Digital Fashion: The Next Frontier in Fashion
On September 13, 2021, Kim Kardashian donned an all-black attire by Balenciaga at the Met Gala. Her stark black Balenciaga haute couture gown with matching mask drew a lot of conversation online, even within the Fortnite community. Multiple Twitter users from within the Fortnite community saw a close comparison between her attire and locked characters within the popular video game. They wondered why she was dressed like a video game character you haven’t unlocked yet. The rumors came clear when, a few days later, Balenciaga announced a collaboration with Epic Games, the developer of Fortnite, to bring the fashion house’s signature clothing and apparel into the game.
Haute couture and the fashion industry have entered the gaming industry, and we have only just gotten started. Businesses are always looking for ways to carve out a lucrative market share and digital fashion is a niche market that has enormous potential. The possibilities for digital fashion are as limitless as the potential for the metaverse, and it will be one of the biggest industries of the immersive internet in the coming decade.
As a futurist and innovation speaker, I believe we are witnessing a new era in retail, where our physical lives will increasingly blend with our digital lives. For that reason, digital fashion has the potential to shake up the fashion industry as we know it and make style items more accessible to a broader audience.
What is Digital Fashion
Digital fashion is a relatively new industry that is snowballing. Digital fashion uses virtual avatars and digital models to sell (digital) clothing and accessories. This means customers can browse items online, try them in-store, and even buy them without leaving the house.
In the physical world, fashion designers are limited by the available fabrics and the laws of physics when they design their clothes. These barriers do not apply in the metaverse. Digital fashion designers can come up with any type of garment or fabric to create exclusive and exotic designs never seen before.
The trend is an idea that started with the rise of 3-D printing, but it was not until recently that technology caught up with the metaverse to make digital fashion a reality. Now, with augmented reality and virtual reality, you can virtually try on clothes without leaving your house — or even getting up from your computer chair.
Most importantly, digital fashion is not just about clothes—digital fashion can be about anything you can wear or use. From hats to shoes and jewelry accessories, the possibilities are endless.
If you would take digital fashion to its natural next level, it becomes possible to create fashion items from garments only available in the digital world and to add utility to the fashion items. One company exclusively focused on designing digital fashion is the company The Fabricant. The Dutch fashion house is a digital-only fashion brand and designs clothes only for the metaverse. It uses the latest advancements in artificial intelligence to create naturally looking and behaving digital fashion items, sometimes from novel garments such as liquid metal.
Unlike traditional fashion, which requires physical materials (threads, fabrics), digital fashion only requires data and code. This means there are no limits to what can be designed or created. It also means that anything can be tailored specifically to your tastes and needs rather than having to conform to a certain standard of fit or look.
A new, multi-disciplined generation of young designers is emerging. They use digital technology to tailor their designs for rapid prototyping and fabrication in 3D printing or only for the digital realm.
After years of learning the trade, designers, and kids, are turning the traditional clothing industry on its head. With experience and dedication, they are embracing new technologies and reinventing the conventional models of production to create an efficient supply chain that's both eco-friendly and visually stunning.
Naturally, digital fashion does not only bring benefits for the digital realm. It opens up new ways of innovation for a variety of industries and delivering unique benefits that the traditional fashion industry would never be able to offer.
Digital Fashion and Retail and Ecommerce
Virtual retail experiences provide the opportunity to immerse customers in a simulated environment that goes beyond a product display into a personalized experience.
The retail industry has taken a considerable step toward innovation with virtual reality advancements allowing shoppers to experience products before they buy them.
Shoppers can roam around a store or even walk through an entire mall without leaving their homes or offices. This provides an excellent way for retailers to reach out to customers who prefer online shopping over going into actual stores due to convenience and low business maintenance costs.
The integration of AR into eCommerce has allowed users to experience products in virtual reality before they buy them. The most popular example is ASOS’s See My Fit system which will enable shoppers to try on different outfits by simply uploading their photos and choosing from a variety of looks suggested by the app.
The success of this ASOS initiative comes from the COVID-19 pandemic that changed many regular consumer habits to finally adopt digital ways to purchase from the comfort of home while keeping ourselves safe. Virtual fitting rooms (VFCs) are a great example and are quickly becoming the new normal in retail. Consumers want to shop anytime, anywhere, and through their devices. For this reason, VFCs offer a convenient way to try on clothes without leaving the house or getting out of bed.
The experience can be as realistic as an in-person fitting room or as simple as tapping "Fit" on an item to see what it looks like. Virtual fitting rooms allow consumers to shop from the comfort of their own homes and avoid long lines at the mall. They also enable consumers to take photos of themselves wearing outfits before purchasing something online.
For those who do prefer the physical store, magical mirrors can offer the same benefits, which is already happening on a large scale in China. These intelligent dressing mirrors can show you wearing different outfits suggested by the mirror, which you can then purchase by scanning a QR code. In addition, when taking clothes into the fitting room, the mirror can suggest additional matching items for you. The next step would be that your avatar would receive the digital version as well, potentially with additional benefits, as mentioned before.
In 2020 H&M, the world-renowned fast-fashion retailer used Instagram's advanced AR technology to showcase their new collection and boost sales. This H&M campaign aimed to connect with a target audience of Generation Z consumers by focusing its promotion for the Kangol collection on Instagram and reaching consumers beyond the scope of TikTok by encouraging participants to create and share their custom music videos elsewhere on social media platforms.
In a first-of-its-kind move in the retail industry, apparel giant Inditex has launched an AR game in collaboration with Facebook as a part of its latest collection called “Pacific Girls.” Last year, online sales accounted for around a third of the company's considerable revenues—and as a result, Inditex plans to invest $3 billion into expanding its digital operations moving forward.
Recently, digital fashion retailer DressX joined Meta's Avatar Store. The brand has joined the likes of Balenciaga, Prada, and other big names in the luxury fashion industry by creating a digital fashion marketplace where users can shop in an immersive virtual space.
These examples illustrate the importance brands give to new developments in the metaverse because of their great potential to reach larger audiences and increase revenue. It also shows that digital fashion has already left the metaverse and entered the physical world!
Digital Fashion and Influencer Marketing
The relationship between fashion and influencers is a symbiotic one. Fashion brands have always been at the forefront of utilising influencers to promote their products, but as the world has developed, so has how we consume fashion.
VR influencer marketing works the same way as traditional influencer marketing, but with one significant difference: instead of receiving free products or money in exchange for promoting a brand, influencers receive virtual goods like clothing items or accessories. Since no shipping costs or materials are required, it is much easier for brands and influencers to collaborate on projects.
By gifting virtual dresses instead of physical ones, there are several benefits to all sides:
- Digital fashion brands don’t have to pay for shipping or materials as everything is done digitally;
- For consumers, there is no waste as garments are not shipped around the world;
- For influencers, it means more money from brands because they won’t have to spend so much time photographing themselves in outfits that they only wear once or twice.
However, the metaverse is still in its infancy in marketing, with many brands still trying to figure out what works best and how they should approach it. In many cases, this means creating content that showcases their products in a new way.
In addition, although influencer marketing is a powerful way to advertise a product or service, it has yet to be perfected. The problem with influencer marketing is the question of authenticity. How can we trust a recommendation from an influencer who hasn't seen, touched, or worn an item of clothing? If digital fashion is here to stay, marketers may need to find a way for influencers to work with the digital fashion industry.
Korean twins Qjin and Qwon Han of Instagram account @q2han have over 200k followers and were some of the global social media personalities to be gifted digital items from the Farfetch pre-order launch and styled by DressX.
Last year digital fashion platform DressX worked with Farfetch to digitise the garments with 3D creator Threedium, including accessories and several men's and women's items from the pre-order collections.
Natalia Modenova, a co-founder of DressX, says each 3D render can be created in various ways. As a "best-case" scenario, digital files and patterns are ideal, but photographs or scans can also be used. First, the DressX team digitally tailored each influencer's chosen look using multiple images that influencers provided. Next, influencers were given guidelines on taking pictures and poses for digital dressing. After that, Farfetch, DressX, and the influencer reviewed the images and made any necessary changes.
The result is a unique digital garment that resembles each influencer wearing a piece from the collection; it is an excellent way for Farfetch to get its message across engagingly while helping them reach new audiences with its content strategy.
Here is a picture showing the results of the collab between influencers Qwon & Qjin with DressX and Farfetch (more examples are available here)
Digital Fashion and Sustainability
The digital fashion house The Fabricant from Amsterdam, which I mentioned before, has mainly focused on making the fashion industry more sustainable by combining technology and fashion. Colossal production and waste have been some of the biggest sustainability concerns in the current fashion industry. Last year, The Fabricant sold a $9,500 "diaphanous" virtual dress to Quantstamp CEO Richard Ma. It attracted media attention because it focused on the environmental problem derived from the actions of the traditional fashion industry.
Digital fashion trends in sustainability have been as revolutionary as their physical counterpart. DressX claims that digital fashion uses 97% less carbon than physical garments in its production. For example, the team compared the carbon footprint of a basic T-shirt (6.5 kilograms) with a digital version (250 grams). There is a significant difference between digital and physical tops, even though most companies and experts estimate cotton t-shirts emit more than 2 kilograms of CO2.
“An average garment has a carbon footprint of 10 kilograms, which is quite a lot," says Alex de Vries, founder of Digiconomist. Digiconomist is a website that provides insights into the unintended consequences of digital trends, such as the environmental impact of tech trends. On the other hand, creating a digital dress only requires a computer and a computer to run it. Hence, the overall result will probably be energy savings.
In summary, digital fashion could reduce the production of garments and help us make better choices when shopping. Consumerism increases every year as more and more people buy products that they do not need. Therefore, digital fashion could reduce the production of garments. This will make people think twice before purchasing a specific clothing item, which would positively impact the environment.
Digital Fashion Use Cases
Digital fashion is being used for a variety of purposes. Some of these uses I mention below include digital fashion trends that have already been implemented today. In contrast, others represent potential uses of what could be digital fashion in real-life scenarios.
The following are some of the most common use cases:
1. Game development
Game developers use digital fashion to create interactive 3D games and apps. The gaming industry is capitalizing on this growing appetite for fashion by collaborating with designers and celebrities to develop exclusive virtual outfits. The Fortnite gaming platform, for instance, was the first to bring high-fashion gaming together in 2021. As part of the Rift Tour, released in August 2021, gamers had the opportunity to play as Ariana Grande herself, dressing up in digital mini dresses and her signature high ponytail.
Digital fashion can be used to create a uniform style for your employees in an easy way. It can be used as a guide for employees' clothing preferences, color choices, styles, etc., or also allows them to choose an outfit that suits their personality and style preferences.
Another use case for digital fashion involves virtual work meetings where employees may have to pitch ideas or give virtual presentations in front of their clients or managers. This way, you will look well dressed and professional on-screen even if you are wearing your pajamas!
Digital fashion can be used in educational institutions as well. For instance, fashion students can learn about different clothing styles by using virtual reality headsets or tablets. This will help them understand how different types of clothes fit on different body types, which they might not have been able to experience before without having other models around them all the time.
This is a broad term, but it ranges from new ways for users to interact with each other online through immersive experiences like shopping online or having virtual meetings with friends to users in movie sets, TV shows/series, etc., to help create more realistic characters and scenes. Fashion shows are also included in this category since they are viewed through virtual reality headsets or mobile devices.
What Does the Future Hold for Digital Fashion?
Digital fashion companies face many challenges, and this will only increase. However, the future looks positive, as there will be more growth opportunities, and these companies need to be able to adapt to cause a positive impact on society.
One of the main challenges is that the fashion industry is notoriously elitist. It has always been a business for the rich and famous, but with the introduction of virtual fashion, this reality might change.
Fashion could unintentionally benefit from the metaverse by providing endless possibilities. Digital fashion, for instance, allows widespread access to designer brands. Also, online fashion shows give unprecedented public access to them.
Thus, virtual fashion may be a perfect solution to the elitist nature of the fashion industry. Moreover, it aligns with the current wave of inclusion in mainstream political discourse in many western countries. Everyone needs to have equal access to everything, including fashion.
This is precisely what the company I have discussed before, DressX, has been doing. This company is the largest retailer in the world of digital fashion today. It was founded two years ago by Natalia Modenova and Daria Shapolapova and is based in Los Angeles, California. They offer various garments for different occasions, from casual to more elegant and Avant-gard options.
In their catalog, they offer many options for all budgets. From casual everyday options, prices range from $1 to $100 to exclusive fashion brand collaborations with Balenciaga and other world-renowned luxury brands, where garments are available from $2,000.
DressX has also partnered with brilliant content creators like Marina Mogilko of Linguamarina to reach a mainstream audience that is approached to use digital fashion.
One of the main aspects to be taken into account is that Millennials and Gen Zers are changing it, as they are considered digital natives and are contributing to the growth of the digital fashion industry. Millennials and Gen Zers have grown up with social media platforms like Instagram and Snapchat and understand how they work better than older generations. As in many other industries, these two generations drive innovation in retail, especially in digital fashion.
Still, the metaverse will change the digital fashion industry, placing the most relevant digital fashion startups and designers at the forefront of the new generation. And as the metaverse evolves, it won't be long before everyone wears virtual clothing.
Suppose we combine the buying power of millennials with the capabilities of ever-advancing technology. In that case, it will lead to virtual retailing where individualized styles that can be tailored to fit anyone will be in demand. When this happens, an entirely new industry will have been created — and Gen Alpha will likely be the first adopters.
In addition, the digital fashion and clothing market has seen widespread adoption of blockchain technology. Many brands are still stuck in the Web 2 world, but those that started moving into Web 3 early on have reaped huge rewards.
Thanks to NFTs, fashion designers can now verify the original owner of their clothing designs and receive payment for each sale.
As an example of this approach to blockchain technology, we have luxury fashion brand Karl Lagerfeld which launched its first NFT collectible in late 2021 on The Dematerialized, a luxury e-commerce platform. The NFTs represented digital figurines to commemorate the late designer and, simultaneously, showed the importance that prestigious brands are giving to blockchain moving forward.
Last June, Burberry announced it would partner with Mythical Games to launch a new NFT collection in the brand's flagship title, Blankos Block Party. As part of the collaboration, Burberry is opening up new spaces for its communities by creating a tailored social space within the game where entertainment and fashion go hand in hand.
Digital Fashion as a Tool for Identity, Self-Expression, and Interoperability
The first use case of digital fashion is to allow people to express themselves through their clothing. For example, if you want to wear a scarf that says "I love my dog" but is sold out at stores, you can order it online from your favorite brand or designer and customize it with the words you want. Likewise, if you wear a shirt that says "Keep Calm and Carry On" but do not like the colors available on Amazon or other platforms, you can customize it by changing the colors until you find something that works for you.
People generally look for new ways to express their identity realistically. New generations are demanding that virtual spaces be more inclusive and embrace options for different types of races, ethnicities, ages, sizes, gender identities, etc., that are often very limited in real life.
The key benefit of digital fashion is that it gives users more control over their online presence than ever before, as digital fashion platforms offer users multiple ways of self-expression, even more than the physical world has to offer. For example, they allow them to create an outfit using different combinations of colors, patterns, shapes, and textures. This enables users to express their style while creating new trends that other users will follow.
Despite these significant advances, the industry has been trying to figure out how to solve problems like interoperability, scalability, and privacy.
Digital fashion is also changing the way we think about clothes. People are no longer buying a particular item of clothing; they are buying an experience or an emotion they like. So, for example, when someone buys a pair of shoes from Nike or Adidas, they are not just buying shoes but also a lifestyle and aspiration that comes with it.
For example, last year, Adidas purchased a Bored Ape, kicking off a partnership with some of the most well-known personalities in the NFT world. Their Bored Ape was dressed in Adidas clothing to position the brand at the forefront of creativity. Adidas made these digital clothes available as NFTs, offering owners the physical equivalent to match their digital items. Moreover, Adidas announced their digital headquarter in The Sandbox and a partnership with Coinbase, where they will sell their digital sportswear as NFTs. Their campaign is called Into the Metaverse. By combining a variety of touchpoints, the brand has garnered a lot of media attention and positioned the brand as a thought leader and innovator.
An important aspect of digital fashion interoperability because it allows users to move between platforms without changing their looks quickly. This is similar to crypto or NFT in a wallet—if you own the token or crypto, you can transfer it from one wallet to another without requiring further action.
Imagine if a player's digital identity could travel seamlessly from one game to another. Imagine if they could bring their avatar—their Fortnite character or Pokémon Trainer persona, for instance—into Grand Theft Auto or Red Dead Redemption 2.
Although true interoperability will be a while, progress is being made. In 2020, the DIGITALAX Digital Fashion Operating System (D-DFOS) was introduced to enable seamless digital fashion self-expression across different gaming and virtual reality environments. This system allows you to move your digital avatar to other virtual spaces quickly and safely, keeping your identity and including your way of dressing.
In summary, digital fashion is an emerging technology that allows new digital clothing brands to integrate their services with existing ones. It opens the market and lets new players enter without reinventing the wheel. It also helps small companies grow faster by allowing them access to larger audiences.
This will allow users to own their data and use it as they please. In other words, blockchain asset ownership and virtual identity management are essential aspects of digital fashion that are expected to create new revenue streams and boost the expansion of the digital clothing industry.
Digital fashion is no longer limited to the realms of sci-fi. With all the developments in this relatively new field, it's only a matter of time before digital fashion becomes a part of our everyday lives. This dream will become a reality as virtual and augmented reality continue advancing in the coming years. Overall, I believe that there are many benefits to be gained from digital fashion, both short-term and long-term. In addition, it will open new markets and frontiers worldwide for fashionable people and companies.
So, while we may not all be walking fashion runways any time soon, the trend toward high-tech fashion seems inevitable at this point.
Cover image: The Fabricant