Digital clothing has been around in some form or another since users first started logging online decades ago (any Millennials remember Y2K-era digital paper dolls?). But the pixelated, 2D outfits of the early 2000s avatars are a crude comparison to 2022’s high-res, pixel perfect collections, which are getting major buy-in from IRL brands.
Thanks in large part to metaverse-related AR/VR experiences and fashion's online innovators, digital clothing abounds in 2022, making clothes assembled with pixels rather than needle and thread a burgeoning trend to watch. There are both real and virtual world applications. The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the emerging use of AR try-ons, which give consumers increased flexibility to try on virtual versions of real clothes at home. It also expanded the use of virtual, avatar-based platforms and online fashion shows. Your avatar has to have a great ‘fit too, after all. And digital fashion studios, along with IRL fashion houses are getting in on it.
Video courtesy Decentraland.
There’s Genies (offering the “fantasy version of you”), which Disney ex-CEO Bob Iger invested in earlier this year; metaverse consultancy Rumfoords (“sourcing the finest creations in virtual style”). Nike acquired digital collectibles and apparel brand RTFKT to create Nike Virtual Studios at the very end of last year, and recently launched digital shoes. Snapchat parent company Snap, which has dominated the AR space for a while, is creating augmented reality fitting rooms, and continuing to invest big in the sector this year.
Like anything in the fashion industry, digital fashion activations have had their hits and misses. The self-described “virtual destination for digital assets,” Decentraland, held its first “metaverse fashion week” in 2022 with big name design houses like Tommy Hilfiger (though not without its hiccups). In June, Meta launched an Avatars Store for Instagram, Facebook, and Messenger with clothes from luxury designers like Balenciaga, Prada, and Thom Browne. Eva Chen, head of fashion partnerships at Meta, said digital goods would be a “big driver of the creative economy” in an Instagram post announcing the launch, although commenters weren’t convinced. “Oof this seems so tone deaf” and a simple “nah. We’re good,” were the most liked comments.
But as mentioned in the Drum, well-executed metaverse and digital fashion activations can attract big audiences. Nike’s Nikeland, an immersive, branded space with games and virtual try-ons of products like the Nike LeBron 19, has had nearly 6.7 million visitors since it launched in November, according to the company. Nike is planning on increasing its ad spend in the space 20%.
Images 1-2: Digital Fashion Week NYC. Courtesy Tony Murray to.mu.lab. Images 3-5: Metaverse Fashion Week 2022. Courtesy Decentraland. Images 6-7: An infinite fashion show (Infinite Passerella). Courtesy Lusion.
“In the past, fashion and luxury brands have often played catch-up in the digital space, with e-commerce or mobile tools,” explains Derek Fridman, design partner at digital design agency Work & Co (which acquired the digital product consultancy firm Presence in April). “What’s interesting about metaverse experiences is that [fashion and luxury brands] are actually well positioned, if not a bit ahead, because they are so used to the notion of building exclusivity and collectibles for their physical products, like sneakers, bags, capsule collections, and designer collaborations.”
According to Fridman, the challenge for fashion brands to move beyond “appointment -based” interactions and keep users coming back outside of one-off events and store launches. “If there isn’t any roadmap to keep the community engaged after a mint or a drop you’ve lost the reason for being there,” Fridman says. “Brands need to nail post-hype plans. Just like you wouldn’t build a retail store or a sports arena and do zero programming, it's important for fashion and luxury brands to approach Sandbox, Decentraland, Altspace in a more systematic way.”