An unconventional posting could soon start cropping up across fashion job boards: “Wanted: Metaverse design specialist; no experience necessary.”
Fashion brands piling into the virtual fashion craze are discovering that finding the people needed to operate in the metaverse can be just as complicated as the technology itself. Experts in Web3, non-fungible tokens and other emerging categories have plenty of options: job postings mentioning “metaverse” skyrocketed by 1,042 percent between November 2020 and November 2021, according to Indeed. Posts using the keyword “crypto” are up 300 percent over the same period. Companies known more for their runway looks than their tech chops may not be the first choice for top talent.
Brands are better off playing the long game when it comes to talent acquisition and training, experts say. That can mean training current employees in new skills, and broadening the types of people they hire for tech and engineering roles in the first place. In some cases, that might mean hiring recent college graduates or early career professionals from adjacent industries who have completed months-long coding programs.
“What we’ve seen with a bunch of companies who need to fill positions [for the metaverse], is that they’ve had to have tremendous flexibility in the qualifications of those individuals,” said Abby Hunter-Syed, a partner at LDV Capital, an early-stage venture fund that invests in visual technology businesses.
Thinking Outside the Box
Three years ago, when Tommy Hilfiger set out to have 100 percent of its apparel produced via 3D design by 2022, the company knew this would require an overhaul of its organisational processes and its people.
So it created an internal incubator, called Stitch, that operated like a “corporate start-up” made up of two groups: software engineers who would develop proprietary 3D design technology and “creatives” who could train and “transform” the company’s existing design teams, said Martijn Hagman, chief executive of Tommy Hilfiger Global and PVH Europe.
While the brand is still a ways off from its ambitious target of using 3D design across its entire apparel range — it’s roughly 55 percent of the way there, Hagman said — the incubator itself was the critical tool in helping it attract the calibre of tech talent required to get such a project off the ground.
“You want to offer those tech-minded people an environment where they can really excel in their core competency and build something that is new, unique and inspiring to them,” said Hagman. “To attract this talent, the Tommy Hilfiger and PVH names alone are not enough.”
The brand will use this same strategy with a new incubator, Metaverse Studio, which will help the company “experiment and test and learn” how to become a formidable player in the virtual reality space, he said.
Like many fashion brands, Tommy Hilfiger is also relying on third parties to realise its virtual ambitions, Hagman said. In addition to collaborations with Roblox and Animal Crossing, the brand has since 2019 worked with Obsess, an e-commerce platform that builds virtual stores.
But if the metaverse is to live up to its hype and fashion companies are to truly profit off of it long-term, they will need to map out a talent strategy that allows them to build their own bench strength. The starting place for most companies is finding an initial pool of 3D designers and engineers who are skilled at working with or developing technology.
“I think the biggest challenge to hire for today is a senior 3D engineer because everybody needs them,” said Hunter-Syed.
Not every company will need to form an incubator like Tommy Hilfiger but to attract experienced engineers, they’ll need to offer salaries that compete with tech giants like Google and Meta, rather than their fashion peers.
“The first step we had to take was to tell people that we can pay more and that we are making something really interesting,” said George Yashin, chief executive at Russia-based Zero10, an app and fashion-tech start-up that allows users to purchase and wear digital garments. “[In response] we got guys from some of the biggest corporations in Russia.”
Another option is to hire recent design and engineering school graduates. A lack of experience isn’t necessarily a problem, said Neha Singh, founder and CEO of Obsess, which has also worked with Coach, Dermalogica, and Farfetch to create their online stores using augmented reality that mimics in-person shopping.
In 3D design, most specialists have backgrounds in architectural visualization — where they work with real estate developers and architects to create 3D renderings of buildings — or video game development, Singh said.
“What we actually need is a combination of those [expertises] as well as a few other skills – and this is hard to find,” she said. “So, in a way, less experience is good because these [people] are willing to learn … they can look at things that are being done in the metaverse and build their skill set towards it.”
A “passion for fashion” should be at the top of the list of qualifications, said Hunter-Syed.
“What you’re really looking for is people who are artists who now have to become 3D,” she said.