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Inclusive design to exclusive communities: What to expect from digital fashion in 2023

By Rachel Douglass


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Image: The Empress of the Metaverse by The Fabricant

Digital fashion continues to be at the centre of discussion within the industry. However, its swift evolution over the course of 2022 has seen it expand beyond virtual clothing collections and gaming collaborations. As this sector proceeds into new realms, FashionUnited has assembled some trends in the digital fashion industry that could be anticipated for this year.

Brush up on your metaverse terms here.

Fittings go virtual

Virtual try-ons (VTOs) can expand a brand's shopping experience, bringing new opportunities into the field of online shopping and different ways for customers to engage. Specific technologies that have been adopted include augmented reality (AR) and artificial intelligence (AI), both allowing for the possibility of such a feature to exist while personalising the shopping process. Data surrounding VTO further backs its importance. According to a study by Harvard Business Review, 56 percent of shoppers reported feeling more confident about a product after using AR, while 62 percent of shoppers said they now preferred shopping with retailers that offer AR experiences.

H&M AR garments. Image: Snap

Additionally, Perfect Corp, a tech firm that develops AR and AI solutions for beauty and fashion retailers, also reported a strong consumer response to its own VTO features. The company’s YouCam app, which allows shoppers to try products on and adapt them via AR camera lenses, reported over 270 million fashion accessories were “tried on” through the feature, particularly for eyewear styles which contributed to 18 percent of VTOs in 2022’s H1. More and more fashion brands have also begun implementing the feature into their own e-commerce, with the likes of H&M and Puma even adding AR into their apps to allow shoppers to test products at home – confirming that it could be here to stay.

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Exclusivity becomes blockchain-backed

The luxury fashion industry was arguably one of the biggest backers of the metaverse during 2022, as a slew of brands and designers made their way into the virtual world via events, collection drops and collaborations. Its appeal is largely centred around tech that enables a sense of exclusivity, often requiring shoppers to purchase digital assets in order to gain access to limited products and occasions. This is most often in the form of blockchain-backed items, such as non-fungible tokens (NFTs) that provide individual ownership and therefore unlock exclusive features for purchasers.

Prada Timecapsule t-shirt, January 2023. Image: Prada

This sense of community is something luxury and premium shoppers are actively seeking, according to House of Blueberry founder and CEO, Mishi McDuff, who told FashionUnited: “Increasingly, metaverse users will not buy into products, nor individual brands. Rather, they will buy into a larger community where they can socialise, practice self-expression and feel a sense of belonging.” Despite the fluctuating value in NFTs, various iterations of the concept were increasingly beginning to emerge towards the end of 2022, such as Prada’s Timecapsule collection, which provided buyers with an NFT, access to a cordoned off Discord community and an invitation to its Milan fashion show. Nike also revealed it was set to unveil a Web3 community in 2023, where members can win opportunities to co-create virtual designs.

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Retail takes on the gaming world

Courtesy of Lacoste

It can’t be denied that fashion in gaming played a huge role in the industry in 2022, with a vast number of brands and retailers using gaming platforms to make their debuts into digital fashion via collections, events and store openings. It is the latter that appears to be making a clear indentation into the retail space however, as brands begin to take on virtual storefronts and flagships in a bid to connect with consumers within a new world. While some, like Lacoste, are simply opening virtual iterations of their physical stores, where shoppers can purchase digital clothing items and play in-store games, others are developing more expansive settings in preparation for the anticipated move to metaverse shopping.

According to a study by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), more and more people are turning to this format, often via virtual reality (VR) products, to online shop, signalling significant change to retail’s future. In the firm’s Global Consumer Insights Pulse Survey, it was reported around a third of respondents had used a VR channel in the first six months of 2022, 32 percent of which had stated they were buying products after viewing them on VR platforms. Additionally, nearly a fifth of the group had said they purchased luxury goods. Brands have responded to this shift by launching their own virtual store experiences, advancing the feature through the use of interactive avatar retail staff, customisable products and connections with real world initiatives.

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Phygitalisation is the new norm

The term ‘phygital’ refers to products and experiences that exist in both a physical and digital capacity. The trend recognises that despite the heightened interest in metaverse experiences, real life is still defining consumer behaviours. By integrating the two, via phygital events, collections or VR experiences, brands can hope to expand their reach and potentially garner more customers through new means. Brands like Diesel have begun to experiment with this concept, introducing collections that come with accompanying NFTs, providing the buyer with clothing pieces that can be worn physically and on their metaverse avatars.

The rise of phygitalisation has also been predicted by co-founder and CEO of Boson Portal Jason Banon, who spoke with FashionUnited on the topic in 2022. Banon noted that prices of NFTs needed to be reinforced by physical products so that Gen Z felt the need to buy into the trend. “It is likely that a year from now, all of these high end luxury items are going to have this sort of digital or phygital shadow to complement them,” he added, further noting that this could be the norm due to the increasing need for relevance among younger target audiences.

Photo Credits: Burberry + Minecraft.
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Web3 powers e-commerce

The term Web3 refers to essentially what has become known as the “new” internet, a step up from the current Web2 platforms that, instead of being controlled by corporations, looks to democratise the online world, allowing individuals to create and control their own experiences online, own their data and access open-source information. While still not fully developed, the concept slowly seeped into the end of 2022 through the launch of Web3-focused accelerator programmes and the development of advanced e-commerce “worlds” that aim to offer fresh new ways of shopping.

The integration of Web3 can include elements such as cryptocurrency payment options, metaverse-based experiences and trustworthy authentication processes, utilising encrypted digital identities that can improve management and protect against misuse. Retailers and brands that have already adopted such a strategy include the likes of Farfetch, Gucci and Philipp Plein, pointing to the stance the concept has within luxury.

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Independent digital fashion rises

While independent digital fashion designers have essentially defined the industry, it can be hard for them to maintain their position amid increasing competition and lack of payment. As a response, platforms dedicated to supporting these individuals have been increasingly popping up in an attempt to monetise digital fashion and back those that are lifting up the sector. One of those that is set to be launched in the near future is Draup, a digital fashion marketplace that hopes to attract a crowd that has not yet got into the concept, while providing designers with a monetary podium.

Image: Yimeng Yu

Speaking to FashionUnited last year, the platform’s founder, Danielle Loftus, said: “I will always come back to these young creators, because that is what excited me the most from the beginning. By making a consumer experience where people really understand the value they get from their garments and can also generate revenue from them, my hope is that more people will buy from these amazing designers and more designers will start to come in.”

Blueberry’s McDuff was another to envision this, albeit in a different form, in which designers can use the digital fashion world to get a foothold into the wider industry. Commenting on this shift, she stated: “I see an opportunity in the future where fashion designers can prove their business model and garner demand by going virtual first, with little overhead and investment, and still get themselves off the ground and generate enough revenue to then get into real life fashion. This new audience and this new method of expression creativity is going to empower talented designers and give them an avenue to compete.”

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Digital inclusivity defines consumer values

House of Blueberry avatars. Image: House of Blueberry

While inclusivity and diversity are imperative in the real world, in the digital they are still a fairly new topic of discussion. However, a shift surrounding this area is on the horizon as tech companies and independent brands begin to promote and push for a more diverse workforce and attempt to attract a younger, open-minded generation. Roblox’s most recent trend report on digital fashion verified this sentiment, with the majority of its respondents calling for diverse customisation options for their avatars, including a range of skin tones, body sizes and personal features. The majority also noted the importance of digital clothing designs being inclusive.

House of Blueberry’s McDuff further highlighted this trend, noting: “People want to see themselves reflected authentically in the metaverse. Offering a variety of body, skin, and clothing options for avatars will be essential to achieving full representation.” Her sentiments were reflected within the digital fashion brand itself, which has found one of its biggest sellers to be a pair of jeans where stretch marks could be viewed through rips in the material.

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Digital Fashion