The new metaverse conference Met Ams took place last week, acting as a platform to make the digital world more accessible to a wider audience. The concept for the event transpired in December 2021, and was formulated over six months by co-founders Anne Sophie Erbé, Peter Meere, Edmund Howard and Rik Woldring, ultimately selling out and preparing to welcome 1,500 international visitors over the course of four days. The idea initially stemmed from an interest in developing a digital art festival, something that was missing for the younger generation in Europe, Erbé said in conversation with FashionUnited. She added: “We wanted to have a conference that focused a lot on art and creativity, approaching the space from a cultural point of view.”
The event itself was held in Gashouder Westergas, an event location in the heart of Amsterdam, the Netherlands. The impressive structure, which is often home to music festivals and large scale events, hosted Met Ams’ 100 plus speakers, exhibitors and thought leaders over the course of June 14 to 17. The building, which was partitioned off, featured half an exhibition space, where visitors could try virtual reality equipment, view non-fungible token (NFT) art and learn more about exhibitors, and half a conference room, complete with a flashy set up and just as flashy music.
“We developed the idea for a festival where the metaverse and reality came to meet,” said Erbé, adding that Amsterdam was the perfect location because of its place in Europe and its position as both a cultural and tech hub. “Our aim was to create this really immersive in-real life event, especially after the pandemic years. We really wanted to connect with people in real life and make it fun.”
Diversifying a male-driven environment
The event placed a significant amount of importance on diversifying the Web3 and metaverse space, which is often a male-driven environment and can lack the necessary female voices. However, according to organisers, this edition saw around a 39 percent female attendance, something that is fairly unheard of in this industry. Much of this was also pushed by the notable presence of female speakers on the stage, including Lisa Mayer, the CEO and co-founder of women-led Web3 platform Boss Beauties, and Indian-based digital artist Laya Mathikshara, who has grossed multi-millions of dollars in the sale of non-fungible tokens (NFTs) at the age of 14. Students were also encouraged to join via discounted student tickets and volunteering opportunities that made it easier for them to attend.
“We wanted to prioritise inclusivity and diversity, and make sure everyone felt welcome and safe to talk about what they wanted to,” Erbé said. “We didn’t want to be just another tech conference. We wanted to involve more and more people in this space, so not just tech people and NFT enthusiasts but also those that were just generally interested and wanted to learn more. The diversity in attendees was definitely intentional.”
Talks and panel discussions held over two of the days also centred around making the topic of the metaverse more accessible to a wider audience, covering multiple industries such as music, sports and art. Fashion was also a widely discussed subject, with contributions from the likes of Jürgen Alker, head of NFT Studio at Highsnobiety, Amsterdam Fashion Academy lecturer Giancarlo Pazzanese and Kerry Murphy, founder and CEO of digital fashion platform The Fabricant.
Similarly, exhibitors also greatly varied, from those presenting their own open-world platforms to those supplying either avatars, educational support or real estate for the digital worlds themselves. Established platforms like Habbo were presented alongside many companies that were still in their introduction phase, and were looking to branch out and expand their network for future optimisation and opportunities.
Bringing inclusivity into the metaverse
Digital avatar creator platform Reblium was among those doing just that, specifically looking for brand partners that fit closely with its values of inclusivity and gender fluidity in the metaverse. Speaking to FashionUnited, the company’s digital officer, Migle Rakitaitė, said that the team’s goal was to reach not just Web3 and tech people, but a mixed audience of brands, developers and those who were just generally curious about the metaverse itself.
Rakitaitė noted that the metaverse was “absolutely not at its final form”, despite many misconceptions, and added that “the event was a good start in acknowledging this”. “One thing people often fail to realise is that if you are in the industry, you probably already understand the technology and will speak to people in a jargonic way that they don’t understand,” Rakitaitė said. “As a company, we don’t want to overwhelm people, we want them to understand and connect with us – we want to be very open, because how can we begin to understand the innovations if we can’t communicate to people the basics of it?”
Reblium’s core is the production of inclusive avatars that give users full control over how to express themselves, allowing them to choose their own ethnicity, gender and sexuality. The team has set out to look for brands that are willing to provide clothes for such a concept, with digital garments made to fit any body type. “We have a clean slate. It gives us the chance to start from the beginning. We are entering the metaverse without any citizenship,” Rakitaitė added. “This could be the opportunity for some people to, for the first time in their lifetime, look the way they feel.”
Metavisionaries was also a platform present during the event, additionally with the goal to help broaden the reach of the metaverse. The educational initiative is currently setting up opportunities for Web3 learning development and was at the event to establish further partnerships for its educational base. “We have been meeting all kinds of people that are interested in the metaverse, NFTs and avatars,” said the company’s chief administrative officer, Hani Yamani. “We have been approached by educators from the University of Amsterdam, who were interested in our platform, and we are hoping to strike up some partnerships.”
In the end, the Met Ams conference did its job in bringing a wider audience into the metaverse world. Its attendees noticeably differed from that of similar events, while many of its speakers and exhibitors made it their mission to become a path way into the continuously growing digital sphere. When asked where the conference could go in the future, Erbé said: “We have a lot of ideas about its future, so we want to evaluate and see where we are going to bring it and how. Are we looking for new content? Are we looking for the same physical event in other countries? Do we want partnerships? We still have to see. There is so much opportunity, so it is fun to already start thinking about the next event.”