How digital fashion, the metaverse, and NFTs could change the fashion industry –

January 21, 2022 by No Comments

In 2008, I purchased my first digital outfit. I gave little thought to the significance of my decision. It was just one aspect of Maplestory, the free online role-playing game my friends and I were obsessed with. The game’s objective was to embark on a heroic adventure, and our virtual avatars had to be properly equipped for the journey. That meant swords, shields, capes, and all sorts of fantastical attire.

The most eye-catching virtual clothes and accessories cost actual cash, not in-game money, which I would buy with allowance money from my parents. The individual items were available for purchase in the “cash shop,” and cost from $1 to $10. They didn’t help defend against enemies or bestow extra power; they existed to serve a solely aesthetic purpose by covering up unwieldy battle regalia.

The clothes were also programmed to expire after 90 days. In hindsight, their semi-permanent nature was a prelude to the ephemeral fashion environment I would grow up in. But all that mattered then was that, for about three months, my pixelated self hunted monsters in virtual cat ears, pink sunglasses, and a flouncy black dress. It was a form of virtual dress-up that was playful and liberating. I had the autonomy to dress however I desired within the confines of this virtual world.

Digital fashion, as of late, is often discussed in tandem with the metaverse, a sci-fi concept turned omnipresent buzzword that has been touted as the future of the internet. In Mark Zuckerberg’s metaverse, for example, we will all have little stand-ins for ourselves, loitering around the digital landscape. These virtual avatars will work at virtual jobs, attend to virtual social obligations, and wear virtual clothes. How this Ready Player One-like world will come together is still extremely unclear.

To this end, Silicon Valley has been trying to convince Americans to think seriously about — and put real money toward — things that seem more or less fake. Compared to something as speculative as non-fungible tokens, digital fashion seems relatively easy to understand. Most people can grasp, for instance, designing an avatar for a video game, like The Sims. Your virtual self needs to get dressed; nudity is not programmatically allowed.

Digital fashion, however, is not limited to clothing for avatars. It’s a growing fashion subculture that includes the digital design and modeling of real-world clothing, the uploading of designs for real and digital clothing onto the blockchain (so these files can be sold as NFTs), and even digital clothes rendered onto real people.

There’s a belief that digital fashion could one day eclipse people’s needs for real, tangible clothes. Outfit repetition will become an outdated concern, the thinking goes, since digital-only clothes exist solely for sartorial performance and self-expression, beyond the constraints of physical reality. (Metaverse garments can be fantastically impractical: Think flaming capes, billowing glass-blown dresses, and cloud-like outerwear.)

This perspective, however, seems primarily held by individuals and startups that stand to make lots of money from digital fashion’s rising profile. Fashion has always been in the business of selling fantasies. Is this particular one, though, just another distraction from the wider fashion industry’s very real problems? Proponents of digital fashion claim that it has the potential to be profitable, practical, creatively rich, and sustainable. Much of that remains up for debate. We are, after all, still confined to our flesh-suits.

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