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Fashionably...Early? The Rise Of Digital Fashion

Source: I.T — The Fabricant





Along with the inundation of NFTs and our gradual yet inevitable integration into the metaverse comes an incoming tidal wave known as digital fashion — and it seems it is here to stay. But is the world ready for it? 




In an attempt to define the growing phenomenon of digital fashion: it is a digital outfit created in a professional 3D application and applied to a person's photo, or perhaps their avatar — an intangible outfit that doesn't exist yet does very much live in a digital reality. Brands such as Replicant champion the idea that digital fashion can provide freedom from one's creative limits, societal judgment, and the laws of physics! The idea behind digital fashion (or art wear — the terminology is a separate debate) is thus: a re-imagination of the current fashion industry, one that's more innovative, sustainable, and inclusive.  




Initially, it was introduced as a business strategy and tool to make consumers purchase the physical item in the end. In recent years, however, that hasn't necessarily been the case. Fashion entrepreneurs behind More Dash and DressX, Daria Shapovalova, and Natalia Modenova, found a gap in the market: a generation of influencers required constant newness in the digital space. Think about it: followers have short attention spans and want to see the next big thing in fashion, and clothing used for content is barely worn before being discarded. Social media consumption has made this whole situation more unsustainable than ever. In an interview with Forbes, Shapovalova concluded, "If the images are digital, why do [we] need to buy fashion at all?"  




Leaving the technological impediments aside, here arose the question: How can consumers buy clothing they're not going to put on their bodies? Indeed, as EcoCult muses, "with a little more development and investment, the possibilities could be endless, but for now, fashion NFTs are more like curiosities and experiments (and volatile investment assets) than useful products".  




Well, this view may be refuted by the sustainability measures that digital fashion provides: opting for a digital design of a garment over having the physical piece produced can result in an astonishing 97% drop in energy consumption. Researching for DressX, a team compared the footprint of a basic T-shirt to a digital version: 6.5 kilograms of CO2 emissions vs. 250 grams of CO2 emissions. EcoCult reports that "while most companies and experts say cotton tees have a footprint closer to 2 kilograms of CO2 emissions, the difference between digital tops and physical tops is still dramatic" (Doyle). Of course, digital spaces require tons of energy, and long-term solutions are yet to be discovered, but efforts are ongoing. 




Still, the other side of the spectrum seems to be the real fear that tech will take over. The NFT is not limited to altering photos. The digital garment is worn in a metaverse space — most commonly a game — as digital events and interactions become even more frequent than they are now. The ubiquity of the avatar has facilitated the process as people are beginning to have an early, literal form of the avatar — a replication of your physical self in digital format. As digital styles grow bolder, the avatars evolve to depict more complex ideas, and as we integrate more into the digital space, it's easy to imagine physical life waning. It already happens often; we've all heard stories of gamers who became lost in the digital world and never wanted to come back out again. 




Despite the bounds of creativity that one could reach with digital garments, the effect of physical clothing on a physical body seems an irreplaceable feeling. As the COVID era has brutally demonstrated, the phenomenon of "touch starvation" increases stress, depression, and anxiety, and according to the Texas Medical Center, "trigger[s] a cascade of negative physiological effects". 




It is entirely plausible that this reasoning extends to the digital fashion takeover as well: how are we to interact with and celebrate the physical space that we exist in, to feel human, when our sense of expression is being depicted by a mere substitution of our physical being? Does this mean that our physical being has no place in the near future? Already, the existential crisis has begun.  




So, what can we do? Should we fight this idea on the grounds that it will slowly be another way to rob us of our already diminishing humanity in an ever-digitizing society? Should we embrace it, as it is a striking sustainability measure as well as a testament to how far our technology can go? We don't have to go to extremes just yet. We can start by educating ourselves on the topic; even amongst the GenZ — who are meant to know everything about technology — confusion, division, and misinformation run rampant.  




It's important to remember always to have hope. In an interview with The Powerhouse, Amber Jae Slooten, co-founder of digital fashion house The Fabricant, wishes to stress that there is a human element to digital fashion: "A digital garment without a story has no value, and the value is built upon the idea of that." Storytelling — that which can bond people from all walks of life — may save us. As long as we cling to human connection on a mental and emotional plane, we can communicate as we reconcile the differences between the tech-savvy and the tech-challenged. 




Resistance may come from those conditioned to the traditional way of purchasing clothing. But attitudes are changing, as consumers of newer generations have become accustomed to the metaverse and the concept of environmental consumerism. Slooten continues that educating the user is a top priority. 




She cites an example of changing shopping behavior from a campaign that The Fabricant created with a retailer from Hong Kong, which consisted of an entirely digital collection that people could order by visiting their pop-up store, trying the clothes on big screens, and experience multi-sensory interaction with the clothing. Such experimentation is necessary to open minds and enact change; good or bad, learning is key to the process. 




Whatever one's stance on this latest significant development in the fashion industry may be, keeping up to date with developments in both the digital and physical spaces is essential. Furthermore, by learning how to deal with the toxicity and pollution figures of the current mainstream fashion industry and actively reflecting on how to be mindful, we can contribute to our collective social awareness.



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