Why Digital Fashion Has Utility, Actually.
What's the deal with wearing digital assets?
My sisters and I loved playing the Sims, growing up.
Every day after school, we would rush to my dad’s in-house library, power up the desktop computer and live out our best simulated lives. (To this day, my architect-sister, who still plays this game, claims it’s a way for her to express her architectural and interior design prowess. Yeah, sure).
I’ve since seen its evolution, from a barely-2D creation to fully decked-out 3D animations. But one of the most remarkable upgrades was when we finally had the option to dress our characters. It was like suddenly being dropped into an infinite world of possibilities, one that we frankly wouldn't have otherwise realised we wanted.
This fond childhood memory was the first thing that came to mind when I came across the concept of digital fashion, particularly as NFTs.
But if you’re anything like me, this idea of wearable digital assets is absurd at an immediate glance.
I mean, New York and Paris Fashion Week I know but the metaverse fashion week, that recently passed by?
Why would anyone want to buy virtual pieces of clothing? What use cases could possibly exist? But also, how would this even work practically?
What I found was quite revealing.
So, what’s the deal with digital fashion?
Digital fashion is virtual 3D fashion that’s designed for humans and digital personas.
Think of it this way:
Digital fashion is what happens when the fashion industry meets our virtual identities, with use cases ranging from virtual try-on of outfits to direct clothing purchases for online avatars.
According to Dani Loftus, founder & CEO of Pronounced Drop (a digital fashion platform), these can be categorised into three:
IRL (in real life): Virtually-created clothing that also has a physical version. Sometimes, its physical counterpart is delayed to first ensure there’s even a demand.
ORL (on real life): Virtually-created clothing worn on physical people. How? It’s like a highly advanced form of Photoshop. Using this sophisticated technology, consumers upload their photos and the desired digital outfit is customised to their body such that it moves seamlessly, even in video format.
URL (un-real life): Virtually-created clothing for virtual people a.k.a avatars.
Perhaps the utility of the first two is immediately apparent: a significant reduction in clothing waste, which is currently estimated at a staggering 92 million tons of textile waste every year. In addition, every season, over 30% of clothes produced end up not getting bought.
But what about the third category? What does this really do?
And perhaps equally more pressing…
Who asked for this?
Because, literally, who is this even for?
The dominant current use case is in the gaming industry. Believe it or not, this is a huge market currently valued at $178 billion as of 2021 and estimated to climb to $268.8 billion by 2025. It’s said to be a larger industry than the movie and music industries combined.
For those familiar with Roblox or Fortnite, gaming skins are integral to the gaming experience. To the uninitiated, this might be a difficult concept to grasp but unique identification matters to avid gamers. But beyond a fashion statement, these skins also double as an investment, useful in trading with other items, such as extra lives or virtual weapons.
However, digital fashion isn't just for gamers or digital content creators.
There are also costume departments in the movie industry that might find this useful. Imagine a House of The Dragon filming that doesn’t require a ridiculous amount of waste in the wardrobe department.
But also, because a digitally made outfit defies the natural laws of physics, it encourages designers to push the limits of their creativity. Silk can suddenly stand upright and cotton can bend in unfamiliar ways.
There’s no denying this could also attract the most ardent fashion (and art) enthusiasts, thereby creating a new market for visionary creatives to make a living.
What about Africa?
The digital fashion industry might be relatively new but it’s already making waves globally.
Whether it’s BNV (that focuses on fashion in the metaverse) or Fashion League (that takes on a unique approach by primarily catering to a female audience).
But where is Africa, in this? While this is certainly not our current priority, should it even be a concern in a continent with low internet penetration (to say the least)?
Idiat Shole, an independent 3D fashion designer, seems to think so and certainly didn’t let herself be deterred. She created her brand HADEEART, incorporating afro-futurism into her pieces, and has gone on to work with clients such as Decentraland (gaming) and Spatial (fashion).
There’s also Astra, a predominantly-Nigerian owned tech company, that describes itself as “a first-of-its-kind Metaverse Experience, showcasing a new way to shop and play in virtual reality.”
Perhaps Africa will not be left behind, after all.
“Don’t judge a book by its cover.”
Yet we do this every day; it’s an inherent psychological bias.
And in a world that’s become increasingly digitalised, it won’t be any different. It matters whether it’s finding love, ordering a meal or employers tracing the digital footprints of would-be employees. I, for one, feel somewhat safer with an online purchase when I can see the vendor has an online presence (and no, not the vanity metrics like the number of followers).
Does this mean there’s a need to clean up our digital personas and literally “dress the part”?
Perhaps this could become huge in the nearer-than-we-think future. After all, who could have foreseen how important making random YouTube videos 8-10 years ago would become a cultural phenomenon today, creating a wide range of unique job opportunities?
A common thread I’ve noticed about NFTs is they’re not trying to reinvent the wheel, not really. The goal isn’t necessarily to push one out to solely make way for the other. After all, we will continue to exist in the real world.
What makes the difference is the underlying blockchain technology, which only seems to facilitate and improve on what we’ve always done: be it art, gaming, fashion etc. But even if this change is marginal, it’s evolution nonetheless. Because shouldn't every new generation seek and attempt to improve for the upcoming one?
"In the same way that retailers need a brick-and-mortar or ecommerce store (Web 1.0) and a social media page (Web 2.0), they should have a metaverse presence (Web 3.0).” — Nico Fara, founder of Chief Metaverse Officer
I’m not fully convinced because a) I can hardly justify buying new physical clothes for myself as it is b) I barely keep up with the non-virtual fashion industry c) I’m not big on games or social media.
But it would be interesting to see how this all plays out.
Perhaps the use case will take on a new life of its own, looking totally different from what it is today.
It appears the NFT hype seems to have died out with the concurrent bear market. But perhaps that’s a good thing.
Because now, will the real (and truly persuaded) disruptors please stand up?