This article first appeared in Gulf News, written by Juman Sleiman, Creative Strategist at Imagination Middle East.
Fashion is universal. It is a language spoken by everyone and a part of personal identity. A form of self expression through garments and textiles that define our core beliefs. Fashion goes beyond clothing, it represents emotions, conscious decisions and an extension of peoples’ creativity.
But, how has this creativity extended from being tangible to virtually imaginative?
The rise of Web3 technologies such as NFTs and Blockchain have influenced shoppers in powerful ways. Ownership has transitioned from physical goods to digital ones and the luxury fashion industry has been positively impacted by this shift. Major brands have taken part in the digital fashion trend, including Balenciaga’s Afterworld: The Age of Tomorrow, releasing its Fall 2021 collection through a video game, Louis Vuitton’s collaboration with Epic Games creating original skins for League of Legends, in addition to other big players such as Dolce & Gabbana and Tommy Hilfiger showcasing NFT fashion collections.
It’s estimated by Morgan Stanley that the digital fashion market could be worth $50 billion by 2030 and has exciting implications for the world of experiences - both physical and digital:
Sustainability and mass production
Digital fashion plays a big role when it comes to the environment. On one hand, it is faster for brands to produce garments as production is digitised. On the other hand, customers are only using these garments when they really need them, contributing to a much lower need for environmental resources, resulting in an overall greener process.
Over time, retail stores became destinations with visitors as the traditional in-store experience evolved from shelf displays to a space designed around the customer’s needs and personalised choices. A shift from space making to place making, where people can feel like they are part of a community.
With the introduction of digital fashion, this only makes us challenge what the store of the future will look like. Yes, at the moment, brands are thinking about digital, immersive and social worlds, but more than ever, it’s critical to consider investing in spaces that are integrating physical and digital as part of a richer shopping experience.
Could the in-store become a destination for visitors to experience digital fashion like they would in a video game or the metaverse, but within physical perimeters? For example, your physical self and digital self meeting in a changing room?
The fashion industry has its limitations when it comes to garments, as designers come up with imaginary creations that are sometimes hard to be worn in the real world. The Metaverse has allowed designers to extend their creativity without any constraints. The Metaverse offers endless opportunities for the luxury retail industry.
Value: Secondhand clothing is much more valuable in the digital world, as NFTs or digital collectibles are traded and sold across marketplaces, adding to their value and contributing to a growing digital circular economy.
Accessibility: Digital fashion in the Metaverse allows people to try on clothes at any time or place and shop at virtual stores.
Personalisation: As the need for personalised shopping only continues to grow, the virtual world allows people to customise in their own way, transcending physical capabilities. Examples of this are digital outfits made of elements of nature.
Self Identity: Who would you be if you could be anyone? Your digital identity is data-driven and so extends beyond self-judgement and emotional thoughts. Breaking away from those personal barriers, people will be able to build new bodies, new styles and new experiences, opening up doors to several personas of the same physical person.
It’s clear that digital fashion can create a world of unique experiences; yet, the luxury retail industry has not completely explored this world, due to consumer hesitations in shifting their fashion behaviours but also, the great investment associated with digital components adding to the retail experience. It’s been estimated that Gen Zs would represent approximately 60 per cent of the luxury market by 2025, accounting for a huge market in terms of the future of shopping. This doesn’t even include those that are under the age of 18 years old, whose purchasing power is dependent upon their parents.
What about the Boomers and Gen X’ers? Why have they been somewhat neglected in the midst of focusing on the young shoppers, although they contribute to a large purchasing community with high spending power?
Brands need to consider a strategy that accounts for the transformation to digital fashion, but also how such a shift could affect different age groups. It is important to ensure that through physical and digital components, the luxury retail industry is being inclusive, even if that has higher cost implications on the business itself.
By only focusing the technology on those that feel most comfortable with it, the Gen Zs and Millennials, brands will limit their brand reach, product interest and overall business success.