Over the last two years, the fashion industry suffered due to store closures, work from home, and limited movement of workers and consumers, leading to a sharp drop in fashion consumption. This circumstance pushed fashion businesses and brands to switch to digital channels to sustain their brand. These brands have realized that as we progress into the future, there will be an increased dependency on digitization. Hence acquiring futuristic technologies has become a top priority.
Presently, the digitization of the fashion industry and the adaptation of fashion in the digital era enable fashion brands and businesses to attract and connect with customers from all over the world. New adaptations of fashion to the metaverse have begun from the top of the pyramid. Luxury brands are presently tapping into what seems like the beginning of a digital revolution, creating digital garments solely for people’s virtual identities.
The metaverse exposes companies and fashion brands to seemingly limitless potential. It allows businesses and brands to have a borderless presence that transcends physical limitations, create brand awareness globally using digital means, and retail “phygital” clothes, all while providing convenience to their customers. Consumers, on the other hand, enjoy many benefits as well. They can try out clothes from digital world virtual stores using their avatars at their convenience, time, and place and maintain their ownership on the blockchain forever.
Interactive, creative digital spaces are a natural evolution of how people use technology, and they reflect the ever-growing amount of time consumers spend online. Gen Z spent an average of eight hours per day on screens in 2020.
Personal expression is important to Gen Z, and fashion is one of the top three categories on which Zers seek to splurge or treat themselves. Does that carry over into the digital realm?
It could. “There are more and more ‘second worlds’ where you can express yourself,” says Gucci chief marketing officer Robert Triefus. “[But] there is probably an underestimation of the value being attached to individuals who want to express themselves in a virtual world with a virtual product, [through] a virtual persona.”
His company made forays into the space with its Gucci Garden in the Roblox gaming metaverse—and saw 19 million visitors to it. Other fashion players are eyeing the $176 billion gaming industry, which attracts more than three billion players globally each year, especially given the appeal of engaging with and building communities in games and other virtual worlds.
Indeed, gaming is increasingly an extension of the real world, and with the pandemic supercharging participation, it has become a prime target for fashion brands. Ralph Lauren, for instance, partnered with South Korean social network app Zepeto to create a virtual fashion collection where users could dress their avatars in exclusive products or appearance-altering “skins.”
For some consumers, digital fashion is a natural extension of applying social media filters on platforms such as Instagram and Snapchat, says Simon Windsor, cofounder and joint managing director at Dimension Studio, an agency that worked with Balenciaga on its video game.
Artificial intelligence and augmented reality could open up opportunities for new business models that leverage virtual fashion. Technology that allows for 360-degree views has already been used to present seasonal collections through online showrooms, and avatars of models have walked 3-D virtual runways.
For the fashion world, NFTs can be used to authenticate products or serve as collectible pieces in their own right. And in the past year, there was a wave of engagement, particularly among luxury players and via the gaming universe. Louis Vuitton launched a video game with collectible NFTs, partially designed by Beeple, for its 200th anniversary.
On face value, digital apparel is just another source of revenue for luxury brands. Dolce & Gabbana's first NFT series, a nine-piece collection featuring dresses, crowns and a men's suit (more than half of which were simply digital versions of physical items), sold for a reported $5.7 million last year via the luxury marketplace UNXD.
With no shortage of marketing hype, there are indications that digital fashion assets can generate significant revenue streams. Still, monetization opportunities are likely to be contingent on the psychology of scarcity and limited editions driving NFT mania—together with the security of authentication and the potential for community building that they provide.
At a minimum, fashion’s foray into the metaverse suggests promising new routes for consumer engagement. And while no one can predict exactly how this rapidly growing digital universe will shape up, the opportunities it presents are exciting—for luxury brands, retailers, and consumers themselves.
Labels appear to have bought into the idea. In March, Dolce & Gabbana and Tommy Hilfiger were among several major names to participate in the first ever Metaverse Fashion Week, which saw them create elaborate experiential boutiques in the Decentraland metaverse. (Though the event was marred by technical difficulties and glitchy graphics, it demonstrated brands' willingness to take risks in an industry built on reputation.) Brands are also increasingly making garments that can be integrated into people's online lives, rather than simply replicating real-life garments as NFTs that sit in digital wallets to be sold at a later date.