The internet is evolving right before our eyes. What started with digital pictures of apes, cats and 8-bit faces has begun a revolution that could transform every aspect of our lives.
When we think about the internet now, we think of the services we use: Facebook, Google, Instagram, Twitter, Spotify and many others. But this doesn’t paint an accurate picture of how the current digital landscape is interlacing with our developing virtual realities (e.g., 3D game worlds) and augmented realities (e.g., interior decorating apps). These technologies have sucked us into the screen — not literally, but it sure does feel like it — and we’re encountering reality in an entirely new way.
Digital tools have tricked our senses into new auditory and visual experiences, and soon enough, this could apply to other senses, like touch and smell. So, what term, then, describes the future of the internet? A future where new social relationships and sensory experiences will exist? You may have heard of it before, actually. It’s the metaverse.
Defining the metaverse is pretty complex, so I’ll defer to Cathy Hackl’s explanation — she is the “Godmother of the metaverse,” after all. Hackl defines it as a “further convergence of our physical and digital lives” that’s about “the internet breaking free from the rectangles in our hands, desks, and walls and being all around us.”
It may seem like the metaverse is best suited to serve the gaming industry and tech giants — Facebook has already publicly announced it will transition from a social media company to a metaverse company, rebranding as Meta — but that’s not entirely accurate. Any brand can find its way into the metaverse; as an executive working in the retail space, I’m most interested in how the metaverse can transform fashion and how fashion will change the metaverse.
As the fashion industry becomes more rooted in the metaverse, and younger generations spend more time shopping, socializing and playing there, it’s critical that retail and fashion brands understand how to tap into the opportunities in front of them.
Shopping Goes Digital
As brands and major fashion events went virtual in response to the pandemic, so did clothing. I’m not just talking about retailers and luxury brands finally prioritizing e-commerce, although that’s a necessary step in the right direction. What I’m referring to are digital showrooms.
Instead of consumers having to use their imaginations to visualize how a garment looks — and even more importantly, how it would look on them — they can now virtually interact with any piece of clothing. They can take a 360-degree look at a product. They can zoom in on even the smallest detail, rather than relying on a few photos the brand uploaded to the website. Consumers now have the ability to even virtually try on items by dragging one or more products onto photos of themselves.
The future of fashion isn’t driving to a store to make sure you’re buying clothing that fits. It’s not a limited shopping experience on an online store. It’s being able to virtually see, touch and experience products as if you’re really there.
Fashion Meets Gaming: Merging Physical and Digital
As fashion immerses itself in the metaverse, it can be separated into two forms: the combination of physical and digital, where clothing can be worn using augmented or virtual realities, and fully digital, where items are sold directly to an avatar.
For fashion designers and brands, learning to blend the real with the unreal is going to become a necessary skill in order to transition into the future. Similarly, digital design will likely entice a flood of creative output, so designers and brands must understand how to reach their customer base while mastering digital tools. And right now, video games are where most of these customers are.
These digital collabs are often accompanied by physical collections. In 2019, Louis Vuitton partnered with Riot Games and created original skins for League of Legends and also released a fashion collection from the game, which would run you anywhere from $170 for a bandeau to over $5k for a leather jacket. This year, Balenciaga released their Autumn collection as a video game. They also partnered with Fortnite to create items that will appear in the game as well as in stores.
This has already proven to be wildly successful, so much so that digital versions of items are already outperforming their physical counterparts. Gucci did a collab with Roblox to create a “Gucci Garden” and their popular Queen Bee Dionysus bag sold digitally for 350,000 Robux (or a little over $4k), which is more than the bag is worth in real life.
The next time you’re scrolling through social media and you see an account promoting an item, there’s a possibility the person you’re seeing may not even be real — at least if we define “real” as being human. Today, digital “humans” are taking the influencer scene to the next level.
Take 19-year-old Lil Miquela, for example. Online, she seems as real as you or me, but she’s actually a virtual influencer created by Brud, an L.A.-based startup. Since her Instagram debut, she’s gained over 3 million followers at the time of writing this and has a 2.7 percent engagement rate, which is among the likes of notable celebrities such as Selena Gomez and Beyoncé. Lil Miquela has worked with a number of brands, including starring alongside Bella Hadid in a Calvin Klein campaign. Noonoouri, a cartoony Parisian fashionista, has also done collaborations with Dior, Gucci and Miu Miu.
Eerie? Maybe a little. But the metaverse is opening up endless possibilities for designers, fashion and retail brands, and consumers. This could very well be the new reality of the fashion industry — so if you’re not in, you could be lagging behind competitors.