“The Wardrobe of the Metaverse”: Digital Clothing Could Be the Future of the Fashion Industry


When Simon Graff, 35, wakes up in the morning, he has the choice between two wardrobes: his closet or his phone.

From burning shoes to a gold hoodie, Graff has been shopping for digital clothing since September 2020. But what does that actually mean?

Use websites such as DressX, he purchases a 3D file of any available item – say a T-shirt – and simultaneously uploads a pre-taken photo of himself posing in a way that would flatter the T-shirt. From there, the photo will be professionally edited and sent a few days later with the top he bought being worn over his body. If he is not happy with how he looks, he can tell the photo editor and other changes can be made.

Then, on his social media, Graff starts sharing a photo of himself wearing the shirt he never really wears.

While it might sound like something straight out of a dystopian British TV show, Black mirror, virtual fashion is real and existed before it started appearing on social media. Matthew Drinkwater, director of the Fashion Innovation Agency at the London College of Fashion, highlighted how the video game industry has made millions selling digital items that gamers can dress up their avatars in.

“The gaming industry is the perfect example of how people pay real money for digital clothing,” Drinkwater said. Fortnite fans in particular are known to spend over $ 50 million collectively on a set of character skins, so it’s not entirely weird to imagine that translating easily into one’s own digital personality. Drinkwater added that this is particularly relevant to people who have spent more time online in the past year due to the pandemic.

“You have all these strengths of technology improving, people spending more time in virtual spaces, becoming more comfortable conversing about digital experiences,” he said. These things “got us to a point where people started spending really big bucks on digital products.”

The first digital-only dress, “Iridescence,” designed by Amsterdam-based virtual fashion house The Manufacturer, sold for $ 9,500 in May 2019 at a charity auction in New York City. It is now clear that there is potential for companies and designers to make a lot of money with the concept. It also allows smaller 3D designers to have their work purchased on a much larger scale.

Pepe Castelo, digital commerce coordinator for The Manufacturer, said one of the main goals of digitizing the fashion world is to make it as fair as possible.

“We don’t want one person to have control over everything,” Castelo said. “We know there’s going to be one, two or three big players to build it… and we want to make sure it’s democratic.”

He added that The Manufacturer has posted “frops” – short for “free file drops” – on the company’s website to encourage newcomers to try their products for free.

“We engage a lot with the community. We want to work with them on how to use the files (and) the different software, ”he said. “We really believe in co-creation and we are convinced that this place must be built. We call it the Metaverse Wardrobe.

Despite the price of Iridescence, some models on DressX cost as little as US $ 20 each. However, buyers can only have products edited one photo at a time. If they want to wear the coin in several different photos, they will have to pay for each one.

If buying direct from The Manufacturer rather than through DressX, consumers will need to figure out how to edit the file on their own photos. This is one of the many “downsides” people discuss online, including the general loathing of becoming too obsessed with being on social media.

The manufacturers Iridescence dress sold in May 2019 to Richard Ma for US $ 9,500. He returned the product in photos of his wife Mary, calling it “an investment”. (Photo © Julien Boudet on the manufacturer)

“All I have to say is I don’t exist online, but in real life,“said a Reddit user on a digital fashion discussion forum. Others wonder if the people behind digital fashion are trying to replace physical products.

While the concept isn’t for everyone, it’s “totally fine,” Drinkwater said. He added that the objective is not to replace “real” clothes, but to offer an alternative since the industry “already produces too much (a lot) of physical products for consumption”.

Graff pointed out that not only can this be an alternative for people who wish to avoid filling their closets with clothes that they will only wear for an Instagram photo anyway, but it is also an opportunity for “creators ( de) unleash their creativity to create a fashion that goes beyond all limits.

“Virtual fashion is an incredible option for expressing individuality, without creating a negative impact on the environment,” said Graff. “(This is) a relatively long-lasting subject and quite relevant to the times, I think.”

DressX claims the same, say on his site that the company “creates the clothes of the future that eliminate waste and chemicals during production and minimize the carbon footprint.” According to DressX, producing a digital garment emits 97% less CO2 than producing a physical garment. While materials such as polyester can take up to 200 years to decompose, getting rid of a digital file is as easy as clicking ‘delete’.

With the world becoming more digital than ever, Graff, who has been working in immersive media and tech since 2014, said he expected to see more virtual clothes appear on social media feeds in the future.

“I honestly think virtual fashion will be disruptive at first, becoming a new standard for the fashion industry soon after, maybe even a strong industry (on its own),” Graff said. “It will be crucial for fashion brands to take this development seriously to be successful in the future. “

And some companies have already done so. High-end brands such as Gucci and Moschino have collaborated with video games like Roblox and The sims to give players access to designer clothing that they might not otherwise be able to afford in “real life”. According to Castelo, the future of virtual fashion will hopefully involve the ability to port digital purchases across multiple platforms.

“You would have the NFT of a T-shirt, you could take it in DressX and wear it in a photo, but you (also) could take it in Snapchat and wear it in AR (augmented reality). take it in any game and wear it (there), ”Castelo said.

An NFT is a non-fungible token, a one-time digital purchase generally collected by those familiar with cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin.

While it’s far into the future, Drinkwater said he expects one day we can see digital fashion right in front of us, in real time.

“I could hold a device, whether it was a phone, a pair of glasses… I could look around and see people wearing digital items,” Drinkwater said. “I think until about 18 months ago people still thought it was a bit of a stretch, but the advent of cryptocurrency-backed NFTs has become a demonstrator for people who pay money. very expensive money for digital products. “

Graff agreed, saying the emergence of new technologies, like AR smart glasses, will make “the daily digital expression of our looks and individuality a new standard.

“It will take a while,” Graff said, “but I think on closer inspection a lot of these behaviors are already expressed on social media in the form of filters and edited images.”

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