Fashion’s most open possibility space is unquestionably digital. 3D design and simulation tools have been extensively used within brands’ own walls for decades – and even more fuel was thrown on this fire by the pandemic. And consumers have been unknowingly marketed to with rendered images in print and online for years. But the last year represented the first time that digital assets became relatively mainstream products by themselves, at least in fashion, with some of them being completely unmoored from the need to ever be produced physically.
A lot happened in digital fashion in 2021, then, but much of the conversation was focused on the technology and the process, the infrastructure and the end user experience. Now that the dust is beginning to settle, and it’s becoming clearer that an audience does exist for digital-only garments, The Interline wanted to explore how the emergence of this new audience was perceived by designers and independent creatives.
Is digital fashion as liberating for creators as it looks from the outside? Do designers think differently about how they dress an end consumer who will never physically wear their styles? And what does the future look like from behind the tablet and stylus, rather than at the industry-wide level?
To get a perspective on these questions and others, The Interline spoke to Radam Ridwan, who’s one of the creatives behind the “Material You Collection” that DRESSX, Google, and a roster of creative figures developed in November of last year.
Radam is a queer non-binary multi-disciplinary artist of Indonesian origins. Radam’s work centers on QTIPOC empowerment and has been published internationally with features in VICE, Vogue Italia, Gal-dem, Gaytimes, and King Kong Magazine. The Interline spoke to them about how working in digital fashion has influenced their workflow and their outlook, and where they see things going from here.
For more, follow Radam at @radamridwan on all good social media platforms.
The Interline: What does your working environment look like? What 3D tools did you use to create the garment in the Material You collection from a design and pattern perspective, and where did you source your digital materials?
Radam Ridwan: I designed the initial sketch, structure, and pattern of the dress using a combination of Photoshop and Illustrator on a touchpad laptop. The Fabricant and DressX teams then used this and my moodboard (created using the Google Pixel 6) to render the final digital garment using 3D tools.
The Padma Raksasa dress is an ode to my father’s Indonesian heritage. This can be witnessed within the structure of the dress, influenced by the spired roofs of the Minangkabau and the voluminous namesake flower, as well as the colours and fabrics, taking elements from traditional Indonesian festival attire.
The Interline: How do you approach design differently when you know there’s no physical end product? There’s a very careful balance that’s been struck with these pieces between physical achievability – garments that look as though they could really be made – and unfettered creativity. Did you find yourself having to pull back from any ideas because you wanted the garments to look “real,” or did you indulge your imagination?
Radam Ridwan: Fashion for me isn’t just about the function of covering the body, it’s an art form. Digital fashion only expands artistic potential with the ability to draw shapes that are outside of the box and utilise textures that are out of this world. When designing the Padma Raksasa Dress, I wanted to push the boundaries of reality, and create something magical that couldn’t be replicated physically.
The Padma Raksasa flower is as beautiful as it is strange, just as I am. I wanted to take this chance to design a grandiose, royal, ball-worthy dress that portrays all the deepest parts of myself – a visual depiction of my weird and my wonderful. The only limit with virtual fashion is your imagination, and I think if consumers are going to buy into this art form, we must push these limits!
The Interline: How do you see digital-only fashion developing from here? This project in particular sits at a really interesting intersection between luxury and the mass market; you’ve created pieces that have high-end aesthetics, but that literally anyone can wear. Do you see digital fashion lowering some barriers?
Radam Ridwan: I believe digital fashion is only at its beginning. As technology improves and the digital world becomes more intertwined (or even separate, see: metaverse) with the physical world – I see digital fashion becoming an industry of its own. One that will stay niche, but that takes a portion of the fashion, art, and technology markets.
Digital designers and fashion houses must stay smart, tapping into the growing section of consumers who wish to express themselves creatively through fashion, but either can’t afford to shop high-end or are concerned about the environmental impact of fast fashion. This project allowed me to see myself in a fashion piece that I will never be able to afford, without the waste. Digital fashion has the potential to lower the barriers for accessing such high-end aesthetics, however, only within a circumscribed space.
As that space grows, who knows…
The Interline: How do you feel about the sustainability impact of designing digital-only fashion? Are you likely to experiment further, and create more frequently, knowing that the environment isn’t paying the price?
Radam Ridwan: There is an expanding consciousness of fashion’s role in the environmental crises the world faces and fast fashion’s contribution to human rights violations. Personally, this awareness has made me look at my own shopping habits, attempting to escape the pressures associated with the every-day-new-‘fit culture we find ourselves in.
Digital fashion answers many of the desires this culture produces with the ability to flaunt an outfit on Instagram without having to head out into the scary pandemic-ridden world. Consumers also feel better about themselves, knowing they’re not contributing to the 80% of clothing ending up in landfills or incinerated.
If digital fashion can satisfy this need for daily experimentation and reinvention (or at least, make people aware there are alternatives), it has the potential to create more ethical business practices. However, we must make sure to address the environmental impact of cryptocurrencies (how digital fashion is bought and sold) before it negatively impacts the environment in the same manner as physical fashion.
The Interline: What are your thoughts on digital ownership? Obviously this collection is being freely distributed, but designers like you are also looking to digital fashion as a way to potentially reach new markets, and as a new channel for being directly compensated for their work. Do you believe digital fashion opens new doors for emerging designers to actually sell products without having to navigate the maze of sourcing, and minimum order quantities?
Radam Ridwan: Digital fashion solves many of the issues the physical fashion industry faces in relation to transparency. Supply chains make finding out who, where, and when a garment was made very difficult, creating difficulties in holding brands accountable for unethical practices. Digital fashion uses blockchain, meaning that creations are fully attributable to all the people who created them.
Theoretically at least, a team of artists working on the initial design to the final output can be credited and paid for their work without the need to source inexplicably large amounts of materials (inevitably leading to improper labour practices). The problem that will need to continually be managed is just how much credit and how much money everyone is entitled to in an emergent industry.
If the digital fashion industry maintains the ethos in which it began, I believe it will be an effective channel for artists to expand their customer base and sell their work.