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What is the fashion designer's place in the metaverse?

By Guest Contributor

Sep 5, 2021

Fashion |Exclusive

Images: Daniella Loftus, This Outfit Does Not Exist

Are you familiar with the term “metaverse”? It was first coined by the author Neal Stephenson in his 1992 science fiction novel Snow Crash, but according to Google Trends it reached its peak among internet searches in April 2021 and seems to be keeping a high score since then. But why is everyone in the fashion industry suddenly interested in the Metaverse?

Going beyond the obvious race for investment - Epic Games raised $1 Billion in funding last April to support its long-term vision for the Metaverse, which include many market opportunities for fashion brands - there are several unanswered questions about the topic. What will the metaverse mean for the fashion industry? And how will it impact fashion designers?

This article is a collaboration between The Digital Fashion Group Academy and FashionUnited and it was based on the Webinar "Fashion Design Meets the Metaverse", hosted by TDFGA in partnership with Parsons N Ventures. Author: Lívia Pinent, Digital Professor for Research at The Digital Fashion Group Academy.

What is the metaverse?

“It is not gaming”, said Richard Hobbs from BNV, a marketplace for designers and brands to be present in multiple virtual environments. For Hobbs, “the metaverse is anything where a digital asset can be easily transferred across multiple use cases.” Not forgetting that it is open ended and still in its early stages of development.

Even though we already know the metaverse is not gaming, it is a fact that gaming is leading the way. An industry that, in 2020, was worth 152.1 billion dollars, and doesn’t seem to stop growing. Through gaming, people are getting to know the metaverse and making it part of their everyday life.

Fashion merges with gaming

Leslie Holden, co-founder of The Digital Fashion Group, believes in the potential of merging fashion and gaming as a career path for young designers: “In the UK alone there are around 5000 fashion design graduates each year, with limited opportunities for employment. I see the metaverse as opening up new marketplaces, new opportunities, and new occupations for creatives in fashion. We are desperately needing to ensure that there is less waste of fashion talent and the metaverse can supply the answer to a lack of opportunity in the traditional fashion industry “

And Holden continues, “the technology we’re using today to create the metaverse has been developed by the gaming industry, which means that the tools weren’t developed for fashion, and like the development of the metaverse itself, we do need to ensure a joined up approach. Epic Games knows this and they are already investing in fashion, and I see the metaverse as the beginning of a new definition of fashion with purpose, potentially powered by new partners. It can be a fantastic opportunity for fashion designers.”

When it comes to fashion in the metaverse, we are talking about wearability. And as explained by Richard Hobbs, currently if you buy an asset in one metaverse you can not wear it in another, because there is not a single metaverse. There are different metaverses being built by different initiatives. Some of them are owned by companies, some of them are more in the decentralised area. But both have multiple standards, multiple formats and require a single way where you can own something digitally and be able to utilise that. The current emergence of decentralised autonomous organisations facilitate the concept of NFTs and digital asset ownership. And this opened up business opportunities to fashion brands and designers as well.

Fashion designers in the metaverse

Daniella Loftus, from This Outfit Does Not Exist, a platform for digital fashion, believes that designers have a key role at the centre of this new universe: “I see the digital designer’s place as ensuring that we are immersed in the digital world”, said Loftus.

Loftus defines digital fashion in three distinct forms: the first is phygital, digital fashion designed for the aim of producing physical garments. The second form is physical and digital combined, which is digital fashion that can be worn using augmented or virtual reality. And the third is fully digital, which is digital fashion that is sold directly to an avatar. The metaverse is concerned with the last two forms: physical and digital combined, and digital-only.

“If you look at the way we consider fashion in the physical world, it allows us to shape our perceptions of ourselves when we are wearing garments, but also to shape others’ perceptions of us. As we move to the metaverse, you have those functionalities really enhanced. It does not only ensure that you feel a certain way about yourself, or others feel a certain way about you. It is immersing you in that virtual environment and defining the rules of interaction within that environment,” continued Daniella Loftus. In this scenario, designers have a unique place in guiding us to express ourselves, and allowing us to participate in worlds that otherwise would be unfamiliar.

And what skills should designers develop to be this guide for the metaverse? According to Sean Chiles, co-founder of The Digital Fashion Group, “in addition to the digital mindset, fashion designers have to be able to translate the emotions that arise when researching the zeitgeist, and working with physical elements such as fabrics, technical trimmings, etc. This is the connection to the physical. Learning to work with it and blend the real with the unreal, is the primary skill I think that fashion designers need to know how to transition into a new digital reality for the future.”

For Chiles, the new techniques required for digital fashion and 3D design are very similar to bespoke tailoring or couture design where you create an outfit for one customer. “Digitally you can create so many different iterations of a unique asset that there’s going to be a flood of creative output, a flood of creative NFT’s, that can only exist within the metaverse,” he said. This creates a different kind of pressure for the designer, as he concludes, “in the sense of the metaverse and digital fashion design, mastering AI is going to be really interesting as AI can help alleviate this issue.”

Advancements in technologies such as artificial intelligence, and the increased ability of cloud servers to run 3D applications and rapidly render the files created, are all contributing to the expansion of the metaverse. But as Richard Hobbs points out this is open ended and in its early stages.

While the technology is still developing, we can seize the opportunity to consider the best ways to create the right mindset for this new future, understanding the metaverse as a borderless landscape where we can discover new forms of social interaction.

You can get a sneak peak of video here: