Elizabeth Bowring defines the context for the explosion of Metaverse fashion.
Lizzy Bowring

(The featured image for this article was provided by AnamXR.)

Through the second half of 2022, The Digital Fashion Group will be authoring a series of exclusive articles for The Interline, designed to help brand and retail businesses make sense of the possibility space of Metaverse fashion. This first instalment, written by Elizabeth (“Lizzy”) Bowring, sets the scene – explaining why nonlinear acceleration of technology and cultural change has conspired to suddenly create the right conditions for entirely new ways of thinking about fashion.

With a career that has seen her as a Fashion Director at Nordstrom to Head of Catwalks at WGSN and a significant contributor to several editorial platforms, Lizzy is an international authority on runway shows and a forecaster of future trends. Her impressive knowledge of sartorial history and advanced design theory combines with a prescient vision that connects key trends in art, history, culture, catwalk, street style, and social influences.


In 2016, Tom Friedman author and New York Times columnist wrote in his book, The Ages of Acceleration:

“We’re in the middle of three nonlinear accelerations simultaneously, with the three largest forces on the planet……[…] We’re in the middle of a change in the climate, the climate of change in globalization, and the climate of change in technology.”

The key word there is “nonlinear”. In the six years since Friedman wrote those sentences, the changes brought about by technology, globalization, and upheaval in our global environment have not followed a safe, predictable path. Each of them has seen change compounded on top of change, and all of them have accelerated exponentially. And as Friedman added, “One of the hardest things for the human mind to grasp is the power of an exponential,” since the growth of this type tends to fly under the radar until it suddenly picks up remarkable pace and becomes impossible to ignore.

In the middle of that six-year period, we were also plunged into a pandemic that completely reshaped our lives. Even exponential growth would fail to account for the sheer, widespread disruption that the world faced. And the fashion industry responded by bringing forward strategic initiatives that brands and retailers previously assumed they had the luxury of time to address.

In October 2020 a McKinsey survey stated:

“In just a few months’ time, the COVID-19 crisis has brought about years of change in the way companies in all sectors and regions do business. According to a new McKinsey Global Survey of executives, their companies have accelerated the digitization of their customer and supply-chain interactions and of their internal operations by three to four years. And the share of digital or digitally enabled products in their portfolios has accelerated by a shocking seven years.”

For fashion, the ‘Age of Acceleration’ has arrived. The last 18 months have propelled the industry with a newfound velocity driven by a perfect storm of accelerated technology, growing sustainability challenges, and unprecedented societal behaviours.  

To remain relevant and successful in this new age, brands must now work out how to adapt, keep up with the pace of change, embrace the right parts of technology and, most importantly, become capable of separating the opportunities from the hype.

COURTESY OF BNV GROUP

There is, perhaps, no better example of the sheer speed with which technology-driven change has taken place during the disruption of the pandemic than the Metaverse and Web3 – both of which were commonly-used terms in small circles prior to COVID, but both of which leapt into the wider public consciousness incredibly quickly.

In that short span of time, these words have reshaped thought processes and made significant waves within the world’s biggest brands – and this is all before anyone can be said to have really grasped the implications of what these words actually mean.

Here we have a prime example of a combined technology and cultural shift.

Rather than viewing a diverse collection of sites and apps on the internet, the Metaverse aims to present an immersive, 3D environment where we can move from one social platform to another as easily as moving from one room to another. As the sequential numbering system suggests, this is widely considered to be the next evolutionary step for the internet. So it’s little wonder that fashion is looking for the possibility of a similar business model revolution to the leaps the world saw with the initial World Wide Web era, and then the introduction of Web2 (the so-called “social web”).

Building on the engagements that The Digital Fashion Group has had with brands and technology suppliers who are, together, attempting to make sense of the Metaverse and to bring these new business models to life, we have identified five key signals of opportunity:

  • Immersive and Experiential: As digital and physical technologies merge, it will be possible to inhabit entirely digital worlds and supplement physical experiences with new senses and synthetic tactility.
  • Marketing. The Metaverse presents a unique platform for marketing and merchandising a brand.
  • Foster Brand Loyalty: The Metaverse presents the opportunity to foster brand loyalty by providing a means for innovative, captivating, and creative marketing.
  • Co-Create: Share and co-create with platforms and identities proficient in creating physical and digital.
  • Empower Creativity: Embrace creativity by employing professionals with a multifaceted knowledge of the fashion industry, from the premise of garment construction to the History of Fashion; this will amplify your creative potential.

Let’s now dissect what each of these might mean for fashion’s share of the Metaverse in the near future.


Immersive and Experiential.

Brands must collaborate with tech platforms to facilitate next-generation experiences and products within the retail sector, simultaneously improving sustainability. By researching innovative choices, the Metaverse offers the possibility to re-imagine the experiences from retail ventures to creative culture and beyond, thereby creating the ultimate immersive experiences via exciting & engaging virtual storytelling.

A visualisation of why consistent, interoperable avatars will be vital to the adoption of metaverse fashion.
COURTESY OF BNV GROUP

Balenciaga is a perfect case study that embraces every component of the customer journey, including building brand loyalty. Their Afterworld game, incorporating the A/W 2022 collection, set a precedent, and it need not be all about gaming. Consider Afterworld to represent a scenario covering all aspects of a vertical Fashion business. The opening imagery introduces a model wearing pieces from the collection. From this point, the spectator is transported through the store, resplendent with a cascading waterfall in an uncluttered experiential space. Within this experience, the consumer can shop with a ‘like-image’ avatar to dress, finally being transported to the end of their journey – the physical product waiting at the close – the perfect combination of the physical and the digital.

Another interactive platform is TeamLab, a Japanese design studio that engages with interactive art and presents an all-encompassing experience for the participant. A suite of interconnected artworks takes audiences on an exploration of the ambiguity between living and nonliving states of being, and the relationship between humanity and the natural world “.

Marketing.

The Metaverse presents a unique platform for marketing and merchandising a brand. Suppose you want to capture a unique audience such as Gen Z and Gen Alpha. In that case, there is gaming – virtual worlds provide a way to increase engagement and affinity among younger consumers. They are an excellent example of where brands can market to consumers in an entirely new space. Here we find ourselves at the intersection of the physical and the digital; a whole new world of promoting digital assets can provide consumers with something they can own, whether art, the latest shoe, skin, beauty product, etc., at an irresistible lesser price. Creating these marketing experiences that tie in with real-world experiences is a perfect scenario.

Exploring real-time, interactive spaces like the one demonstrated here is one of the core tenets of Metaverse fashion.
COURTESY OF BNV GROUP

For example, the AB InBev’s beer brand Stella Artois worked with Zed Run to create a Tamagotchi-like experience crossed with the Kentucky Derby. And since we already know that the Metaverse is experiential and immersive by nature, brands can take advantage by infusing the experience with marketing initiatives. Installations and events that users can interact with are excellent places to begin. Roblox, the Gucci Garden experience and the virtual rendition of the Washington Heights as part of Warner Bros.’ promotion of In the Heights are just a few examples.

Co-Create.

Adapting to the Metaverse will require a whole new body of players to recognize potential pitfalls and, importantly, to determine how the brand’s identity comes across.

Remember that within any creative realm, there must be an innovative team.

A perfect example is Gucci, which continues to perfect its creative playground. Over the last 18 months, Gucci has appointed a Metaverse team and established several NFTs. From the launch of the Gucci vault, an art film auctioned at Christie’s, to the “SuperGucci” with the virtual firm, SuperPlastic, and of course, the continuation of developing its partnership with Sandbox.

Nike acquired the brand Rtfkt to “accelerate Nike’s digital transformation and allows us to serve athletes and creators at the intersection of sport, creativity, gaming, and culture,” says John Donahoe, President, and CEO of NIKE. The result, Nike and Rtfkt produced the first digital sneaker. Called Nike Cryptokicks, the shoes represent the Nike Dunk sneaker and mark the brand’s ‘long-awaited entrance into digital clothing’.

Working in the Metaverse allows fashion designers to push the envelope of creativity in a way that's not necessarily anchored to producible garments or footwear.
Courtesy of Placebo DFH

Additional creative digital platforms also present new possibilities for co-creation. Wenew labs, Sandbox, Fortnite, and DressX have all been instrumental in many of fashion’s initial forays into the Metaverse – underlining the importance of the right technology partnerships in this age of acceleration.

BeyondCreative worked with Balenciaga on ‘The strange Times’ it launched in Fortnite, and Vans worked with The Gang to build its world in Roblox. “Dior Beauty and Burberry have both turned to Emperia to produce 3D environments for them, while Nike and 3.1 Phillip Lim have collaborated with the studio Superficial. The Dematerialised, a digital fashion brand, has produced NFTs for labels such as Karl Lagerfeld, Rebecca Minkoff, and MCQ”.

Brand New Vision is a platform that provides 3D product creation, and tokensiation for brands and designers such as Adidas, Pheonix Rising, Jack Irving. BNV aim to build access and relationships with the new metaverses, gaming and communications apps to enable the movement between digital worlds.

Foster Brand Loyalty.

Brands should engage in positive community-building by capturing a loyal following by understanding market value and being responsive and trustworthy to the consumer; this presents the possibility of building brand loyalty within online communities.

And so, within this digital vortex, let’s pithily and to some extent, with a degree of caution, look at platforms presenting enormous possibilities either in collaboration or co-creation with innovative brands. First, it is vital to understand how to pair the digital with the tangible. As traditional retailers battle to retain consumers’ attention in an increasingly digital world, the role of stores is shifting away from products toward experiences — and the more immersive, the better. Within this technical landscape, retailers are enticing consumers with ideas that embrace a whole new immersive experience that provides the ability to transport them into digital realms. An app developed with a more educational aspect and the opportunity to build brand loyalty is Louis Vuitton with its Louis: The Game app. The purpose is to encourage players to learn about its history with the reward of winning ‘PFP-like NFTs’. (This example is also a great illustration of how to market your brand).

AnamXR, is an example of the future of luxury brand immersive experiences, creating the highest resolution metaverses, virtual worlds, and virtual shopping experience for luxury and NFT brands such as Pangaia, Marni, Farfetch and Ebit .

Empower creativity.

A creative team is essential in providing technical expertise and creative direction when building virtual experiences. They must be versatile and conceptual, capable of understanding and integrating the craftsmanship of traditional Fashion with augmented realities. By embracing the vibration of tomorrow with digital channels and transforming creative concepts into commercial success, businesses will be able to offer a robust digital design aesthetic.

Digital design deserves more than a mere paragraph; this will be the future for design teams and will assist in reducing the most critical acceleration – climate change.

Metaverse fashion is also set to become a key battleground for luxury brands seeking to distinguish themselves digitally.
COURTESY OF PLACEBO

Technology is not just about being in the Metaverse but also about exploring and engaging the new technologies that present innovative and creative opportunities for the fashion industry. The digital experience on 3D platforms aims to connect the real world with virtual interchanges, offering the opportunity for people to create Fashion instead of on a 2D podium. However, it is essential to integrate the craftsmanship of traditional Fashion with hyper-augmented realities; without understanding the history of Fashion, or the basics of garment design and structure, it would be difficult to move forward. Investing in design teams to navigate the course of production, choosing materials, and working with CLO3D is just the beginning of a powerful, fiscal way to move forward.

On-line platforms and institutions provide courses for individuals to learn about and how to apply the physical and digital realities. The Digital Fashion Group, London College of Fashion, Polimoda, The Dematerialised, The Fabricant, are just a few of the game-changers to mention, plus a number of new young designers brands who are impacting this areas such as Auroborous, and Placebo digital fashion house, founded by Roei Derhi, a graduate of Shenkar and a designer for H&M.

Key Takeaway

The opportunity to invest in these playgrounds is vast, and the amount of money to be made could reach the billions. Today, there are more than five billion mobile phone users – 66% of the global population. By 2030, itʼs expected that 90% of the world will be online, thanks to advances in satellite internet and other technology initiatives. But remember, the future needs to be fit for purpose. Businesses need to be agile, giving rise to a flexible model that can embrace the daily dynamics. Before we dip our toes into the technical waters, we need to ask ourselves:” Is it essential? Are we responsible?”

Not everyone understands the new fast-paced Technology, so brands also need to be mindful of how to protect and captivate their consumer. Maybe the first place is considering an educational environment.

Brands also need to be strategic; they need to stay focused on what matters – who they are and what they stand for. How to create and make the brand perceived should be the strategy before the digital journey begins; after all, there must be a perceived value in everything and an emphasis on the end goal. Brands need to find their position and focus on that because a force used as a means is less potent than a force used as an aim; this is the Age of Acceleration and Consideration. We need to be prepared and think about being more responsible and transparent for our world.

COURTESY OF BNV GROUP

[Header image provided by ANAM XR for Marni.]


This article is the introduction to a series interrogating how the fashion industry is embracing The Age of Acceleration. To produce this exclusive series for The Interline, The Digital Fashion Group has interviewed several key players in the Metaverse, questioning this acceleration and specifically what it means for the future of fashion.

Look for new instalments in the series soon, tackling the following components of one of the fashion industry’s hottest topics:

  • Article 01 : What does the Metaverse and Web3 mean for fashion?
  • Article 02: How can DAOs change the fashion system and what is the role of the designers in this movement?
  • Article 03: What are the opportunities to seek in NFTs for the fashion industry?
  • Article 04: How can the fashion industry build a team for the Metaverse?
  • Article 05: What are the challenges and solutions for the fashion and the tech industry working together for the future of fashion?