In the near future, instead of going to your closet to choose something to throw on for your next video call, you might instead turn to your virtual wardrobe to pick out a 3D-rendered digital outfit to “wear.”
At least, that’s what a number of people in the fashion and tech space are banking on as more businesses look to the promise of digital fashion. And they’re wagering those virtual outfits won’t just be for your Zoom calls, but could eventually be worn all over the “metaverse” — the concept of an interlinked extended reality world — in games, across social media, and eventually, perhaps, viewed on your body in the real world through augmented reality (AR) glasses.
“There are more and more ‘second worlds’ where you can express yourself (but) there is probably an underestimation of the value being attached to individuals who want to express themselves in a virtual world with a virtual product, (through) a virtual persona,” Gucci’s chief marketing officer Robert Triefus is quoted in the report as saying.
Digital fashion marketplaces have recently opened, including DressX, hoping that shoppers will be keen to start a virtual wardrobe. Credit: DressX
“Brands realized that they had to create digital showrooms and digital fashion shows…to sell their collections in 2020,” said Karinna Grant, who co-founded the NFT fashion marketplace The Dematerialised with Marjorie Hernandez, in a phone call. Because of that, she added, consumers were exposed to new ways of seeing clothes presented digitally.
The Dematerialised offers NFT fashion through limited “drops.” Outfits and accessories can be traded on the secondary market. Credit: The Dematerialised
Replacing the physical
But why should we replace our physical clothes? Proponents say there’s unlimited creative expression through digital outfits, which now look increasingly more refined thanks to developments in 3D rendering and AR technology.
DressX founder Daria Shapovalova in a digital design by Auroboros. Propoents of virtual fashion say it’s creative, sustainable, and a way to “wear” luxury fashion at a more affordable price point. Credit: DressX
On DressX, shoppers can purchase gravity-defying sci-fi looks from “tech-couture” brand Auroboros that might take a fashion house (or a cosplay designer) weeks to engineer physically, with some elements impossible to make at all. In addition, virtual outfits offer a more affordable price point into luxury brands — like when Gucci launched new digital-only sneakers for $12 this past spring.
“It’s like an entry point where you’re not spending thousands of dollars, but you can still participate with a brand,” said Caitlin Monahan, a consumer tech strategist for trend forecasting company WGSN, in a video call.
From the brand side, it’s “incredibly lucrative” to sell clothes without producing physical garments, she explained. Which, by the same token, means virtual fashion is far more sustainable, as well.
“It’s reinventing an entire supply chain,” Monahan said. “There’s no water usage, there’s very limited CO2 emissions. There’s no samples being sent out or returns. There’s no show rooms, there’s no physical prototyping.”
For brands, digital fashion is also “incredibly lucrative” as a way to sell apparel without producing physical clothes. Credit: DressX
“We’re working on popularizing digital fashion and mass adoption for it,” said Shapovalova in a phone call.
They say an NFT marketplace is also on the horizon for DressX, giving some designs more exclusivity and the ability to collect and sell them on the secondary market. And, though garments minted as NFTs will be less sustainable than non-minted digital garments due to the carbon emissions of blockchain technology and cryptocurrencies, Whitehouse, Grant and Monahan all pointed to more eco-friendly ways of building NFT platforms, such as using blockchains that operate on an allegedly greener “proof of stake” system, or offering the ability to pay in fiat money instead of crypto.
“As more and more players get into the market in terms of software, I think even more alternatives will begin to arise,” Monahan said.
“We don’t need any more physical goods on the planet,” said Whitehouse. “Look at what’s happening in landfills all over the world. Fashion is…in the top five most polluting industries in the world.”
An interconnected future
As more of the fashion industry dips into the virtual world, the interest in staking a claim in it may, at first, outpace the technology itself. Having a single wardrobe that can be used across multiple gaming environments as well as social media and other platforms will require them to be compatible, explained Irene-Marie Seelig, CEO and co-founder of AnamXR, which designs virtual experiences for brands. Otherwise the digital fur coat you’ve just purchased won’t be able to be worn between applications.
“It’s very disconnected at the moment,” Seelig said over the phone. “And in the future, I foresee it being a lot more interconnected…where you’re able to connect into different metaverses with your avatar, your digital wardrobe.”
Seelig created the Bumper Jumpers from EBIT’s Yellow Trip Road using Unreal Engine, a popular game engine that supports console, mobile and desktop gaming, as well as VR. The outfits could conceivably be ported into games, including Fortnite, one day — if those game developers decide to open that door.
The developers of these “Bumper Jumpers” from the gaming experience “Yellow Trip Road” hope they will eventually be worn across multiple virtual settings, and not just limited to the game. Credit: EBIT
It’s unclear how everything will shake out, but Monahan is optimistic so far on the fashion side of things.
“In my conversations with digital fashion players, everything seems incredibly collaborative…instead of traditional fashion houses being quite private with their product and the research and development,” she explained.
That leaves it up to consumers to decide whether they see the benefit in ditching their material goods in favor of virtual ones.
“One challenge right now is the attitude shift towards paying for something that isn’t tactile,” Monahan said, recalling the internet reactions to Gucci’s cheaper digital-only sneakers. “There were so many comments…saying, ‘This is a scam.’ ‘This is scary.’ ‘This is the beginning of human extinction.’ There was such a resistance to it.”
But Monahan believes there are enough people who will be keen on the idea to change the tides. She likens the future of virtual fashion to that of streetwear. The hype around the latter has sent sneakers’ secondary market soaring — and enthusiasts collect to display it, not necessarily to wear.
“It’s almost like an art piece, something that you have this kind of emotive connection to — and I think digital fashion works in the same way,” Monahan said. “And just because something isn’t tactile, it doesn’t mean that it lacks value. And I think proving that utility and proving that craftsmanship will really be key to mainstream adoption.”
Top image: Virtual influencer Kuki (@kuki_ai) wearing a digital garment by Marco Rambaldi, purchased from The Dematerialised.
Animation: DressX founders Natalia Modenova and Daria Shapovalova wearing garments from BalmLabs and DRESSX Kandinsky Art collection. Photos by Olga Helga.