handbags. So much so that they can be considered unique in all respects, perfectly adhering to the material principles of craftsmanship and digital production.

(FLT) – In which way can a designer place a truly unique and sustainable product on today’s market?

(AN) – There are a few different approaches.XYZBAG follows the “on-demand” design principles, which sense customers’ preferences right from the design phase. In this way, they guarantee a sustainable result from both an ecological and an economic point of view. The use of eco-friendly materials is a fundamental requisite but it’s not enough if it’s not flanked by standards for the reduction of production waste and, more in general, the waste generated throughout the entire supply chain. Digital production greatly helps designers in product development, thanks to many tools that allow them to do things there were just unthinkable until a few years ago. For example, renderings speed up decision-making processes by limiting the number of physical prototypes that can be produced. The digital inventory enables customers to virtually choose a product, which becomes physical on-demand. The preconditions for waste generation are thus avoided. All the variants of the bags are available as digital products, they are specifically designed to be produced with 3D printing and they all can be modified. You can create your own text, insert your logo or image. We can even generate a complex shape based on the customer’s suggestions. The same concept applies to the sampling of materials and finishes, where rendering takes care of most of the assessments to be made before production. Working in 3D offers the designer many possibilities also in terms of communication, that is, engaging users, who can interact with a virtual product in a realistic way.

(FLT) – In digital manufacturing, even materials would take on a different connotation.

(AN) – We are going through a particular time, where plastic ended up in the firing line from an ecological point of view. One of the fundamental goals of the XYZBAG project is to give new dignity to this noble and extremely technical material. We want to get rid of the “disposable culture” preconception that is often associated with this material, sometimes even improperly.

(FLT) – The sartorial approach to the design of handbags constitutes an effective – not just theoretical – meeting point between supply and demand.

(AN) – Events are very precious occasions for the activity of a fashion designer. Not only on the promotional side. They are real market research, in which ideas, projects and prototypes come to life and you can get important feedback to satisfy an increasingly heterogeneous demand. Based on a concept, which does not vary, the customisation of the bag takes place during the design phase, as in the case of tailoring production. It’s not just about choosing the size. We assist the customers in all phases, leaving ample room to their desires so that they can receive a truly unique product that can be their own.

(FLT) – In the case of a commonly used product such as a handbag, the uniqueness of the form would be one of the most complex aspects to be perceived by the general public, especially in the internet age, in which supply is particularly wide.

(AN) – The uniqueness of the product can be expressed in many ways, for example by customising the text on the body of a bag, whose appearance is deliberately neutral, minimal, even if incredibly hi-tech. Less attentive, or simply less expert, customers may not be able to grasp in the first instance the difference between a unique handbag and a serially produced one.

Available in three customisable variants, DADA is one of the main XYZBAG concepts (credit: XYZBAG)
DADA expresses the features of a 3D BAG customisable in many details, including the texts, colours and material finishes that characterise the bag (credit: XYZBAG)

(FLT) – This is why the new possibilities offered by digital technologies such as computational design or generative design become valuable allies of the designer.

(AN) – They are fantastic assistants and allow designers to push the limits of creativity according to the materials being used. Thanks to the collaboration with Protocube Reply, we are experimenting with new techniques based on algorithmic design to generate unique shapes with an incredible level of detail, achievable only thanks to 3D printing. Thanks to such tools, the designer’s potential becomes virtually infinite, yet not random, as all aspects of the design remain absolutely under their control. This is a key fact when we talk about uniqueness.

GRETEL CELL is a casing whose shape originates from a mathematical generative algorithm. The 3D model is generated parametrically so that each element of the design can be modified and controlled, from thickness to modulation (credit: Protocube Reply for XYZBAG)
xyzbag cell skyline stampa 3d
The combined use of various 3D technologies allows creating unique objects, with a very high resolution. This aspect goes hand in hand with the quality level achieved by the most advanced 3D printing systems (credit: Protocube Reply for XYZBAG)
xyzbag gretel nature stampa 3d
GRETEL NATURE in the white version (credit: XYZBAG)

(FLT) – As customisation is enjoying a boom, designers must necessarily know how to master a wide range of technical skills.

(AN) – It is very important to know the materials and production techniques, fundamental steps in any project related to the development of a functional object. Resourcing to professional advisors and collaborators means being aware that a tailored vision of design, however specific, is today totally compatible with industrial production.  Digital craftsmanship can no longer be interpreted as a one-off production technique. Thanks to 3D printers we can produce many pieces in a single production batch, with very high-quality standards. From a creative point of view, a product clearly derived from mathematics has a great charm in that it transforms itself from digital to physical while maintaining its generative identity. In other words, it means to make dematerialisation tangible.

xyzbag gretel skyline stampa 3d
GRETEL SKYLINE, a concept based on iconic European cities. In the image, the BARCELONA model, made with 3D printing (credit: XYZBAG)

(FLT) – The collaboration with HP represents for XYZBAG an added value, as it is one of the leading brands in professional 3D printing.

(AN) – This allows us to test the latest evolution of one of the most interesting technologies in 3D printing. In line with our principles, HP is particularly sensitive on sustainability, as shown by the recycling of production waste. All excess materials, which are already very reduced thanks to the principles of additive production, are treated and reused almost entirely thanks to proprietary technology. As more certified materials are made available, HP’s technology will increasingly become a point of reference for those designs that make little distinction between the physical prototype of the object and the final product.

The GRETEL CELL prototype exhibited at the HP stand at Formnext 2019 (credit: XYZBAG)

(FLT) – XYZBAG will continue to explore all digital possibilities. Which brand identity will it choose to position itself in a competitive market such that of fashion?

(AN) – We are a young brand and in our growth process we will connect our brand awareness to the values ​​of uniqueness which define the creation of each individual handbag. Simply increasing the commercial reputation of XYZBAG would not be enough. To position yourself correctly, it is essential to work selectively on communication, eliminating the perceptual gap between the virtual shelf, where the customer meets the concept of the bags and the customisation experience that brings to the physical product. To implement this process, 3D technologies will be an increasingly fundamental component in all business phases.

Annalisa Nicola (Founder and CEO of XYZBAG). A graduate in Product Design (Ecodesign) and an expert in new technologies and 3D printing. In 2016 she founded XYZBAG. Listed among the “Women in 3D printing”, in 2017 she was selected by the Intesa San Paolo Group’s Innovation Centre to present XYZBAG as one of the innovative fashion-tech start-ups at the OurCrowd Global Investor Summit in Jerusalem and at the 2018 StartUp Initiative Fashion Tech in Milan.

This post is also available in: Italiano

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Francesco La Trofa

Architect and journalist with 20 years’ experience in 3D technologies.
Consultant to public entities and 3D businesses for aspects relating to design and communications.
Head of editorial content at and co-founder of Digital Drawing Days, the only event of its kind in Italy.
Actively involved in research and teaching at Milan Polytechnic.
Edits 3D STORIES for Protocube Reply.