From February 10 to 13, the first part of Digital Fashion Week New York (DFWNY) took place, bringing together creators and innovators from the fashion and tech industry working at the vanguard of the digital fashion movement.
DFWNY - which is not to be confused with the digital iteration of the classic New York Fashion Week - was held as a mixture of physical and digital events and spaces offering its visitors the opportunity to immerse themselves into a new digital experience whilst showcasing the innovative work being done by developers extending the frontier to the Metaverse. It’s a new space offering brands and designers a chance to utilize the newest technology to realize their creative vision or to connect to their clients respectively.
To attend DFWNY, visitors were connecting through two different platforms, V-Gather, a completely 3D environment based virtual platform designed to offer immersive experiences as well as Queendom.io, another virtual space set to host the Metaverse Fashion Show of the 22 participating digital designers. The technology behind this hyper-realistic virtual world, unfortunately, encountered technical difficulties over the weekend. Due to a shortage of GPU servers required to host the animated highly-complex digital garments through an interactive experience, the access to the Metaverse Fashion shows was severely restricted, resulting in the presentation of the digital creations being postponed to February 24.
The part of the DFWNY that was able to proceed as planned were the panel discussions with experts from the field, as well as the workshops aimed at educating a new generation of digital designers. One overarching fact that became very clear throughout the discussions was that digital fashion, despite having gained immense momentum recently, is still in the very early stages. The technology itself is yet to be perfected and made readily available for the wide public. There is still a massive gap between the innovators working at the forefront of this digital revolution and the public, who is yet to catch on to this new development. This inclusion will ultimately decide the success and longevity of these immersive digital environments.
As was discussed during the panel ‘A 360 view of Fashion: innovations that influence fashion now’, the signs are very promising, as big brands are starting to make inroads into the Metaverse. Despite many brands having realized some very successful projects in a virtual environment, at considerable investment, these are oftentimes one-off custom projects without any intentions to utilize the technology at scale or long term. But, reports, such as the Snapchat Global AR Report from last year, have also indicated that an immersive experience leads to an increased engagement to the customer. The main problem here lies with the number of people who are being reached. As it stands today, digital environments are not yet attracting huge numbers of people. The technology itself is still considered the chief attracting point for the people, who are more likely to engage out of interest in virtual immersive environments rather than the products which are presented within.
But, huge tech companies are working hard to change this and to make the Metaverse more relatable - and the growth potential is huge. Just as a reference here, digital art in the form of NFTs only emerged recently. Despite only a tiny fraction of people having bought into digital artworks - in the US only around 2 percent - the market for digital art has increased to over 41 billion US dollars in 2021. With big companies, like Meta (formerly known as Facebook), making considerable investments to include 3D into their platforms, it is only a question of time as to when immersive experience and digital fashion will become mainstream commodities.
First steps towards integration into the Metaverse
Small steps towards this goal are already underway, from digital sampling offering customers the opportunity to try on clothing digitally before purchasing the physical pieces, to indeed purely digital creations by designers available as NFTs. For now, the digital immersive experience still largely sits on top of the “traditional” e-commerce model. Despite customers having the opportunity to go shopping in a virtual space and trying on digital samples, in the end, they are still purchasing a physical piece of clothing. As Dan O’Connell from Brandlab 360 has put it, the current e-commerce model is outdated and needs to adapt to the modern needs of the customers whilst generating returns for the brands. Different from the widely-spread belief that one needs to start by digitizing one’s product, he argues that “the fundamental point is that consumers spend more time in immersive experiences than compared to a first visit to the e-commerce store. They are much less likely to be distracted, to leave things in opened tabs or baskets, so in my opinion, the fundamental starting point is to move platforms through which people are accessing these services.”
Concerning the sale of purely digital garments, the technology and the customers themselves are unfortunately not yet ready. In a further talk, ‘Unlimited possibilities: Where are we now and what is in the future of digital fashion?’, the expert panel explored, as the name already suggested, the unlimited possibilities that are opening up through the Metaverse. The wide-ranging applications of this new digital world are only slowly revealing themselves to the different brands, as well as users. What we often fail to grasp is the lack of limitations. Yes, it is possible to completely copy an existing retail space into a digital environment, but why would one do this if the possibilities are literally endless.
The Metaverse itself is still fractured, failing to achieve a single unity. Digital customers are still limited to the extent of the different platforms used. As explained across all four panels, but especially during ‘Fashion x Games’, the emergence of digital fashion is in large parts still related to gaming, this industry having been an early adopter of the movement. Within or outside of these games, there is not yet a seamless unitary Metaverse experience in which visitors can move around freely with their own digital avatar. For now, the majority of sales of purely digital fashion is largely limited to the gamified environment in which customers are dressing their in-game avatar rather than their own digital likeness. This also means that purchased garments in one game are not transferable into any other game or reality, but are limited to the confines of set games. One of the in-person events taking place during the Digital Fashion Week was the 3D body scanning of visitors offered by Modern Mirror, one of the sponsors of the event, which can later be used in the Metaverse, a first step to narrowing the gap between creators and consumers.
Overall, the panels and workshops underlined the fact that digital fashion is still in its infancy stages. Despite huge progress, the arena of digital fashion is still dominated by the involved innovators and early adopters, as became apparent by the thematic of the panels and workshops.