Digital fashion and the Metaverse: a new way for people to experience fashion

Is screen wear the new street wear?

As people spend more time online – in meetings, social media and video games – clothing brands and designers are increasingly interweaving digital design with physical fashion.

The wave of new fashion technology encompasses everything from tailoring the look of your online gaming avatar, to digital sampling and fittings, through to virtual runways and fashion shows.

Industry experts discussed the emerging trends at a panel on Fashion and the Metaverse hosted by The Masters Institute of Creative Education. 

Founder of virtual reality and streaming start up Inverse Darren Vukasinovic, says interest in digital fashion and technologies like augmented and virtual reality, surged as people shifted to online spaces like Zoom and Teams during the pandemic. 

He says it wasn’t long before people began thinking, “what is my identity when I’m living in a digital space?”

“I saw it in the creativity of the backgrounds people were starting to use, their virtual backgrounds. You’d get on these calls and the first couple of times it’s normal… and then, all of a sudden the backgrounds and getting more elaborate and the filters are getting more elaborate.”

Australian fashion designer Daniel Avakian says, digital technologies like 3D pattern making and rendering can alleviate the cost, work, time and waste involved in traditional fashion sampling.

Avakian says, “in the fashion industry in the back end … a designer creates an idea, an inspiration and they create a 2D technical drawing. And then they give it to a pattern maker and the pattern maker will create a sample. And this all costs time and money. 

“And then you’ve got a dozen people in the back room doing that. But upskilling them with this new technology and this new workflow saves all brands, many, many costs in that long arduous process. 

“And we stop having to create all that wastage in sampling … we can see it digitally … it will create a new, efficient way for people to experience fashion.”

Avakian’s company has been experimenting with the use of 3D body scanning technology to create red carpet gowns. 

“So [for] a couple of red carpet pieces we’ve been doing in Australia, the clients have a body scan, and we’ve made them a red-carpet dress in, like, two weeks. And it’s through the body scan technology we get all their measurements… my factories are able to then custom-make the garment from the design.”

The efficiencies in these new digital processes offer sustainability benefits in the form of lower greenhouse emissions, waste and transport miles involved in sending new season clothing sample sets around the world. On the flip side, some technologies like blockchain and cryptocurrencies can consume large amounts of energy.

Avakian says he sees the need for upskilling and education, ensuring that fashion, textiles and design students understand these emerging digital concepts.

“Having young designers learn how to be able to use 3D pattern making software to show, to see changes on a lapel, or changes on a dress.”

‘Screen wear’ is term used for the technology which allows people to add photo-realistic clothing items to their social media photographs. This gives people opportunities to purchase and ‘wear’ items that they might not otherwise choose, or be able to afford in the real world.

Eugene Leung, the creative director of fashion and design company Injury, says digital fashion and 3D rendering can also help eliminate the real-world waste that results when certain types of consumers, like Instagram influencers, buy an item of clothing and only wear it once. 

“Digital fashion can basically satisfy the desire for consumption, but in a more sustainable way,” he says.

Increasingly there is blending between digital and physical worlds. For example, Leung says sometimes customers will buy a piece of digital clothing and later ask him to make a physical version.

Read more: How technology and science are helping transform fashion from unsustainable to on-demand

Digital producer and retired model Caitlin Lomax, says the technology already exists for rendering digital clothing items onto a photo of a person, or an avatar in a game. 

“When we’re talking about fashion in a rendered, simulated thing. We can get such high-quality beautiful visuals,” she says.

Lomax says, ‘digital first’ designers focus on developing the clothing and styles – known as ‘skins’ – for computer game and Metaverse avatars on the screen, rather than fashion in the physical world.

Avakian says digital campaigns can also offer new ways of marketing clothing.

“At New York fashion week, our finale dress … we took a Metaverse asset and brought it into the real world and let it walk down the runway.” 

“We’ve sold quite a few of those dresses as the real garment, just from that Metaverse imagery,” he says.

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