Fashion design skills: what a designer needs to know to create for the metaverse?
What skills should a designer develop to create for the metaverse? Is traditional fashion design training becoming obsolete? These are just two of the many questions about the role of the designer in virtual environments as digital fashion grows. But these are hardly new thoughts when talking about the future of creative roles.
In 1992, science-fiction author Isaac Asimov explained how new technologies such as Artificial Intelligence would change the way we work: "artificial intelligence is a phrase that we use for any device that does things which in the past we've associated only with human intelligence. Leave all that to the computer and we can leave to ourselves those things the computer can't do, such as imagination, creativity, fantasy, and intuition."
Are we now in this phase,when we can focus on creativity and fantasy, and let technology do the rest? Or are now new roles emerging? We asked four key players in fashion design innovation how they are developing their work today with technology, and how should fashion designers develop the skills required for the future.
Born and raised in Digital Fashion
"It is interesting to see how the new generation of fashion designers are starting digital brands to express themselves and create inclusive places," said Natalia Modenova, CEO and founder at DressX, a pioneer multi-brand platform for selling digital collections.
Like other new technologies, young generations are adapting faster to digital design and for most of them, this is the first opportunity to develop fashion. Being able to sell your creation almost immediately through a digital platform without the need for physical production is an attractive perspective for young designers. And the metaverse is an appropriate place for these designers to experiment, find their identities as creators, and to build a community that may turn into consumers. A shortcut compared with traditional physical brand development.
But what about fashion designers who have been traditionally trained, how can they start with digital fashion? Modenova says that many of the fashion designers at DressX have transitioned from physical to digital garments, and the platform plays an important role in this movement, helping them to digitise their collections. "Right now, we have over a hundred designers and we are the biggest library of digital fashion with over two thousand items. Most of the designers create digital-first and some of the brands are exploring this new opportunity", adds Modenova.
And what is the future for these brands? "I believe that every brand, in a couple of years, will have digital fashion in their collections. It's similar to how streetwear disrupted the fashion industry, it became a category for every single brand, including luxury," states Modenova.
Pushing for digital and sustainable processes
"We're trying to bring our in-house designers into the digital world," said Dale Parr, Chief Operations Officer at Fresh Couture, an independent streetwear label from the UK that is embracing digital technology as it aims for sustainable production. For Parr, the digitalization of the creative process starts from the inside, training their designers who often use 2D software, to be experts in 3D Design software. "We're building towards that, and that's been a journey. We have to give them the time and the headspace to be able to adopt these technologies and not feel under pressure or feel stressed during the learning process," adds Parr.
Leading a physical fashion brand towards a sustainable system, has enabled Parr to understand the production challenges. He is clear on his reasoning: "The physical fashion world needs to decarbonize as rapidly as possible". And the way out is the quick adoption of digital assets. But Parr also raises other questions regarding the acceptance and usage of digital assets: "The utility of those assets are going to be important to make sure that NFT ownership isn't just placid and collectable. There has to be genuine utility and people have to be able to use their assets like they would wear fashion, just in the digital context."
Collaboration to enhance creativity in digital fashion
Is it possible to empower creativity through technology? The question was raised by Mauro Mastronicola, creative technologist and founder of TwinOne, a tech start-up for research and the development of digital twins, which are virtual replicas of physical products. For Mastronicola, the metaverse is where we can combine creativity and technology to enhance the experience and the quality of the creative process.
"We set up a team of digital pattern makers using 3D software and we put them together with talents that came from the gaming industry as well as the visual effects world. Combined, these teams are the visual side of the 3D design, from different disciplines, working together". Is that how we can innovate in fashion, through collaboration coming from other areas, skills and talents?
This combined expertise is generating new perspectives and also new technologies, more focused on helping the creators with or without experience in 3D design, as Mastronicola said: "we started to develop software that can enable a designer to work directly with 3D design, to put together their creative view, to create independently and in real-time, manipulating realistic objects". He concludes, "the biggest opportunity I see in the metaverse is the possibility to propel creativity in different disciplines and different ways."
Developing a Digital Mindset for fashion
"From the fashion designers point of view, you need to start to address your mindset first. You need to think about how you're going to approach the design in a digital context," states Sean Chiles, co-founder of The Digital Fashion Group. For the educator, this means understanding the possibilities that the digital realm offers and how it impacts the creative process.
"As a designer, everything starts with research, with the zeitgeist. Everything you feel - art, fashion, the world, politics - these things you put together to form your vision," adds Chiles. "It’s vital for any designer entering the digital world or being a digital-only designer to understand the basics of what it is to be a creator. Why you want to be a fashion designer and what it is you're creating. And who may be engaging with this, whether they're buying, whether they're looking, whether they're being inspired, these are vital considerations."
Knowing your purposes and understanding why and for whom you are developing fashion is the basis for developing your required skills. These conclusions will lead you, as a creator and a designer, to the right ways of expression, the tools to be explored, the media you will communicate throughout. And as Chiles concluded: "Education is about the betterment of oneself. Training and skill development is to learn how to deliver something. And working in the metaverse, as a digital designer, you need to master technical skills but you need to combine that with your education in research, in the zeitgeist, in creativity, so that you can bring your vision to life in the metaverse."