[The featured digital fashion image for this article was provided by DRESSX, for L’Officiel Ukraine. Photo: Synchrodogs.]

This article was originally published in the first-ever DPC Report 2022. For more on digital product creation in fashion, and other perspectives on the sustainability impact of digital fashion, download the full DPC Report 2022 completely free of charge and ungated.

Coming from a 15 year background in the traditional fashion industry, we know that fashion needed a shift for a while now, signaling about it with all of its sustainability, diversity, and accessibility issues. Barclays Bank research has shown that 9% of customers in some developed countries only buy new clothes to make a picture for their social media. We genuinely share the beauty and excitement that physical fashion creates, but we believe that technology can become a solution to producing less, enhancing creativity and solving numerous problems traditional fashion has been facilitating over the years. Our big aim is to provide an endless digital closet to every person in the world for their digital presence with no boundaries to express themselves creatively. Same with the creators – 3D and fashion designers, we want to empower talents and provide them with a safe place to create and grow professionally. Metafashion provides a great opportunity for the industry to get to the next level and open new opportunities, create new markets and integrate in a digital creative economy.

With fashion cycles getting faster and the competition for lower prices increasing, brands and manufacturers require ways to work cleaner, more sustainably, and cost-efficiently. Digitalization of the fashion industry through virtual technologies like body scanning and 3D design tools, has long been considered to have a potential in optimizing the industry processes, minimizing waste, and providing sustainable instruments for fashion design and garment development.

In response to the growing demand and accelerated by the pandemic, fashion has recently made its way into full digitalization, introducing digital-only fashion – 3D visualization of the clothes which can be worn on the images and videos through various social media platforms, videogames and other online occasions. Digital fashion represents endless potential for democratizing the fashion industry, making it more affordable and available for people of diverse backgrounds, creating new revenue streams for fashion creatives and opening up the opportunities for creative self-expression.

While physical fashion will remain the industry's primary mode, there's a possibility that digital fashion can help improve fashion's sustainability credentials.

While the concept might seem outlandish at first, gamers have been spending real money on digital fashion items for years. In 2018, Glu Mobile’s ‘Covet Fashion’ game, which allows users to style models with digitally rendered designer clothing, generated $53.4 million. It is at this intersection between video games and digital socializing that digital fashion in its modern form will be most effective.

As people live and display more of their lives online coupled with growing concerns about sustainability, digital clothing has the potential to expand well beyond gaming. In lieu of physical events and runway shows, fashion collections made their way into the digital world. Gen Zs and young Millennials grew up in the digital era, blurring reality and fantasy, and developing key characteristics of a digital fashion customer. They evolve in a fluid digital world in which the boundaries between their physical and online lives have converged. When it comes to fashion, they not only need physical items to express themselves, but also digital clothes to dress up their virtual identities.

The possibilities digital fashion brings for creative expression are endless, making the digital fashion realm very appealing for both 3D, traditional fashion brands, design studios, and more creative outlets. Digital fashion is an opportunity to give a second life to clothes which are sometimes unsuited for being worn in our daily lives – young designers’ graduate collections, some high-fashion or couture designs. While such items could be seen as too bright and expensive for our daily lives in the real world, we can look at the clothes in a completely different way in the digital space.

As with real-life garments, digital clothes vary in complexity. A physical ball gown made from silk with lots of ruffles, embroidery, lining, buttons, zips and trims will take more resources than a simple linen t-shirt. Similarly, an animated digital dress with detailed rendering and complex textures will use more digital space than a more basic shape. Designers are free to create and save as many digital versions of a garment as they wish, tweaking colors, trims, fabrics and other details as they go. Digital fashion allows designers to unleash their creativity in a real-life visualization of designs that could previously only be imagined through 2D sketches. It is clear that the world is going digital, and 3D virtualization plays a leading role in the process.

What might the impact be on fashion's problems of waste and overproduction if consumers shift a share of their purchasing power over to more sustainable digital fashion?
Image provided by DRESSX: Kodzayeva in EyeNastya.

Traditional fashion brands tend to be reluctant in implementing the new approaches, but we proved that there are plenty of use cases and market opportunities, especially for the established fashion houses – from optimizing the influencer marketing campaigns to generating a revenue from the digital clothing. At DRESSX, we have worked with traditional fashion creatives since day one of our platform, launching designers whose outfits usually cost thousands of dollars for less than $50 in the digital format, or even for free in AR on the DRESSX app. We are very lucky to have more and more interest from the traditional fashion industry with popular brands reaching out to us aiming to expand and grow through the digital fashion realm. DRESSX worked on the purely digital influencer campaigns, digitizing the designer garments and promoting collections without any use of physical materials, unnecessary shipments, or damages for the environment. We also created projects with Google, H&M, Balenciaga, Fendi, Buffalo London, Miss Sohee, created an AR fashion experience for the Paris Haute Couture designer Clara Daguin and engaged in many more initiatives successfully introducing traditional fashion brands to the digital world.

We believe that in the future every fashion brand – luxury, haute couture, streetwear etc – will own a digital fashion line, same as high-fashion luxury brands have perfumes or accessories. With its different from the physical items price point yet high precision, digital fashion will become a new way for customers to enter the high fashion world, discovering the new way to shop luxury, reducing their environmental footprint, receiving the same sense of belonging and excitement from wearing designer pieces in digital.

The sustainability potential of digital fashion also cannot be stated enough. By substituting just 1% of physical clothing with digital garments, we will save 5 trillion liters of water and eliminate the annual carbon footprint of the fashion industry by 35 mln tons, which is equal to the total carbon emission of Denmark in 2017. All of this can be done by switching 1% of our wardrobes to digital! That’s a contribution to our planet that everyone can handle, while still keeping fashion fun and enjoying the thrill of buying new clothes and creating amazing fashion content.

Do digital fashion and sustainability go hand-in-hand?
Image provided by DRESSX: Nina Hawkins, wearing Alejandro Delgado

The production of digital garments has far less waste, energy and carbon footprint. No water or chemicals are used for the creation or usage of digital fashion, and the production of a digital garment, on average, leaves 97% less CO2 footprint and no microplastic shedding or soil degradation, compared to the production of a physical garment. Digital fashion prevents the production of items that might only be worn once or twice, thus successfully decoupling financial growth from the extraction of raw materials. In digital garment production, the main goal is not the speed of production, but the quality. Still, the speed is much faster than the production of physical clothes, which means demand for fast fashion can be satisfied with digital-only fashion with no use of raw materials. Once the item is 3D rendered, it can be used endlessly. DRESSX research conducted in 2020 suggests that the current level of acceptance of digital garments fulfilling the need of physical clothing for content creation is 61%, meaning that respondents are ready to use the solution.

Due to the digitalization in the fashion industry, virtual design technology that can create photorealistic products to replace physical samples and a brand new digitized fashion system that refers to the replacement of production and consumption of physical garment with digital garments are coming up to reduce the environmental impacts. DRESSX did a collaboration to test this use case. This is the starting point where digital fashion becomes part of the business model. As it becomes a more important part of the supply chain, creating in 3D is going to be a future core that every brand needs to adopt.

The digitally dressed marketing campaign was done to promote a new, innovative and sustainable way to conduct business for the fashion industry. By going digital we were able to save 346 698 liters of water, that is enough for 20 people to drink for 24 years. We also saved 2515 kg CO2 eq, which accounts for 97.86% of CO2 emissions produced by a similar campaign in the physical space and equals 29 years of using a smartphone for 10 hours a day.

Any fashion brand, no matter what part it plays, will benefit from the sustainability gains of transitioning to digital activities. Digital fashion not only creates an industry that’s less wasteful and less environmentally impactful than ever before, it builds a future of fashion that’s smarter, more resilient, and better placed to manage uncertainty.

The transformation of traditional fashion into its metaverse counterpart, which we call ‘metafashion’, happened and continues to happen very naturally, supporting the overall change in how we live and explore the world around us. Digital assets were in place in gaming for a while, but the game is actually changing as we become “the avatars of ourselves” in the multiple social media channels, messaging and streaming services. Digital fashion is designed to dress our digital selves. People from tech and gaming backgrounds get it fast and a mass audience is starting to actively follow – this is a common pattern when innovative products are launched. Wearables are the most natural extension of the metaverse and the most important pillar of the metaverse economy.

Images provided by DRESSX: PAX (left); PAX, in Yoona & ISDKV (Right).

Creating a true metaverse will also unlock the full potential of digital fashion. The metaverse will allow users to digitally recreate their wardrobe, and wear personal items within new and existing social contexts and platforms. The main challenge in creating a true metaverse is universal cross- platform compatibility. Once this is achieved, on-chain digital fashion items collected on one platform, will be available to the collector on all platforms, allowing users to wear their wardrobe across the entire metaverse.

Thanks to NFTs, digital fashion now comes with provable ownership and scarcity. Digital fashion items registered on the blockchain are an investment. Each has provable ownership and rarity, and can therefore be attributed economic value. NFTs provide the next layer to the industry, maximizing its opportunities, solving some of its issues and opening up the new realms for self expression and creativity. We compare NFTs to high fashion or Haute Couture, because it provides a sense of belonging, scarcity effect and a luxury feel, which would not be otherwise achieved in the digital world. DRESSX is the first digital fashion company to provide dressing utility for the NFT assets both on photos and videos in AR, with more wearable use cases to be announced with the launch of DRESSX NFT marketplace nft.dressx.com – the ultimate destination for discovering, buying, re-selling and, most important, wearing NFTs.

Within this metaversal context, digital clothing will accrue economic and sentimental value as it accompanies us on our adventures, and users will be able to invest in fashion items designed and worn by their favorite creatives and cultural innovators. Transparent ownership gives digital fashion items the capacity to become heirlooms; documenting metaverse history and cultural milestones.

About the Authors:

Olga Chernsyheva, Chief Sustainability Officer, DRESSX: Olga is passionate about helping companies that create innovative solutions to restore our planet and supporting purpose-driven entrepreneurs. Before the COVID-19 outbreak, Olga spent 3 years in Central Africa, where she founded a non-profit organization to bring awareness to local communities about environmental issues and waste and plastic management.

Daria Shapovalova, Founder & CEO, DRESSX: Prior to DRESSX, Daria established her TV-show on fashion, fashion week Mercedes-Benz Kiev Fashion Days and showroom More Dash. Called ‘Kiev Fashion’s Queen Bee’ by Vogue UK, Daria is famous for putting Ukraine on the world’s fashion map. Daria is featured in the famous Forbes 30 Under 30 Europe and BOF 500 Most Influential People lists. 15 years of experience in fashion.

Natalia Modenova, Founder & COO, DressX: Natalia Modenova is in the list of Highsnobiety for TOP13 experts weigh in on Fashion NFT, 50 disruptors of the USA by Newsweek, Top 50 people who shaped fashion in 2021 by Glossy, and in Threedium TOP50 Voices driving the conversation in AR, VR and 3D. Speaker at The Economist, Wall Street Journal, SALT, WWD, Vogue and other conferences as an expert on Metaverse, digital fashion and fashion tech.