Will digital experiences stay, or it’s just a marketing trick to sell fashion more? Virtual worlds, gaming, digital collectibles, blockchain, AI-powered influencers… A line between fashion and tech has never been so thin, especially now, when it comes to these techy buzzwords. 

The time when digital economies are finally striving has come, and due to the pandemic, the fashion industry, along with many other industries, has been pushed to ignite strength to implement technological changes. Thus digital transformation has accelerated enormously. Brands had no choice but to search for and reimagine different touchpoints with customers as physical interactions have been drastically reduced. Let’s dive into four really dashing mediums and ways on how fashion brands are interactively integrating their products, leveraging technology and creativity.

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No more boring outfits for the Zoom calls – AR is here

Forget about shopping online. Now the new cool is to get dressed online! What do I mean by dressing up online? Just imagine how convenient it would be to skip the routine of fancy preparation before the marathon of your online meetings and simply by clicking one button – opening your ‘room’ with digital goodies like wardrobe, makeup, accessories – select an outfit and, et voilà, you would be fully ready for the day! For now, we have a famous Snap Camera augmented reality (AR) filters app available to use that gives an incredible boost not only in establishing an online charisma and fun factor but also helping to reduce a zoom-fatigue

While trying to get comfortable with Zoom filters, augmented reality has been a common guest in the majority of social media users’ profiles, especially Instagram stories and Snapchat itself, choosing from a variety of different filters – from changing our surroundings to the way we look. Definitely, brands are experimenting with AR also. Early adopters of bringing digital experiences inside the stores and adopting physical retail solutions such as magic mirrors in fitting rooms or during checkout are no longer a surprise, as virtual try-ons can be ‘executed’ via phone and any other screen too. Interactive advertisement forms and campaigns: from Loreal makeup or Coach sunglasses try-ons, IKEA’s furniture styling, to the latest collaboration between H&M and designer Simone Rocha, resulting in a launch of AR pop-up book where people can interact with theatrical versions of painter’s Faye Wei Wei paintings “appearing” just inside people’s homes. On top of that, incorporating AR (3D viewing of product in particular) functionality into e-commerce websites gives a 250% bigger conversion rate, according to Shopify and based on Nike’s experience – possibility to ‘try’ sneakers virtually leveraging augmented reality before purchasing, has significantly reduced the number of returns, which gives a positive note for pursuing sustainability in e-retail business.

Nike’s experience

Apart from augmented reality filter-powered fancy looks during online meetings, I have no doubt as soon as we are back to normal, the number of interactive solutions such as magic mirrors or touchscreens in stores will increase significantly in order to converge the online with offline (URL to IRL), seeking to enhance and keep customer experience flow consistent and smooth. 

Reinventing concepts of clothing a.k.a no more homogeneous content in social media – digital clothing will help you level it up

Along with augmented reality, the 3D design is living its age too. But let me start from another angle of it. Being a fashionista and purchasing fashion items only to create content for social media and return items afterward, also known as “buy, take a picture, return,” has become a negatively popular phenomenon nowadays. Considering that fashion is the second most polluting industry on the planet, a huge amount of concerns regarding how to make it more sustainable appears. Here comes technology – based on the research conducted by digital fashion pioneer The Fabricant and its partners, “wearing a digital garment leaves an extremely lower environmental impact than wearing a physical item” because the production of digital items does not involve water and emits less CO2. Holding the world’s first digital fashion house name, back in 2018, The Fabricant sold first-ever digital-only dress called “Iridescence” for almost $10k (and yes, this fact is still relevant even 3 years have passed because it was a breaking point in this space!). Now, this future-oriented market has expanded remarkably along with the appearance of various platforms such as XR Couture or Replicant, where people can shop digital outfits, appearance on Vogue covers, blockchain-powered NFT market (more about NTFs in the VR section of this article), and more. From a consumer’s perspective, digital clothing is an option to reduce the number of clothes bought and a way to elevate the online presence of humans.

Let’s just take a step back and understand what does digital fashion means. The most natural way of imagining digital clothing is to think of avatar’s skins in the games (more about this in this article’s gaming section). Digital fashion is worth being nominated as a spark of revolution in fashion and has become a medium for 3D designers to showcase their work by helping consumers express and create unique images of themselves. As per today’s date, there are two most common ways to wear futuristic, sci-fi, dreamy, or haute couture digital pieces on your ‘real-self’: by “putting” a digital garment on a static picture or, using a motion-capture, on a video. However, the latter takes way longer and is still early to be used in the mass market. (Disclaimer: there are more ways to wear digital fashion on a person’s digital twin or avatar, such as dressing up in metaverses, games, and any other digital mediums). The ways of wearing digital-only items will become even more interesting as soon as Facebook, Apple, or other big tech companies share their visions of the future by releasing wearable devices such as AR glasses. Possibilities of how and what kind of digital fashion can be are endless. The only limitation is creativity. This is why it is so magical – it can be changed, adapted, evolved, or co-created to fulfill the power of the designer’s mind. To show you a glance, one of the most eye-gazing digital creations so far, in my opinion, is a digital-only “bio-mimicry” couture collection created by amazing ladies from tech-couture fashion design label Auroboros in January this year.

So, becoming the fastest growing area in fashion-tech, digital fashion provides opportunities to potentially become a tribute to sustainability, an alternative and inspiration for content creation, and an ability to reinvent online expressions by creating outstanding, unique, artistic, and fashionable digital designs.

Having a haute-couture outfit on your avatar in the game? Mission possible!

The gaming industry has been exponentially growing during the past decade. Without a doubt, the pandemic has accelerated it too. “Gaming is the new technology paradigm,” says Michael J. Wolf, CEO and founder of Activate consulting, who also mentions that time spent gaming has increased by an all-time-high 29% since the start of the lockdown. In addition to that, the industry is growing, and the latest published data from Statista proves it by showing that the entire video gaming market is expected to be worth over $200 billion by 2023.

Gaming and fashion have been relatives for a long time. However, not many of us have realized that skins in Fortnite or dresses in Sims perfectly represent a native of fashion. Collaborations between these two creative industries recently have been indeed active – from famous League of Legends selling luxury brand’s Louis Vuitton designed skins for avatars in the game, Sims 4 allowing dressing characters with Moschino or H&M, real celebrities selling their clothes in Genies online game, or Gucci wildly taking over an Animal Crossing, Pokemon or Roblox gaming environments. Integration of designer’s items into the game is one option, yet to create a unique game for the brand itself – is another propitious one. Balenciaga released its Autumn/Winter 2021 collection by broadcasting it in… a digital video game format! It shows that not only a game itself as a way of expression is a business opportunity for fashion brands, but also it is a solid chance to reach and connect with a new segment of consumers’ audiences. The third option for brands to touch an integration into the gaming industry is an opportunity to purchase in-game advertisements, which is a very promising and not-yet crowded solution to gain brand awareness.

Balenciaga

Quickly stepping aside from fashion’s area, another incredible example of integration into the gaming industry, I am keen to add, is how rapper Travis Scott hosted his virtual-only concert “Astronomical” in Fortnite, where more than 12 million people joined in the game. This experience has echoed through online channels and leveled up possibilities of digital economies, especially in lockdown.

But why is gaming such a hot topic right now? Apart from gaming activity, games have now become a pretty feasible and tempting alternative for virtual worlds. 

VR is elevating our curiosity to step into avatar-ready virtual worlds

How about buying a square of land to live in the digital world? It’s no longer as utopian as it sounds. Since 2015, Decentraland has become one of the biggest and well-known ‘virtual worlds’ (also known as metaverse, and there are many of them nowadays), defined as a place where users can create, purchase, explore, and even monetize virtual content. In today’s digital economies, including virtual reality (VR), there are even virtual ‘landlords’ selling, trading, renting non-existing virtual places, and their prices vary with no such boundaries – from one hundred to a hundred million US dollars! It means consumers have a chance to invest in various digital assets. Having a possibility to visit virtual museums is already not a newbie in the market, but a chance to buy and own digital art, also known as crypto art, or purchase a physical asset co-ownership in real life, is. Such ownership can be guaranteed using NFT – a non-fungible token, unique and original digital asset powered on the blockchain. Unlike Bitcoin, the metadata inside the token is individual and cannot be replaced or replicated. The main idea behind NFTs is to have a unique identifier of assets owned, which would allow a person to gather various collections of digital collectibles from music, fashion, art to NBA players cards. Buying digital assets have already left a significant mark in history – various creations from different artists have been minted and placed on the NFTs markets, including beloved Lithuanian graphic designer’s Karolis Strautniekas artwork or the latest example of an art piece created by artist Beeple which was auctioned for $69.3 million last week. Why am I mentioning the rise of digital assets next to the topic of VR? Sooner or later, each of us will have our ‘digital twins’ in virtual worlds. Thus having a gallery of beautiful 3D art collections would be a pretty cool element to decorate your virtual living room or workspace. Wouldn’t it?!

Brands are also trying to create unique experiences by stepping into the virtual worlds and virtual reality. Apart from using VR devices, such as Oculus or HoloLens, computer or mobile screens can also help establish an engaging connection between the brand and its audience. One of the most exciting examples for me is Pangaia, a materials science fashion brand, and their decision to present a new collection for puffer jackets called FLWRDWN. Collaborating with innovation and XR industry professionals, using WebVR and 3D-based solutions, Pangaia offered a totally immersive virtual experience for their audience by creating a virtual environment where they presented the collection in a unique future-oriented e-commerce way. 

Pangaia offered a totally immersive virtual experience

What’s next?

As digital economies are growing, interest in collaborations between fashion brands and the tech industry is increasing accordingly. Launching a fashion collection by streaming a live video on Instagram is not a big thing anymore. Thus, non-traditional and unique ways should be the consequence of pandemic and become a demonstrated strategic action towards investment into digital transformation, making audiences and online users more engaged and connected. Digital fashion merging creativity and futuristic designs, interactive tech solutions such as VR, AR, and gaming industry blends virtual and digital worlds together and gives customers an incredible opportunity to explore and engage with brands more closely, creatively, and intimately. 

What’s next? The next is yet to see – whether all of this innovative experiential experience is here to stay, or brands are betting on it for marketing-only purposes. I believe that industry-changing technology will spark a long-lasting need to collaborate, experiment, and pursue the creation of digital mediums. It will also be an addition to the future of physical if connected to establish content-full touchpoints in saving relationships between brands and consumers.

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