The 2021 art NFT boom put digital art and NFTs on the mainstream map. Virtual fashion also had its day, with Dolce & Gabbana selling a 9-piece virtual/physical collection for $6M in October 2021.
Although the initial NFT bubble burst, people still spend cold, hard cash on clothing they can’t touch or wear in the real world. Virtual fashion is also gaining traction as a cost-saving fashion production tool and a new digital asset type. Let’s take a closer look.
What is Virtual Fashion
Virtual fashion is a category of digital clothing and accessories designers and brands created to showcase in virtual environments. Consumers buy virtual fashion items for their avatars and collections exclusively in virtual environments such as the metaverse.
Unlike physical fashion, virtual fashion exists solely in the digital realm. The significance of virtual fashion lies in its potential for brand expansion at lower cost, stand-alone NFT sales, and digital twinning of real-world items.
Vogue Business is an essential resource for anyone interested in following the business side of virtual fashion.
Web3 and the Fashion Industry
Web3 technologies are the foundational building blocks for virtual fashion. Blockchain and virtual reality are paving the way for virtual fashion’s integration into the traditional fashion industry – or perhaps the other way around!
With its decentralized and transparent nature, blockchain provides a secure platform for the ownership, verification, and trade of digital assets, including virtual fashion items. Virtual reality allows users to immerse themselves in virtual environments, enhancing the experience of wearing and showcasing virtual fashion.
NFTs and Virtual Fashion
NFTs are tokens, or code snippets, written and stored on the blockchain that identify unique objects. Fashion NFTs are an interesting new digital art form, blurring the lines between art, fashion, and technology. Fashion designers have long since called themselves artists, so when art NFTs gained popularity, it was only natural that fashion would soon follow.
Creators and designers can use NFTs to tokenize and authenticate virtual fashion items, adding rarity details that create scarcity and drive value for collectors. Like the real world, designers and creators can monetize their digital collections, and consumers can purchase and flaunt exclusive virtual fashion pieces.
Benefits of Web3 and Virtual Fashion
The integration of Web3 technologies and virtual fashion presents numerous benefits for the fashion industry and society as a whole. While people will always want and need real clothes, the more commonplace virtual environments become, the more people will also want virtual clothes. And don’t overlook that virtual fashion can reduce the industry’s environmental impact by allowing companies to expand their brand value via digital assets instead of real clothing and accessories.
Digital garments and accessories don’t need manufacturing or transportation, which can result in reduced carbon emissions and waste. When you consider how much waste is involved in developing prototype pieces that don’t hit the way the designer intends, you’ll understand how significantly this can impact the fashion industry’s environmental footprint.
For example, a digital version of a garment can approximate the real thing through the designing, sampling, marketing, and pre-selling stages. Replacing physical samples with digital ones during the design and production processes could result in a 30% reduction in a fashion brand’s carbon footprint.
Luxury Brands Lead in Virtual Fashion
Like in the real world, high-end brands tend to set artistic trends that later filter down to the mainstream. Virtual fashion is no exception. High-end designers who release virtual designs will also influence the fashion trends of the real world.
The renowned luxury fashion brand Gucci has collaborated with various virtual platforms, including Roblox and Genies, to create digital fashion items and virtual user experiences. Concepts from virtual fashion are trickling down from metaverse designs into the real world.
Adidas upped the ante on user generated content in April 2022 by launching an avatar generator. Fans take a personality test and the 3D avatar generator platform Ready Player Me creates an alter ego avatar. Fans use their avatars to try on shoes, explore virtual worlds, and generate stickers and GIFs. The virtual campaign ties into real world sales as part of Spring/Summer 2022 Ozworld collection release.
Louis Vuitton was an early adopter, cultivating a virtual brand dimension as early as 2015. Iconic Italian fashion brand Prada is expanding its metaverse presence by collaborating with high-profile brands like Adidas and Riders Republic.
Other luxury brands active in the metaverse include:
Not too long ago, finding the best fashion trends had a specific path, but with technology at our fingertips, we no longer need to attend fashion shows in Milan. Luxury brands use virtual fashion to extend their brands to wider audiences and experiment with lower-cost, branded virtual offerings.
Sustainable Brands Align with Virtual Fashion
Due to the low environmental impact relative to traditional fashion manufacturing and distribution, virtual fashion is especially aligned with sustainable fashion brands. The brands must be careful to choose metaverse partners that prioritize sustainability. Wunderman Thompson creative agency reports that 71% of people familiar with the metaverse say brands need to consider the environmental impact of the metaverse.
Brands that prioritize ethical and eco-friendly practices can reach a global audience without the environmental impact of physical manufacturing. They can also use digital fashion to highlight and educate consumers about the sustainability aspects of their real-world supply chain.
Stella McCartney is a well-known sustainable fashion brand that collaborated with Roblox’s metaverse platform as early as September 2021 to create virtual versions of their eco-friendly designs.
One caveat for sustainable brands – because the virtual fashion experience currently involves expensive hardware and significant electricity requirements, non-luxury brands should be careful about elitist overtones of virtual fashion as the space matures.
Virtual Fashion Fosters Creative Inclusion
Virtual fashion can also overcome barriers to access and representation in the fashion industry. Manufacturing and promoting a clothing or accessory line in the traditional fashion industry is expensive and complicated.
In the virtual space, anyone can participate and showcase their unique style, regardless of their background. This space inevitably creates a more inclusive and diverse fashion experience. We will likely see real-world fashion brands grow from the following that designers build in the metaverse.
Challenges in Virtual Fashion
One of the main barriers to adopting virtual fashion is the high technology demands and costs that limit the accessibility of virtual fashion experiences. Because virtual fashion is a part of the immersive VR experience, accessing it can be expensive. Users need high-speed internet, powerful hardware, and virtual reality devices.
Secondly, although virtual fashion doesn’t require energy-intensive traditional manufacturing and transportation, the fully immersive metaverse experience is still in the early stages, with its own significant carbon footprint relative to established computing processes.
Intellectual property rights and copyright challenges are also evolving in the digital realm. Protecting designers’ original creations becomes a crucial issue with the ease of replicating digital assets. Just as there are regulations regarding “knock-off” designer bags, for example, there will need to be a way to monitor that in the virtual world.
As with the metaverse in general, mainstream consumer adoption of virtual fashion will take time. Convincing consumers to embrace digital garments as a viable alternative to physical fashion is a marketing and perception challenge. Building trust and showcasing the unique advantages of virtual fashion will be crucial to scaling adoption.
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The above is for general info purposes only and should not be interpreted as professional advice. Please seek independent legal, financial, tax, or other advice specific to your particular situation.