The concept of ‘Digital Fashion’ was dismissed as a far-fetched bizarre concept until late 2017 as it endorses clothing made out of ‘pixels’ instead of ‘textiles’ using 3D software… Four years later, it is on everybody’s mind as the concept has gained massive momentum in 2021 – all thanks to worldwide restrictions that are keeping people physically separated – because it has been able to fetch investment from the fashion industry stakeholders in the quest for tapping early opportunities in the virtual clothing industry. What’s even noteworthy is the acceptance of tech-savvy consumers for digital fashion that emerged originally from gaming sector and is now pushing its own boundaries to expand its horizon.
Companies like Tafi, ART Labs, The Diigitals and Frontier among many are helping brands go digital in their endeavours and give end-customer a rich experience into the digital world. Tafi – a US-based company making digital avatars for brands, recently partnered with Coca Cola for its futuristic take on the classic delivery uniform and Champion – a famous fashion brand – for limited edition Champion NFTs. These exclusive Champion items bring cutting edge technology and impressive art to a worldwide audience, and the wide variety of Champion assets take a user’s digital game to a whole new level.
Turkey-based fashion technology start-up ART Labs has also delved into the fashion metaverse and its Co-Founder Ugur Yekta Basak told Apparel Resources (AR) in a recent interview that ART Labs makes 3D modeling for brands so easy with a no-code/no-developer solution and can convert their physical products or existing design files into interactive AR experiences within minutes. “We scan your physical products anywhere in the world with our automated digitisation rig to generate 100 per cent accurate, hyper-realistic 3D and AR visualisations. Your ready-to-use visuals are imported into the content management system instantly. The quality is assured with our AI-powered software, so you can distribute and publish your assets on all platforms without any friction,” informed Ugur.
A UK-based virtual modelling agency and technology firm The Diigitals has been behind some of the most innovative 3D fashion campaigns lately. The company is utilising the rising accessibility of new technologies and taking the first steps into a new frontier of digital exploration. Within a collaborative hub, The Diigitals demonstrates the potential of 3D fashion modelling and showcases its applications for innovative brands.
Acting as both a showroom to illustrate possibilities and a gallery where a portfolio of diverse digital identities can be appreciated, The Diigitals erases the boundaries between reality and the digital. The most talked about digital creation of The Diigitals is ‘Shudu’, that has been a muse who’s inspiring a new generation of artists. Shudu was made public in April 2017 on Instagram and it quickly attracted thousands of followers who wanted to know more about her identity. Initially believed to be a real human, it became apparent after some time that it’s just a digital creation! This is how The Diigitals is filling the gap between virtual and real world.
‘Digital-only’ fashion houses leaving no stone unturned to keep the momentum rolling…
Physical fashion brands have forayed into digital fashion only because there were already fashion houses that took pride in saying that they laid foundation of clothing that’s now going digital… In real life, the consumers are using actual garments in their daily use, however with the advent of sustainability at the end-consumers front, their wardrobes have gone minimalistic. On the other hand, a shopper’s digital self is becoming more expressive on social media and in gaming industry with virtual clothing items which they never wear in real. Some prominent digital fashion houses are capitalising on this evolving consumer preference…Not just capitalising, they are actually being trendsetters in the segment of virtual wardrobe.
Founded in 2018, the Dutch company The Fabricant holds reputation of being one of the first companies in digital fashion segment and proudly credits itself for defining the different aspects of digital fashion. In 2019, the world’s first digital couture dress ‘Iridescence’ was sold on the Ethereum blockchain by The Fabricant for US $ 9,500 and made the headlines.
The community of creators at The Fabricant combines 3D fashion design, cutting-edge visual effects animation and technology to build the future of fashion. The bespoke virtual garments only exist digitally and the avatars can wear these items on social media platforms, in gaming environments, and in virtual worlds – called Metaverse.
The Fabricant uses the term ‘Thought Couture’ to describe its digital pieces to enable people to comprehend the concept of non-physicality. It’s couture that exists beyond the physical, just like a thought. According to Michaela Larosse, Head of Content, The Fabricant, the thoughts exist even though they don’t take physical form, so it’s that idea translated to fashion.
Even large retailers with physical garment products are benefiting from digital fashion without changing their product offerings. And once such brand is PUMA that partnered with The Fabricant to create a capsule collection, ‘Day Zero’, which had a low environmental impact. For this campaign, PUMA created a digital proof of concept that eliminated the need for sampling, handling, traveling, and other logistics. Once the proof of concept was perfected, they produced and sold the physical product.
Carlings – a Scandinavian digital retailer – launched the world’s first digital-only clothing collection back in 2018 when each of its 19 pieces were sold for over £9. The brand utilized the power of Instagram that connected it with millennial and Gen-Z customers. Carlings created a ‘Digital Line of Clothes’ on Instagram which is actually never worn by users physically. To create digital clothes collection, Carlings uses AR technology where the customers would provide Carlings with a photo, and a team of 3D designers would edit the digital outfit onto the client. The success of their first digital collection encouraged Carlings to experiment further.
In 2019, they created the first augmented reality graphic tee dubbed the “Last Statement T-Shirt”. This top uses Spark AR technology and a smartphone to digitally change the shirt’s graphic design. When paired with custom Instagram and Facebook filters, the shirt’s design seamlessly changes. Their website claims the consumers can display dozens of messages or designs “without ever having to buy another t-shirt”.
Another name that’s made strong footprints in virtual fashion space in 2021 is DRESSX that believes in ‘don’t shop less, shop digital fashion’ mantra, DRESSX is one of the largest digital fashion stores that carries 3D clothing collections from most well-known contemporary brands born in the physical world and in the digital space. At a current stage of DRESSX development, the creators of the company aim to show that some clothes can exist only in their digital versions.
On DRESSX platform – DRESSX DISCOVERSE, the consumers can shop for products such as accessories, bottoms, tops, suits, shoes, bodywear among the especially designed exclusively collection that are meant to use digitally only. Apart from this, the company, only recently, partnered with the fashion game-app MOD4 to blur the line between physical and digital shopping experiences. By bringing purely digital designs into the virtual styling app, MOD4 and DRESSX create a new type of an interactive fashion game, enabling users to dress up their avatars in 3D garments in MOD4 and take the clothes beyond the game by dressing their own images in the same digital garments via DRESSX.
Mainline retailers also cash opportunities in Digital Fashion…
A segment that’s fast approaching a market value of a whopping US $ 50 billion has been penetrated by fashion’s stalwarts. There are renowned designers and traditional fashion brands – luxury, premium and fast fashion – that keep coming up with their digital fashion product lines such as Burberry, Balenciaga, Ralph Lauren, Tommy Hilfiger, Karl Lagerfeld etc., and make a quantum leap from physical clothing to virtual space…Some brands are focusing on discovery as their products open up the fashion world to new digital channels and games that are there to tempt a younger consumer, while some are launching their digital collections, such as Ralph Lauren, to let users have a holiday-themed experience in virtual world and make purchases through virtual Polo Shops, where users can style their avatar.
Nike acquiring RTFKT Studios in December 2021 and H&M’s store in metaverse highlights the growing hunger to enter the market, yet as successful as all these launches and developments were, it is important that fashion brands first understand going digital in fashion is different as the other industries are more accustomed to selling digital goods. This is mainly because traditional fashion brands, famously rigid in digital adoption, have always believed to be finding it hard to let go of physicality. Consequently, those observing this space are usually wondering, what are NFTs that’s being talked about in context of digital fashion, why is everyone rushing to cash in, and what do they mean for an industry that has remained resolutely physical for so long?