The fashion industry has always been known for its innovation and ability to adapt to changing times. In recent years, we've seen an increase in the use of technology in the fashion world, with the rise of wearable tech, smart fabrics, and 3D printing. One of the latest trends in fashion technology is digital clothing, which allows consumers to wear clothes that exist only in the digital space. But will digital clothing become the future of fashion or is it just a passing trend? In this post, we'll explore the concept of digital clothing, its potential impact on the fashion industry, and criticisms of the trend.
What is Digital Clothing?
Digital clothing, also known as virtual clothing or digital fashion, is clothing that exists solely in a digital space. This means that the clothing is not physically made or worn, but rather is created using digital design tools that can only be worn digitally or virtually. Digital clothing is created using 3D software, and can be customised to fit different body shapes and sizes. The clothing can be seen in digital form through augmented reality (AR), and virtual reality (VR) technology.
Examples of digital clothing include The Fabricant's digital couture, a collection of haute couture garments that only exist in digital form. Carlings, a Scandinavian fashion retailer, also launched a digital clothing collection back in 2018. Customers could purchase a digital item of clothing and use AR to "wear" it on social media platforms. Additionally, Roblox, Decentraland, and Spatial, all virtual community spaces, have robust marketplaces and wardrobes where users can wear and purchase digital clothing items for their avatars, either via claimable perks or through crypto payments. Big brands like Nike and Gucci through to Boohoo, Burberry and Tommy Hilfiger are also currently channelling cash and resources into digital Web3 projects as they aim to gain an advantage in this growing sphere.
Advantages of Digital Clothing
There are several advantages to digital clothing, which may contribute to its potential success as a trend in the fashion industry:
- Customisation - Digital clothing can be customised to fit different body shapes and sizes, which could potentially reduce the need for mass production of clothing and sampling and help to decrease waste.
- Sustainability - Digital clothing does not require physical materials or transportation, and with the concerning rise of fashions waste problem, using digital instead of physical production could help to reduce the carbon footprint of the fashion industry.
- Accessibility - Digital clothing could potentially make high-end fashion more accessible to consumers who cannot afford designer clothing, as they can purchase a digital version of a garment at a lower cost.
Digital fashion also democratises the design process, enabling individuals who lack access to expensive tools, resources, or formal education to participate in the world of fashion. Aspiring designers can express themselves through digital platforms and share their creations with a global audience, fostering a more inclusive and diverse fashion landscape.
- Creative freedom - Designers could have more creative freedom with digital clothing, as they are not limited by the constraints of physical materials. They can also co-create with their communities with more ease and less friction like traditional design models.
- Self expression - Digital clothing allows users to try on clothing and styles in a way that differs from physical fashion. In essence, digital fashion breaks down barriers and opens up new avenues for self-expression, giving people the opportunity to experiment with their personal styles, create unique virtual identities, and engage with fashion in a truely unique, as well as environmentally conscious way.
The Potential Impact of Digital Clothing on the Fashion Industry
Digital clothing has the potential to disrupt the traditional fashion industry in several ways:
- Changes in the way we consume and produce fashion
Digital clothing could change the way we consume fashion by offering a more sustainable and customisable alternative to physical clothing. It could also change the way we produce fashion by reducing the need for physical materials, sampling and labor. George Yang from Web3 'Phygital' (A merging of physical and digital fashion) brand Cult and Rain points out that "there is a lot of wastage when it comes to developing collections. On average 80% of samples go to waste." By embracing digital clothing, the industry could avoid producing countless samples that ultimately end up unused or discarded. The adoption of digital clothing can lead to more efficient production cycles, as designers can create, test, and modify their designs digitally without the need for time-consuming and costly physical prototyping.
- Advancements in technology that enable digital clothing
The rise of AR/VR technology and 3D printing as well as Web3 has made digital clothing easier to create and now more accessible than ever. Historically, accessibility to luxury brands has been gated, according to digital designer, JJ Love from holotopia.io "if you couldn't afford to buy a physical jacket from an amazing brand, but you could afford to buy one from the digital collection. It's getting that access to luxury brands." Thus digital clothing can help to break down barriers and create more accessibility to luxury fashion that hasn't been seen outside of mainstream physical collaborations like Mugler x H&M.
- Potential for virtual fashion shows and e-commerce
Digital clothing could make it possible to create virtual fashion shows and e-commerce experiences that allow customers to see how clothing would not only look on them in a digital space, but give brands the ability to showcase virtual fashion shows that are accessible worldwide. We're already seeing this come into fruition in the Metaverse with fashion shows from brands like McQueen and Dolce and Gabbana showing virtual collections in 2022. In March of 2023 Decentraland and Spatial will host Metaverse Fashion Week with 60 + brands showing their collections on virtual runways.
Criticisms of Digital Clothing
While digital clothing has its advantages, there are also criticisms of the trend:
- Questions about practicality and functionality
As digital clothing can only be worn in the digital space, this means it isn't practical nor functional for everyday wear, and with only digital use cases, this raises the question, will we be seeing more people utilising avatar's and digital clothing to represent themselves?
- Concerns about the impact on traditional fashion industry jobs Digital clothing could potentially reduce the need for physical materials and labor, which could impact traditional fashion industry jobs.
- Potential for perpetuating unrealistic and harmful beauty standards Digital clothing could perpetuate harmful beauty standards by presenting an unrealistic and unattainable body image. Additionally, there are concerns about the implications on diversity and representation, one recent example is Levi's partnership with Lalaland.io in which they plan to test AI- generated models later this year in an effort to 'increase diversity'.
Furthermore, critics argue that digital clothing may not be sustainable in the long run, and while it eliminates the need for physical materials, digital clothing still requires the use of electricity and computing power.
As an emerging trend, digital clothing has the potential to revolutionise the way we consume and produce fashion. While there are concerns about its practicality and impact on traditional fashion industry jobs, the advantages of customisation, sustainability, accessibility, creative freedom and self expression cannot be ignored. As technology continues to advance, we may see more designers and brands experimenting with digital clothing and incorporating it into their collections. Whether digital clothing will become a permanent fixture in the fashion industry or just a passing fad remains to be seen, but one thing is certain – it's an exciting time to be a part of the fashion tech world.
Personal Note: I was lucky enough to attend Metaverse Fashion Week, here is a peek at what it looked like inside the BFF World Fashion showcase and the MVFW Tommy Hilfiger Monolith. By attending both of these spaces I was also able to claim free digital wardrobe wearables for my digital avatar.