WHAT IS DIGITAL FASHION?

As the ultimate reinvention tool, fashion’s biggest faux pas is that it’s neglected to innovate its own framework. The physical boundaries are stretched, and the seams are bursting; has fashion outgrown itself? Unlike music (which has streaming) and art (with VR exhibitions), fashion has been one of the slowest industries to innovate what it means to experience it. We spend more time in online spaces than ever before, so why are our clothes still only physical?

E-commerce means we have more product choice than ever before. In the climate of mass production and fast fashion, the limited edition and exclusive drops popularised by the streetwear boom of the last decade offer an alternative to a rising homogeneity. NFTs offer scarcity, exclusivity, and provenance, and as a technology, they are combining with fashion to create a ground breaking new economy fast being adopted; digital fashion. After all, what’s more special than something that doesn’t really exist?

Digital demand is undoubtedly propelled by Gen-Z behaviours — a fast-growing, increasingly powerful, high spending demographic raised at the convergence of fashion, gaming, and social media. Consumers are no longer satisfied to simply wear their clothes; they want to experience them in radical ways, currently only possible with technology. There are two emerging options for traditional brands: either go with the flow or risk being run over by it.

A RADICAL PARADIGM FOR SELF-EXPRESSION

Digital fashion exists beyond the physical space and is worn virtually. Just as you might upload an image of yourself wearing an outfit to Instagram, you can do this with digital fashion, but without the need to get dressed. Instead, the garment is fitted on you with AR technology, negating the need to own anything physical. It’s not new, but the potential for its mass adoption is.

The pioneers of the space were a cross-over of fashion and gaming, not too far from where we currently find ourselves. The last year we’ve seen collaborations between Nike and Fortnite, Marc Jacobs and Animal Crossing, and Louis Vuitton and League of Legends. Digital fashion’s offerings were boosted further in 2020, as we spent most of our time online. For brands already successful in the physical world, the cross-over into offering digital fashion alongside its traditional garments is an unprecedented opportunity to tap into new markets. Traditional brands like Gucci are already making waves in the space with the ‘Virtual 25’ sneaker, which is worn only digitally.

Imagine a wardrobe that doesn’t take up any physical space or garments that you never have to wash or worry about getting ruined. Beyond its convenience, digital fashion is size-less and gender-less, meaning anyone can wear whatever they want. AR is, of course, already present in our every day lives. You only have to look to Instagram and Snapchat filters to realise what might have felt weird is now second nature to how we present ourselves to the outside world. Fashion should be fun, and through AR, digital fashion opens an ever-evolving space to play and experiment within. It’s self-expression in its purest, most boundless form.

DIGITAL SOLUTIONS FOR ANALOGUE CONCERNS

Already a fast-growing economy, digital fashion is offering solutions that the traditional garment industry has been slow to provide. Sustainability is one of fashion’s biggest buzzwords, but the industry has failed to enforce widespread action. Digital fashion is waste-less, meaning customers who want to express themselves with clothes no longer need to be concerned about the ecological impact of fast fashion or trend cycles.

Research undertaken by The Fabricant in collaboration with Imperial College London found that a digital-only garment produces 97 per cent less CO2 over its lifetime than a physical item. For example, the carbon footprint of a t-shirt during its life cycle is 7.8 kg of CO2, compared to 0.26 kilograms of a digital-only t-shirt. Other key findings revealed that a physical t-shirt uses 683 litres of water over its life cycle, whereas a digital garment amounts to none. Regarding the pollution caused by chemicals in the design and production, the report found this to be 12,300 kilograms for a physical garment and 0.692 kilograms of a digital-only item.

Digital fashion also means a more sustainable production cycle for luxury products, where supply can be matched to customer demand without speculation and upfront investment. Not only does this minimise the risk of wasted stock, but brands can operate stock-free retail showrooms that streamline logistics and reduce their ecological footprint.

In a world where the margins of what we can and can’t do have always been so clear, a space without boundaries might be daunting. What do you create when there are no limits? There is a whole ecosystem challenging fashion’s status quo, providing solutions, and building the blueprint for a new future. The early successes of digital fashion are inspiring, and with no frontiers, there is no idea too big or small: there’s room for it all.

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