THE DIGITAL FASHION REVOLUTION

As society continues to exhibit their lives online and concerns about sustainability keep on growing, digital clothing may have the potential to be bought as much as physical garments. Judith Willis learns more about the digital revolution.

The thought might seem inexplicable, but consumers have been spending money on digital fashion items for longer than you would think. Remember Stardoll? Circa 2007, it was an extremely popular online game where you could dress up your favourite celebrities and even give yourself a wardrobe that would make people envious in virtual and actual reality. But it wasn’t all fun and games. Those digital products for your doll came at a cost – a cost which resulted in my mum taking my phone off me so I couldn’t keep sending texts to order more digital currency.

Then there is the more contemporary example of the “Kim Kardashian: Hollywood” game, based on an existing franchise, which allows users to dress members and associates of the Kardashian/Jenner clan in designer clothing. Since its launch five years ago, the game has generated more than $240 million in sales, proving just how popular virtual dressing-up truly is.

A few companies have already experimented with creating and selling digital clothing collections. The idea is that a customer supplies a photo of themselves and the clothes are superimposed to make it look like they’re wearing the apparel. In November last year, Norwegian multi-brand retailer Carlings released its first digital clothing collection, featuring explicit nods to today’s digital age, with captions such as ‘Artificial Excellence’ and ‘I’m Not A Robot’ emblazoned across various garb. Each piece cost between €10 and €30, and had a limited production run. Due to the nature of the clothes, several social media influencers were called in to promote the collection on their Instagram accounts and within a week, everything had sold out.

Although the notion of digital clothing seems far-fetched and space-age, this is an exciting step towards making fashion more sustainable. The industry thrives on overconsumption thanks to new lines being released daily, both in stores and online. One could argue that fashion influencers play a detrimental part in this ongoing issue, with many promoting fast-fashion brands such as Boohoo and Pretty Little Thing that are known as some of the worst offenders in unsustainability. But there is a new generation of digital influencers who are fast becoming the most sought after faces for fashion houses like Balmain.

Back in 2018, the world’s first digital supermodel, Shudu, made her debut on social media, with many mistaking her as a human being thanks to the enormous attention to detail that went into her design. Her creator, Cameron-James Wilson, is a former fashion photographer whose obsession with a Barbie doll named South African Princess, penchant for creating gamer avatars, and love for fashion resulted in the “birth” of Shudu who he describes as an “art piece”. Although Wilson admits that digital supermodels won’t replace real models, he is confident that it will change the way the fashion industry works, most specifically minimising its carbon footprint.

So when can we expect digital clothing to become mainstream? The answer is not for a while. There are significant obstacles blockading the majority of fashion brands from making digital clothing commonplace. Perhaps the greatest issue is that most clothing designers are not trained in 3D modelling, and it is difficult to translate samples patterns onto a computer screen.

But one fashion brand has already developed 40% of its collections using 3D technology. Back in 2013, Hugo Boss began experimenting with 3D models of simple, plain garments and realised the advantage this had over physical samples. Consider this: with a manual prototype there is the back and forth of sending it to the supplier (often international suppliers based in countries such as China), then there is the multiple changes of print, colour and fabric – and all of this requires copious amounts of packaging, transport emissions and wastage. But with a 3D model, a few mouse clicks can change the design completely and in a fraction of the time.

As with most revolutions, digital fashion has a long way to go, but whilst its impact is gradual it is highly significant. For an industry that is recognised as one of the biggest polluters on Earth, the environmental resolutions that are being proposed and actioned are as imaginative and fantastical as fashion itself. What exciting innovation will be next? I can’t wait to find out.

Find Judith on Instagram with @misswillis

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