Digital clothing: fashion's newest trend

Many high-fashion labels have launched branded digital skins for gaming avatars. But, beyond the hype, who's actually invested in these virtual collections, and what does the future hold?
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In early 2022, more than 60 brands took part in the first Metaverse Fashion Week, hosted by 3D virtual world platform Decentraland. Both well-known luxury brands – including high-fashion houses ETRO and Dolce & Gabbana – and digital-only designers took to the virtual runway. The idea behind the four-day event? To show people the business opportunity and creative potential of digital skins. 

So far, virtual fashion has mostly existed in the gaming arena. Gamers on platforms like Roblox can kit out their in-game avatars with clothing and accessories, which they've either designed themselves or purchased from another player. But, as more and more people begin to move onto the metaverse – whether to shop, work or socialize – digital avatars will become more common. It's already giving rise to digital-only fashion brands and designers, like The Fabricant.  

But there's still a long way to go before digital fashion is adopted en masse, and that's for two main reasons: the technology isn't quite ready for mass adoption, nor are enough people aware of how to use the tech in the first place. Most digital garments are minted as non-fungible tokens (NFTs), which means that people wanting to buy a piece of digital clothing need to own the appropriate cryptocurrency. That in itself requires basic knowledge of crypto wallets, as well as the financial awareness to take on the risk of investing in cryptocurrencies. 

Who's actually buying digital fashion?

Digital fashion has had a lot of attention in recent months and, according to Virtue, a creative agency that's part of media brand VICE, many believe that digital fashion could give independent designers and those from minority backgrounds an opportunity to break through in an otherwise hierarchical and exclusive industry. 

Virtue carried out a survey of 3,000 people in eight countries and found five primary reasons why people buy digital fashion: for its long-term investment potential, to feel a sense of belonging, to access a particular brand through ownership, to kit out a virtual avatar and, finally, to be able to create a sense of self in a virtual setting. Around two-thirds said that they'd be willing to pay the same price or more for a digital product as they would its physical twin. Shoes and sneakers are the most popular items, followed by jackets, shirts, sunglasses and jewelry. 

And who's making digital fashion?

Brands like The Fabricant, which specializes in digital-only fashion, are only one side of the coin. Physical fashion brands are also getting in on the action – take Cider, a fashion brand that temporarily launched a line of digital clothing on Decentraland earlier this year. And then there's Rastah, a Pakistani luxury fashion brand that's released a hybrid digital fashion collection, launching an NFT that's linked to a one-of-a-kind physical outfit.  

Like Rastah, CULT & RAIN is another brand counting on the rise of ‘phygital’ fashion. Built by a group of former fashion, technology and entertainment professionals, the premise behind CULT & RAIN is that each piece of digital clothing that the brand produces is linked to a physical garment that's made in luxury fashion factories in Italy. ‘The utility that we'd offer would be much more valuable than what the Web3 community has seen previously,’ says founder George Yang. The brand sold 1,400 NFTs in its first drop, which generated $2 million of revenue – and essentially funded its first production run of physical garments. 

According to George, the phygital model firstly acknowledges the huge wave of young people who invest time and money into their online personas and avatars – a trend that will only continue to grow as this generation becomes more financially independent. But, alongside that, each physical garment is also verified and authenticated since it's linked to the blockchain, which is why luxury fashion brands have been some of the first to jump on the train. 

‘We essentially landed on this model because we didn't have any money to launch the company, and we couldn't buy the luxury [physical] products in advance,’ George says. ‘The old model is that you need a lot of money to start a fashion company, especially for sample collections and manufacturing. By using digital assets, we could create a match for what the physical products might look like. So, we're a much easier brand for people who know and understand fashion in Web2, and want to know Web3. Between 5% and 10% of our customers are first-timers to Web3.’

This article was first published in Courier issue 48, August/September 2022. To purchase the issue or become a subscriber, head to our webshop.

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