There is no denying that digital fashion is continuing to strongly cement its place in the fashion industry. However, the virtual world is still under constant development, a process that has been left in the hands of the few who have put it upon themselves to build the space up in a responsible manner. “Because we are so early, every platform that has launched in this space is not just representing themselves but also the whole digital fashion industry,” said Daniella Loftus, founder of a soon-to-be-launched digital fashion e-commerce platform, Draup, in conversation with FashionUnited. “There is a combined responsibility to try and do things as well as we possibly can.”
Recently securing 1.5 million dollars in a seed funding round, Loftus is hoping Draup will ‘wow’ those in the fashion industry that have not yet taken a leap into the digital fashion space. With plans to use the round to secure a good technical lead for the company, Loftus, together with a small team, is looking to develop a visually appealing and technically enhanced platform that is “pristine” in the eyes of those coming from the traditional fashion world.
The name ‘Draup’ derives from a Norse myth about a gold ring with the ability to multiply, owned by the god Oden. This quality of generating added value to an item is something Loftus is hoping to mirror in the platform once it goes live, as highlighted in its mission statement: “To maximise the value of digital fashion for its consumers and creators.”
Loftus has carried this message with her from her first steps into the digital fashion segment, when she launched an online newsletter, ‘This Outfit Does Not Exist’. Through the subscription offer, Loftus aimed to inform both fashion professionals and industry outsiders on the latest developments in digital fashion. The decision to launch the newsletter mostly came down to the lack of media coverage the segment had received, as well as the desire to combine her abundant background in tech and blockchain companies with her interest in fashion. “I was shocked by the little coverage digital fashion got because it's obviously the best idea,” Loftus exclaimed. “You can showcase your identity in numerous ways for a fraction of the cost and sustainably, and there was no one talking about it.”
The importance of monetising digital garments for creator and consumer
With the newsletter, which covered a different theme each month, Loftus said she was hoping to help bring this new perspective to individuals who were willing to learn more. This mindset is something she is also hoping to bring to the new platform Draup, which will instead serve as a digital fashion marketplace, as she looks to further build on her vision of what the digital fashion industry could look like. “The foundational principles of Draup was this idea of maximising the value of digital fashion for creators and consumers,” Loftus noted. “For me, that meant having a digital garment that can be displayed how I want, that can be monetised and also worn.”
A particular focus is on Draup’s three principle pillars; technology, aesthetic and financial innovation – qualities that will be translated into each area of the business. A prime element of this direction comes with which designers will be integrated into the platform, as Draup will essentially set its sights on supporting and displaying designers that have not been able to break into the commercial fashion industry. “I might work with big brands, but I will always come back to these young creators, because that is what excited me the most about digital fashion from the beginning,” Loftus said, as she continued to point out that many aspiring digital designers are forced to turn their back on the industry due to financial concerns.
“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,” she added. “I really want to help people that I work with on the platform to build their careers. I would much rather work with a couple of really talented designers, help them build their career, have them release collections regularly and help them grow as the platform grows.”
While Loftus confirmed that she did already have some designers lined up, although kept a tight lip about who they were, before she works with them she plans to roll out the launch of the platform through its own brand. “Name pending,” she added. The proprietary brand will look to give outsiders a glimpse of who Draup is, while emphasising Loftus’ fascination with avant garde and narrative-driven fashion. This drop will be the second phase, after a recently launched zine ‘The Lost i’, of the platform’s steady and thought-out introduction into the industry. Along its path, the team is looking to implement a range of high quality features that take into consideration consumer desires before opening up the marketplace to other creators.
Loftus’ focus on consumer experience falls in line with her acknowledgement of the responsibility she holds when uplifting such a new fashion segment. While early adopters of the technology were willing to overlook user experience, those coming from a traditional fashion background will likely be less inclined to give it the benefit of the doubt. “A slight defect is enough from someone in fashion to turn their nose up at the entire industry and never return,” said Loftus.
Clothing in the digital space will become as important as those in the physical
At present, there are a limited number of digital fashion consumers, Loftus pointed out, despite it being a 40 billion dollar asset industry and following the boom in non-fungible tokens (NFTs) experienced over the past year. Defined into two subdivisions, Loftus sees current consumers either as ‘collectors’, buying digital art pieces to show off online, or ‘wearers’, young individuals donning augmented reality (AR) pieces and experimenting with their look without offloading lots of money onto the products. “The gap we are missing is that I don’t think the traditional luxury consumer is at a place where they will spend three thousand dollars on a NFT,” Loftus commented. “What we will see is, as there become more and more places for us to express our digital identity and as it becomes more normalised, we are going to have this next generation of luxury consumer growing up saying that what they wear in their virtual space is as important as what they wear in the physical world.”
Talking about how this could play out, she continued: “For me, it comes down to what I think of as an identity ownership trade off. The reason that you wear fashion is to express who you are and, therefore, you need to go and be around a number of people that you can express who you are to.” While this can be true for some platforms like Roblox or Fortnite, which allow players to purchase products and skins for their avatars, Loftus noted that purchased garments do not actually belong to consumers or creators, meaning that they cannot be monetised or controlled. Alternatively, NFT marketplaces like OpenSea only allow for ownership, not the ability to wear an item.
Those currently utilising digital fashion, Loftus continued, were those that likely didn’t have much interest in it in the real world, and were mostly using these platforms due to the fact that the garments can appreciate in value – more so than physical items that can experience wear and tear. Additionally, committed gamers – a largely male-dominated group – unknowingly participate in the industry through the purchase of digital items and other in-game accessories. “It shows that, if you create the right community, what you wear and how you express yourself becomes really potent, even if you don’t care about it in the physical world,” Loftus added.
In order to be compelling for a digital fashion consumer, Draup will implement elements such as a customisable virtual wardrobe that will allow buyers to display their garments in a manner that suits them. The platform could also see the potential use of initiatives that enable both designers and consumers to make money off their digital garments, such as wear-to-earn systems, providing further motivation to get involved.
Gaming worlds each have their own culture that must be authentically merged into
However, as it grows, Draup’s place in the gaming world will only be something taken into account in the distant future, with the team to first grasp what its users really want to get out of owning digital assets. This, as Loftus noted, is due to each gaming platform essentially having its own culture. “What works in Roblox won’t necessarily work in Fortnite,” she explained. “You can’t go into those communities and pretend you are authentic. You have to go away and do the research. When we get to that point, we will ask our users how they want to wear their garments. If they want to wear it in a game, then what game? It will then be figuring out how you are going to authentically merge into that community. Each game is like its own microcosm, so you can’t do one size fits all.”
The young entrepreneur places a great deal of importance on the digital fashion segment as a whole, seeing it as something that could have a lasting impact on not just the fashion industry but the creators that are a part of it. To Loftus, this is based upon three key factors, one of which is accessibility. “We have previously dealt with an industry where you have to be well capitalised and know the right people in order to be successful, which has resulted in a creative downfall,” she said, adding that this was a reality she did not want to be a part of. “For me, this is my primary reason and is what I want this platform to achieve – to bring in these new creators and allow them to form sustainable careers.”
Sustainability was also an obvious element for Loftus, who sees digital fashion as a way for people to express their identity while becoming more considered purchasers. It further enables brands to become more responsive in terms of understanding what quantities to produce. Additionally, empowerment and freedom of expression was Loftus’ third factor. “The more diverse designs you have, the more diverse expression you have in the consumer base,” she noted. “Digital fashion also provides a new sense of price points, which can reward the creator and consumer, but still allows you to express yourself in entirely new ways.”