(The featured Web3 fashion image used in this article was provided by AnamXR, and created for Marni.)

Through the second half of 2022, The Digital Fashion Group is authoring a series of exclusive articles for The Interline, designed to help brand and retail businesses make sense of the possibility space of Metaverse and Web3 fashion. In the first instalment of this series Elizabeth Bowring set the context for Fashion Technology’s Age of Acceleration; she presented the conditions for fashion’s rapid advancement in the use of technology, and summarized the five key signals of opportunity for brand development and innovation.

In this second instalment, Leslie Holden, Co-Founder at The Digital Fashion Group, unpacks what impact the Metaverse and Web3 could have on our industry.

We are living in exciting times. The promise of the Metaverse, a new virtual dimension powered by Web3 technology, offers possibilities for virtual reality, new business models, and new approaches to living, working, playing and shopping. 

Meta (meaning beyond) and verse (universe) is the latest technological revolution that is expected to change our lives. The Metaverseblends the physical and digital worlds while allowing us to be fully present in either; it’s a place for the real world, AR, VR, and the internet to co-exist and to work harmoniously. Whilst it’s inadvisable to predict exactly what this rapidly growing digital universe will mean for Fashion, the opportunities it presents are compelling. It does promise a radical shift creating new, innovative ways for consumer engagement with luxury brands and retailers. Although still in its infancy, you could argue that the Metaverse is already changing the way we understand fashion. And with the help of virtual and augmented reality, it will soon become normal to move freely between different 3D worlds and communities. 

I’m interested in how the blurring of the physical and digital worlds will change our definition of what’s real? And what the Metaverse and Web3 mean for fashion?

Many of us are already used to living, working, and playing in shared digital spaces. But these spaces (and, in a sense, our digital selves) are all currently owned by a handful of huge corporations, such as Google and Amazon, in a Web2 construct. The Metaverse goes beyond this, as a shared virtual realm that can be navigated without corporate control, facilitated by Web3 – a new iteration of the World Wide Web utilizing blockchain technology.

An example of an immersive Web3 fashion store concept, created by AnamXR for Farfetch and Burberry.
image courtesy of AnamXR, for Farfetch & Burberry

As part of our drive to equip the current and next generation of fashion talent with the right hybrid and digital skills to create for the future, The Digital Fashion Group spoke with a panel of different Metaverse figureheads, across different disciplines, to gauge their perspective on what the word means for them, and what implications their definitions have for the direction brands take to make sense of this new possibility space.

Irene-Marie Seelig, CEO at ANAMXR, clarifies the difference between Web1, Web2 and Web3:

‘Web1 was a platform which limited users to only being able to access information from content producers and there was little to nointeraction. Web2 is known as the ‘social web’ enabling users to participate as a producer of content instead of it being only a limited amount of people as in Web1. And Web3 is an identity layer of the internet creating social networks and experiences via secured data, and being able to participate in the value of your data. There is a lot of data exploitation on Web2. In Web3 blockchain and crypto currency allows an economic layer with traceability and security.’

Irene-Marie Seelig, CEO at ANAMXR

According to Natalia Modenova, Founder at DRESSX, Web3 is a new type of organization of the internet, a new iteration of the way the internet is being built:

‘Web3 stands for the idea that there are several different protocols to communicate with each other and the internet is decentralised. This has the potential to give more power to the individual ….and to keep your digital identity and your own data safe. The trends now are towards decentralization but also communities – there are so many other ways to connect these communities rather than just considering them in terms of nationalities.’

Natalia Modenova, Founder at DRESSX

The term “Metaverse” first surfaced 30 years ago in Neal Stephenson’s sci-fi novel “Snow Crash,” which depicts humans interacting in a virtual universe. As it evolves, the concept will reshape how we think of the internet by emphasising the collective ownership and community support of Web3 and a decentralised economy, and by giving rise to a wide range of new digital-only assets, spaces, and experiences. The Metaverse heralds a freeing of the digital self, in a place where we are supported by a network of individuals rather than a corporate platform. Blockchain will guarantee the integrity of this space and of the digital assets inside it, which includes virtual fashion. 

Enara Nazarova, VP of Metaverse at Hype, describes the Metaverse as:

‘A digital platform which allows people to communicate together and influence their virtual environments. It is about participating equally and connecting in a high-fidelity experience.’

Enara Nazarova, VP of Metaverse at Hype

The Metaverse and blockchain present a powerful union, ushering in a digital-first global economy that values the needs of individuals over corporate interests. They are also allowing us to adopt multiple identities and open new avenues of self-expression. These avenues will continue to evolve as technology enhances our ability to explore who we are, and who we want to be. The only limit will be our imagination.

Examples of the kind of digital ownership that will need to sit at the core of Web3 fashion for the vision of decentralisation and self-expression to be effective.
Images courtesy of dressx

The Metaverse is currently driven by gaming technology which is influencing and propelling a new collaboration for commodification with fashion. Iconic luxury brands such as Gucci, Burberry and Balenciaga dominate the real world and are now key influencers in the development of the Metaverse for fashion. 

The Metaverse doesn’t refer to any one specific type of technology (though blockchain is crucial), but to a wide shift in how we interact with technology in general. Sallyann Houghton, Industry Manager Fashion/Apparel at Epic Games believes that there isn’t, as yet, a single definition of the Metaverse. 

‘It is an evolving definition and is being built by a number of very different contributors. It will be a computer generated and interactive environment with its own robust economy open to everyone, with no cap on numbers and it will never stop. It will constantly live and breathe. The aim is that it will be a fair and fluid place where many different creators can build their image of the Metaverse’ 

Sallyann Houghton, Industry Manager Fashion/Apparel at Epic Games

For Modenova, the metaverse is an imagined space, because we are not there yet. She points out that a lot of people call their virtual worlds ‘Metaverses’, but the reality is there is only one Metaverse.

Seelig also agrees on the fluidity, inter-connectivity, and interoperability of the Metaverse as in Houghton’s definition. However, unlike Modenova, Seelig’s vision is that  ‘digital assets will be able to come and go out of different Metaverses rather than just one Metaverse.’ 

Early examples of Web3 fashion in practice, in styles created by DRESSX for Meta's Horizons worlds.
Image courtesy of DressX, for meta.

According to Nazarova the promise and the possibility of the Metaverse is very much a long-term dream – one that will require collaboration as well as interoperability amongst many different industries from gaming, to AI, AR, VR and blockchain. 

‘As the internet doesn’t have one definition of what it is, neither does the Metaverse. It is still very much a technology in its primordial state…a 3D version of the internet.’ 

Enara Nazarova, VP of Metaverse at Hype,

She went on to discuss the Metaverse as an important storytelling tool and as a medium for artists and creators. 

The concept and philosophy of the creator’s economy building the Metaverse lies at the core of Web3 fashion. For creators and designers, digital fashion is an opportunity to go beyond the reach of physical and real-world design. In the Metaverse, there’s nothing to stop someone from creating clothes which can never be made but can dress a digital twin, unlimited by their real physical appearance.  In the Metaverse people can dress however they want for self-expression. This opens new opportunities for creativity and the skill set necessary to design clothing. According to Daniella Loftus, Founder & CEO at DRAUP, the Metaverse is not a game but it is a virtual world where digital designers have an important role to ensure we are immersed. She went on to explain:

‘Garments shape the perceptions of ourselves and other’s perceptions of us. In the Metaverse garments also shape how you feel about your environment, and designers and creators have a unique place, setting guidelines to allow you to feel you are participating in other worlds that would otherwise feel unfamiliar.’

Daniella Loftus, Founder & CEO at DRAUP

Dani explains how she sees digital fashion as having three distinct forms:

  1. Physical Digital fashion, the digital fashion which informs the way we produce physical fashion. The product therefore is physical.
  2. Phygital fashion, physical and digital combined. The product is digital fashion that can be worn by humans.
  3. Fully Digital fashion, sold direct to avatar. 

She continues that when considering the Metaverse we are focusing on Phygital and Fully Digital. 

Images courtesy of Dani Lofthus, for This Garment Does Not Exist

The Metaverse, driven by decentralized Web3, has the potential to unlock a creator’s economy, to change the way we relate to fashion and give creators the opportunities to independently monetize their content. As Loftus states, designers and creators have a unique place or role in the Metaverse. 

Digital fashion has the power to create monetizing opportunities for young fashion designers newly graduated and trying to build their own brand. However, despite the potential of the Metaverse and of Web3 and its current hype, there is a long way to go. The playing field is not even for young fashion designers. There is a significant knowledge and skills gap which is not being addressed fast enough by traditional fashion education. Many fashion schools are now adding digital courses to their curriculum, but there is limited consideration of how to reposition traditional concepts of fashion creativity and craft to embrace software skills and digital outcomes, or how to diversify fashion provision for the needs of the technologically integrated Generation Alpha.

A video of the interviews from this article can be accessed here.

This article follows an introduction piece as the first in 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 Metaverse and Web3 fashion, questioning this acceleration and specifically what it means for the future of the industry.

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

  • 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?