WOULD YOU PAY TO WEAR A DRESS THAT DOESN’T EXIST?

This issue, Grace Pickford explores the world of digital fashion and discusses the positives and the negatives of this futuristic trend.

Believe it or not, there is an entire sub-industry within fashion where the clothes do not physically exist. Yes, you read it right: these clothes are unwearable, untouchable, and un-hangable in your own wardrobe. They only exist in the realm of technology. Digitally designed clothing pieces are rendered onto pictures of people and the completed graphic can then be shared online as a cohesive image. The designs will never be physically produced into clothing items that can be worn in real life.


Digital fashion takes the creative, experimental, and unique side of 
fashion and builds it around the philosophy of reducing waste and minimising the environmental damage from the fashion industry. Why would people purchase clothes that they can never actually wear?


The digital fashion house, The Fabricant, hit headlines in 2019 when they sold a digital dress for £7,500. The dress was bought by Richard Ma, the chief executive of a security company based in San Francisco called Quantstamp. The ethereal, liquid-looking dress was bought for his wife, Mary Ren, who posted the graphic onto her Facebook page after the dress was rendered onto a photograph of herself. Ma stated that they viewed the purchase as an “investment” and as a “sign of the times”. They believe digital clothing will develop
value as it grows in popularity.


The ‘Iridescence’ dress is a fully tradable and collectible piece of digital art meaning the buyer owns and controls the image that they have purchased, like a real-life clothing article.
The Creative Director of The Fabricant, Amber Jae Slooten, described the context of the design as a “look into the future”. The fluidity of the dress reflects the fluidity of our own bodies when the boundaries of the physical world are blurred and we become connected through technology. People are faced with the questions, “what can a body be when it is freed from physical restraints? What does identity mean when there are endless bits and bytes to express it?”
Slootem states that “we are no longer bound to physical space” thanks to technology which she goes on to title as “our new religion”.


An important motive behind digital fashion is to cater to the changes that have occurred within the fashion industry due to social media and online marketing.
It is well-known that the rise of social media sites such as Instagram have had a huge impact on the value that fashion holds in today’s society. It is also undeniable that the fast rate at which our social media society is pumping through clothes for style pics is damaging to our environment. It has become commonplace for influencers to wear outfits for that ‘perfect shot’ to upload onto social media, only to never wear them again. The idea of wearing an outfit for one photo encapsulates the wasteful nature that is attached to the fashion industry.
Social media has created a platform for experimental fashion, for bold statement outfits, and an outlet for selfexpression through the art of fashion. However, it has also created a space for fast fashion ideologies to thrive.


The Fabricant has the motto “WE WASTE NOTHING BUT DATA AND EXPLOIT NOTHING BUT OUR IMAGINATION” emblazoned on their website. This highlights where digital fashion houses have found their niche. They can provide unique pieces of clothing with no strings attached other than you cannot physically wear the items. The concept of digital fashion pertains to the theory that if people are wearing outfits to be seen purely online, then why not fully integrate the experience into the technological world? If people buy clothes for the purpose of sharing the pictures online, digital fashion provides this service whilst avoiding the environmental and ethical issues attached to the physical production of fashion. Therefore, the fashion industry can keep producing and experimenting with new designs whilst avoiding the inevitable damage.


This year, The Fabricant collaborated with Puma and students from London’s Central Saint Martin’s to produce a wholly digital campaign. It was made to showcase how digital fashion technology can be utilised for future fashion campaigns to deplete the amount of waste, overproduction, and travel that is needed to promote new clothing campaigns.
Another collaboration with Scandanavian clothing company, Carlings, saw a release of digital clothing pieces on The Fabricants’ website which could be downloaded for free, including Carling’s “yellow INTOXICA leather jacket.” The aim was to democratise fashion and make it accessible for everyone. In 2018, Carlings released its first digital collection titled NEO-EX. The collection consisted of digital streetwear and all of the items sold out in the first month. Although it seems impossible for digital clothing to ‘sell out’, the company stated that they wanted to make it a limitededition range to make it more unique.


In addition to this, Carlings’ streetwear collection sold items starting from around £9 which is no more expensive than clothes you would find in-store. This highlights the direction in which digital fashion is moving as it becomes accessible and a viable option for the next generation of online creators. Despite this, as with all things, there is another side to the tale and technological advancements will always come with their fair share of controversies.
It could be argued that the creation of digital fashion simply perpetuates the toxic tendencies of social media, as well as the one-hit wonder fast fashion ideology.
Sharing fashion that only exists online may contribute to the inherent addictive nature of social media, and the toxic unattainability of the lives and personas that people create and post online. The comparison culture that has emerged from the use of social media is based on

constantly being fed images of other people’s lives. When this is combined with clothing that not only does not exist in reality, but is also made to be unique and can cost thousands of pounds, a dangerous concoction is produced.
By relying on digitisation for the clothes that we wear, it could make society even more reliant on technology than it already is, and perpetuate the notion of investing more time and money into our online personas than our physical realities.
However, it cannot go unsaid that the concept of ‘digital outfits’ is not an entirely new one. The inspiration for fashion house The Fabricant actually originated from video and computer games. For years, players have been spending their money to buy online outfits for their game characters and personas. This is a complex mission for game designers as these outfits, or skins, have to be three-dimensional and functioning in the world of the game.
Therefore, armed with the knowledge that virtual fashion has already been masterminded by game designers, digital fashion designers have the confidence that virtual fashion is of interest to consumers. It also allows them to carve out a space in the virtual market that has potential to maintain longevity into the future of fashion as more of our daily lives migrate online
Although it seems a little ‘Black Mirror’ to have a wardrobe that only exists in the virtual sphere, the world has been going in this direction for a long time now. The creation of digital influencer Lil Miquela in 2016 marked a pinnacle moment in society’s interest in virtual reality. With 2.7 million followers on Instagram, Lil Miquela is evidence of people’s commitment to online creations and their willingness to believe in its reality. 
Lil Miquela was created as a marketing and advertising tool and has now been used for many luxury fashion and streetwear campaigns including brands such as Prada and Calvin Klein.

In 2018, the creative director of Balmain also chose to use three digitally produced models to showcase the newest collection. CGI generated robots Margot, Zhi, and Shudu were created by British photographer Cameron-James Wilson and styled by CLO Virtual Fashion, another digital fashion house that creates 3D, hyperrealistic clothing simulations.
It is unknown yet how far digital fashion will go and how far it will become mainstream in our culture of online interest.
It is a steep and slippery slope when even what we wear can be altered in photographs, along with all of the face tuning and photoshopping apps available. It seems entire photographs can be rendered until reality becomes a distant memory.
As The Fabricant states on their website, their goal is to create a future “where fashion transcends the physical body, and our digital identities permeate daily life to become the new reality.” They want to become the leaders in taking “the human to the next level of existence.
If you are ready to upgrade YOUR reality, then hang on tight because it’s happening…right now.


You can read more of Grace’s work on her website gracepickford.com

Images via Canva Pro Library and Instagram @the_fab_ric_ant

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