In the near future, instead of going to your closet to choose something to throw on for your next video call, you might instead turn to your virtual wardrobe to pick out a 3D-rendered digital outfit to "wear."
At least, that's what a number of people in the fashion and tech space are banking on as more businesses look to the promise of digital fashion. And they're wagering those virtual outfits won't just be for your Zoom calls, but could eventually be worn all over the "metaverse" -- the concept of an interlinked extended reality world -- in games, across social media, and eventually, perhaps, viewed on your body in the real world through augmented reality (AR) glasses.
In McKinsey & Company and The Business of Fashion's annual "State of Fashion" report, industry leaders looked ahead to this immersive frontier.
"There are more and more 'second worlds' where you can express yourself (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," Gucci's chief marketing officer Robert Triefus is quoted in the report as saying.
Outfitting our digital personas is nothing new, from making pixelated Dollz in the early 2000s to shopping these days for new wardrobe additions in Animal Crossing. The video game industry has more recently laid the groundwork for digital fashion, with outfits or "skins," in games like Overwatch and Fortnite generating billions in revenue.
Some major fashion players have already begun capitalizing on the gaming market -- in 2019, Louis Vuitton designed skins for League of Legends, and Nike and Ralph Lauren have this year offered avatar accessories through the virtual world-building platform Roblox. Outside of gaming environments, NFTs -- or non-fungible tokens, which use blockchain technology to verify ownership of digital assets -- have allowed digital fashion to be monetized more broadly as well. (This fall, Dolce & Gabbana's NFT collection sold out for 1,885.719 ETH, at the time equivalent to $6 million).
At the same time, discussions around virtual worlds have accelerated due to the pandemic and remote working. Facebook's rebranding as "Meta" has only spurred more interest. (In a recent keynote for Meta's Connect 2021 conference, Mark Zuckerberg acknowledged that we'll have "a wardrobe of virtual clothes for different occasions" in the metaverse.)
And without physical runway shows last year, fashion designers were forced to get creative in how they presented their clothes. American luxury label Hanifa put on a digital show that eschewed human models in favor of headless, floating figures wearing 3D-renders of new garments, while Chinese designers Xu Zhi, Andrea Jiapei Li and Roderic Wong presented collections during Shanghai Fashion week through an AR virtual showcase.
"Brands realized that they had to create digital showrooms and digital fashion shows...to sell their collections in 2020," said Karinna Grant, who co-founded the NFT fashion marketplace The Dematerialised with Marjorie Hernandez, in a phone call. Because of that, she added, consumers were exposed to new ways of seeing clothes presented digitally.
And, quick as a flash, the first wave of digital fashion marketplaces has already arrived, with sites including Replicant, The Dematerialised and DressX offering varied but still somewhat limited functionality. (Currently the latter overlays the clothes on your submitted photo within 24 hours). Snapchat allows users to "try on" digital garments through AR, and Instagram has tested AR clothing filters as well.
Labels like Gucci, Prada, and Rebecca Minkoff are eagerly getting into the space, with Minkoff selling digital versions from her most recent collection on The Dematerialised -- which was priced between 50 euros and 500 euros ($56 to $562) and sold out almost immediately. Just this week Nike announced it had acquired RTFKT, a collective that designs virtual kicks among other digital collectibles.