Inside Lilach Porges’ Innovative Journey: From Robotics to Runway

Close-up of a design by Lilach Porges in the FIT/MFA Fashion Graduation Runway Show

It’s been almost a year since I saw Lilach (pronounced Leela) Porges’ work at the FIT/MFA Fashion Graduation Show. To say I was completely blown away is an understatement; not only does her design revolutionize how garments are constructed – her collaborator is a massive (and sometimes little) robot arm capable of radically rethinking the fashion technology intersect. Porges was the winner in the sustainable fashion/textile category in the Arts Threads and Gucci Global Design Graduate Show 2023 competition with her radical and unexpected collection. And if you’re in New York you can see her process live May 16–May 23 at Hudson Yards where she has a Emerging Designer Residency as part of NYC X Design.

 It was a pleasure to catch up with her at her new studio.

Katya: What’s your background/How did you get into designing with robots?
Lilach: In high school, I loved mathematics and computer science. However, I always enjoyed art and dreamt about being a fashion designer when I grew up. I started studying textile design for a year, and during this time, I applied to both the fashion design and architecture programs—and I was accepted to both.

I chose architecture because I believed it would give me broader knowledge in topics including mathematics and physics and a more comprehensive look at history, design, architecture history, and psychology. Ultimately, it was a perfect choice because this taught me how to use this robotic arm, how to code them, and how to do parametric design, which is designing with parameters and code. This is what led me to where I am today.

I never gave up on my dream of becoming a fashion designer, therefor I planned on doing a master’s in fashion. When I studied architecture, I took many sewing and pattern-making classes since my undergrad days. Every summer, I worked on my fashion design portfolio to apply to grad school in fashion, and around the third year of architecture studies, I applied to FIT and was accepted. I graduated also with a master’s in architecture because I didn’t want to waste time in Covid while waiting to move to New York and start the MFA at FIT.

Lilach Porges building a dress using a robotic arm at Eventscape

Talk a little bit about your creative process
Many times, ideas come to my mind, either when I look at my mood board or close my eyes –wherever I am. Then, I sketch them with a pencil on paper.  At that point, I take my laptop and begin designing in 3D software, using code to render my ideas.

After that, I use code to translate it into something the robotic arm could read and help me make. I think about the design for the human body, then the technology, and how it can make what I envision.

Looks from the Roller Coaster Collection: Photographer: Jennifer Katzman, Model: Angela Zhang MUA: Liv.Artistry, Robotic Arm: Research + Robotics

Do you need to know coding to create what you do? For example, if another fashion designer wanted to do it? Would they be stuck?
I use software like Rhino and Grasshopper, which are used by architects. This software is not too complicated for designers to use. However, they will need to learn it and understand how it works. I very much hope that in the future, there will be software that will make it even easier for designers, especially fashion designers. This software will take their sketches and create code automatically from them.

I read that you also like to program the robot to allow for mistakes. So how do you do that? I love that because it creates a little bit of a handmade; it makes it unexpected.
Yes. So that wasn’t planned. (laughter) I started printing using a very accurate method to use the code, trying to make it the same as I saw on my laptop. And as precise as possible to the human body. But then life happens. The results don’t line up with my vision because there is gravitation or because of the room temperature. The room is a little too cold or a little too hot –so there are real-life parameters that happen.

And then some materials fell down. And at the beginning, I looked at it as a mistake. But then, looking again at this, I saw it as a happy mistake. Because it looked good, too, and it also shows the process. So, we are using something other than technology that has been there for the past hundred years. The many weaving, knitting, and embroidery machines still work perfectly well.

But they had flaws when someone started making them. So that’s also beautiful to see how this is a new technology, this is a new thing, and it’s not perfect.

Production and Styling: Jennifer Anger, Art Direction and Photography and Styling: Liang Fangchu, MUA and Hair: Lindsay Kastuk, Model: Dunja Milatovic Created with robotic arm by NYC Robotics using Xtellar material

And you use sustainable materials. What are they? 
Yes. While doing my thesis at FIT, I started collecting and looking for materials companies. It was essential for me to find sustainable materials. I connected with a company called Xtellar. They supplied me with materials.

One of the materials they supplied was 90% recycled carbon fiber and bottle caps. The second material is a bio-based EVA, which is based on sugar cane.  They just sent me an email over the summer after I graduated from FIT and said, we have a new material we would love you to try. They sent me this material, and it was very exciting.

This material is much more flexible and comfortable on the body than the carbon one. Seeing it move in space on the beautiful human walking and dancing was a moment of happiness.

When we look at your FIT designs, they have futuristic quality because they’re made out of all materials like this. How wearable do you see them, or do you see them for more like couture? 
The ones you saw in the FIT show are more conceptual and artistic. The ones you saw in the Procode_Dress show, the Roller Coaster collection, are much more comfortable. I see them as the ready-to-wear version of my conceptual designs; as such, they fit better with customers.

So, it’s not only artistic, it’s not only for photoshoots, and it’s also for people who wear them when they want to feel good about themselves. As I said earlier, I’m working on a new method for 3D printing with the robot (which is a patent pending) that I believe would be much more comfortable and can be offered as daywear designs.

How was the FIT MFA program for you? 
Very good. The fact that FIT recognized me as a fashion designer after studying architecture was very welcoming and beautiful. The professors were very supportive in helping us get where we wanted to and even pushing us further with our ideas.

Professors who work in traditional ways would encourage my work with the robot and tell me to do it even more significantly, do it even crazier. And the mistakes are beautiful. So, I use those mistakes and push further toward developing new designs.

Looks from her MFA Collection. Photos by Paolo Lanzi / Gorunway.com

What inspires you?
For the FIT collection, I decided to focus on software engineering as my topic. I opened up the computer, took the elements out of it, and took inspiration from how they are connected. I looked at many codes that my friends and siblings sent me, including the code’s shape and color, and it was very inspiring for me. 

The latest collection – the Roller Coaster Collection – was inspired by a roller coaster, partly because I’ve loved roller coasters since I was a child, and the way the robot moves is similar to a roller coaster, so it felt like the right choice. 

What are some advantages of creating this way versus traditional ways?
The real advantage is that you can create the whole dress in one piece. Instead of a 3-D printer or traditional pattern making where you make pieces and you need to connect them, when I use the robot, it prints the whole dress at once. Thus, the dress is done when the robot finishes its work, and we can send it to the consumer. So it’s less labor work. Ultimately reducing sweatshops.

And in a perfect world, where do you see yourself in 3 to 5 years?
I see my company grow. And I hope to have a lot of consumers who have garments that they enjoy and feel comfortable and confident in. 

I see myself developing robotic arms techniques and other technologies that make clothes much more comfortable. As we continue to grow as a fashion brand and a tech startup, eventually, the methods I will develop may be available to other designers and fashion brands.

And maybe we can build factories of robotic arms to make clothes using my system. Because the way I design with this method is one option, I’m sure that in the future, there will be many opportunities for different designers to use this 3D printing method.

A Few of Lilach’s Favorite Things

Book Winter Blue, Fairy Child by Eshkar Erblich-Brifman
Movie The Little Mermaid 2
Creative inspiration. Constantly changing according to any collection 
Food Avocado 
A trend that you like. That people care about sustainability now. 
A trend that you hate. People post political opinions on social media when their social media has nothing to do with politics.
The person you most admire is my mom.
A quote to live by. Beauty opens doors, personality gets you in, and intelligence keeps you inside.

Follow her on Instagram; and LinkedIn. Visit ProcodeDress.com to learn more.

–Katya Moorman

About Lilach Porges: Lilach Porges is an Israeli fashion designer with an academic background in architecture and uses parametric design methods to create textiles and garments. The work of the award-winning innovator of start-up Procode_Dress and Designer in Residence at New Bedford Research and Robotics. She has a Master of Fine Arts in fashion/apparel design from the Fashion Institute of Technology, a Master of Architecture, and a Bachelor of Science from Technion – Israel Institute of Technology.


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