Red Pill or Blue Pill: Virtual Fashion

Would you buy clothes that don’t exist? At the outset of the research, we certainly had a chuckle at this concept. However as we got into it, we started believing. And thinking about the seams that might hold this virtual world together (pun intended).

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Maybe it is showing our age - researching virtual fashion certainly did. We were blown away by our ignorance. Hence this blog deserved the infamous dilemma from the Matrix as title; i.e. we took the red pill in this case.

After all, and setting the scene here, would you buy clothes that don’t exist?

At the outset of the research, we certainly had a chuckle at this concept. Even though our LinkedIn feeds are increasingly populated with metaverse and non-fungible token related material, and we heard of these terms before, it all seemed quite disconnected and much more like science fiction than reality.

Recent evolution: 2019 - 2022

However, thinking again, and looking at the world through the eyes of our children, we began to see a different future. Although best efforts are made by parents around the world to keep children off screens, generation Z is highly digital. Before 2020, this mostly revolved around video games, social media and Youtube. Dressing avatars in gaming is as normal to our kids as spreading a sandwich for breakfast in the morning.

And then the pandemic accelerated the amount of digital experiences in their lives by adding school and hanging out with friends to their daily screen time habits.

And what about us?

We all laughed at cat-filter bloopers and funny virtual backgrounds. Or maybe the guy in his underwear, who really could have benefited from some virtual fashion.

But let that sink in. How real were some of those backgrounds already? In addition, bear in mind that most of us want to keep working remotely going forward. In a way, virtual placemaking has become common practice for us all.

What comes after ‘unprecedented times’?

If you just think along where this might go next, in his ‘Reasons for Optimism After a Difficult Year’, Bill Gates said the following regarding virtual meetings:

“you will eventually use your avatar to meet with people in a virtual space that replicates the feeling of being in an actual room with them".

He thinks this could happen within the next three years.

And this is where the thought of buying clothes that don’t exist, starts to somewhat normalise.

Wouldn’t we still want to look authentic yet appropriate in a virtual space with our boss or clients? Maybe not initially, but ultimately we would want to not be wearing the standard outfit that the technology we are using is providing, would be our guess (we are imagining the 3D equivalent of the purple Teams blob here). The desire for individualistic expression and our ironic tendency as herd animals to follow these societal trends will make sure of that.

Mind over matter

Ultimately it is our experience that counts. To date, a lot of that experience has been physical, but the advent of video media and video games has certainly taught us you can get lost in something that isn't ‘physically’ where you are. If you have ever moved your physical body in an attempt to steer your virtual cart, you know the blending of the physical and digital world in experience and emotion is already happening, involuntarily. We simply can’t tell the difference very well at a primal level.

You can add the limitless possibilities of virtual fashion to this. Want to walk on clouds? Want to be on fire? Or perhaps you would like to have the power to become invisible. In a virtual fashion world, everyone can be James Bond. It even allows for the creation of multiple selves - is this where self expression is heading next? Perhaps we don’t in fact need string theory to experience or understand living parallel universes?

What do the affected industries think?

They seem to embrace it! Even more traditional computer industries, like the one in Silicon Valley, are taking this seriously.

Silicon Valley “has always focused on what it is [that] users want to do online—and for a decade, that has mostly been to socialize. It makes sense that now that our ‘online lives’ can include 3D objects, fashion, and more, Silicon Valley focuses there.”

And what about the fashion industry? They are loving it as well. Large brands like Ralph Lauren are looking to generate more than just the sale of a virtual item. It is all about the experience. In the future, they would like us to “see, touch and experience products as if you’re really there”.

Are we embracing it?

Not at scale yet - that we know of. Judging by the various online materials, it is a select in-crowd of frontrunners who are actively engaging with the topic of virtual fashion.

However, here comes the scary bit. There are digital “people” that aren't human. And modern technology makes that really hard to see. For example, Lil Miquela was/is an Instagram sensation. Her (presumably largely human) followers respond to her as though she is also human. Her virtually generated posts trigger human emotion in response to her purportedly human experience. Lil Miquela is also a business woman. For example, she partnered with Calvin Klein.

Rolling Stone argues that if digital, non-human influencers can work with ‘real life’ fashion brands, there is no reason these fashion brands can’t start selling clothes that are only available virtually. By now, the red pill has pushed our eyes wide open and we definitely agree with that.

Money makes the world go ‘round

As everyone in marketing knows, it takes emotion to spend. Especially, if something is rare and people feel that it is, chances of making a good amount of money go up. Enter the Non Fungible Tokens (NFTs)!

Much like with collector items in the physical world, the proposition of selling couture online takes the appeal of digital fashion for the big fashion houses to the next level. It could also be a sustainability play, maybe - for which other challenges need to be solved first. And sustainability is also very trendy, and is nowadays considered a good moneymaker.

Whether physical products get launched via a digital twin, such as recently successfully pulled off by RTFKT with digital sneakers or whether physical products with a ‘digital backend’ become more common for sharing and ownership purposes, or perhaps whether we lose the physical element altogether, the NFT provides an opportunity to prove original ownership.

And it is this combination of emotions and a good way to make money that firmly underpins the proposition of virtual fashion.

When can I slip into my digital outfit?

The question of when virtual fashion will go mainstream, i.e. when we stop feeling old and put on our virtual sneakers as a matter of course, is harder to answer. Connected to our writing and thinking around the metaverse blog, it will have a lot to do with the connectivity of the virtual environments. Escaping our 2D digital world of today, and entering the 3D or geospatial internet (or, if you will, metaverse indeed) is another key factor. After all, the 3D experience allows fuller immersion than 2D could ever provide.

Another big one to tackle is web3 technology, or the #nextgen internet which will enable the geospatial internet, which is way too big of a collection of topics to even start to consider here. Firstly we need to agree on what web3 is, or better said: on what the mainstream version of it will be. But most of all, we need to make sure it is accessible and comprehensible for most people in order for critical mass to be reached.

But what will connect all these worlds? This is where our interest reaches peak levels!

Bringing it back to integrations

This video, which is a nice explanation of virtual fashion more broadly, has an expert answer the question of when it will hit mainstream like this:

“once I can take the digital shoe and take it into Fortnite”.

In other words, in order to experience the emotional benefits of a virtual shoe, you have to be able to take it places and show it to other virtual beings.

This means, virtual fashion needs a place in the virtual world outside of applications and accepted by the various virtual outlets / places the avatar might go.

In the same video, THE DEMATERIALISED, a marketplace-like digital company selling virtual fashion, indicates they have optimised their pieces for a couple of computer games. Meaning that right now, the approach somewhat resembles application integrations offered by SaaS vendors, as we experience it more broadly.

Therefore the problem to be solved is, holistically, the same as what we are solving for Cloud applications: how to take your virtual fashion everywhere? How to come to a fully integrated, digital wardrobe?

Will Harmonizer move into enabling Digital Wardrobes as our next move?

So - metaverse, gaming, fashion, NFTs on blockchains, and so on - taking a step back, for now it appears we see a lot of technology divergence, and a lot of different ideas for what the future might hold with strong fanbases backing them up. Granted, and hopefully, industry standards will be developed. But one standard to fit all molds, like Stephen Hawking was hopeful for a Theory of Everything? It would have to be quite low on the balance of probability at this stage.

Therefore we think there would still be a need for a (vastly differently built) set of integration technologies, even in the metaverse and beyond. But regarding specifics, we would not dare to speculate. We are on the journey with you!

Picture by Brida_staright on Pixabay

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