A handful of Asian countries are already set on establishing themselves as frontrunners of the virtual realm, in keeping with the interests of their digitally-advanced consumers that have swiftly taken to various progressive online shopping methods, like livestreaming and virtual stores, in comparison to those of other countries. This rings particularly true for South Korea. Last year, the region’s Ministry of Science and ICT said it would invest nearly 200 million dollars on creating a complex metaverse ecosystem. On top of that, the Seoul Metropolitan Government also expressed a desire to build up ‘Metaverse Seoul’ in 2023, in a further bid to dominate the virtual market.
Next to other industries, fashion’s place in this movement is naturally a prominent one, taking centre stage in Korean virtual worlds like Zepeto, which has already partnered with a number of global brands, like Nike and Gucci, and boasts a monthly active user base that exceeds 300 million. “It seems to me that as many metaverse platforms in Korea provide global services, fashion in the metaverse is taking root as an important medium to express oneself, particularly among digital native generations,” said Rosa Park, team director of Korea Creative Content Agency (KOCCA) in conversation with FashionUnited.
The governmental agency was behind the creation of the new Metaverse Fashion Festival (KMFF), which began December 15, 2022, and will continue on until January 31, 2023. Developed alongside the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism, KMFF looks to showcase domestic fashion brands in the metaverse through the digital elevation of a traditional showroom atmosphere, offering multi-dimensional content that hopes to enhance points of contact with global customers.
“Global fashion brands are making various attempts in the market in collaboration with metaverse platforms,” Park noted. “Having said that, it is not easy for independent fashion labels to carry out marketing strategies utilising the metaverse on their own. That’s why KOCCA has decided to launch the project to promote and support Korea’s leading designer brands.”
‘The metaverse does not stop in the virtual space…’
On entering KMFF via a dedicated site, users are asked to submit their personality type, gender of choice and if they want their avatar to wear black or white. They are then transported to ‘Fashion City’, one of three themed worlds, where they could walk through a circular loop that led to the virtual showrooms of 20 participating brands.
Within these rooms, each of the brands’ collections were displayed in an immersive environment that mirrored their overall identity, encapsulating individual aesthetics in a personal space. While Setsetset’s room took the form of a hanok, a traditional Korean house albeit with a bright pink exterior and heart shaped decorations, Lie opted for more avant garde architecture to reflect its real-life values of bold, structural design. Both the exterior and interior were inspired by the brand’s flagship store in Cheongdam-dong, Seoul.
In the showrooms, visitors could view information on the brand and designer, their lookbook and video clips from shows, as well as digital reproductions of clothing pieces. For Lie, this included items that were shown during its previous Paris Fashion Week runway. Speaking to FashionUnited, Lie’s creative director Chung Chung Lee said of bringing the brand’s identity into the virtual realm: “The store shows that the metaverse does not stop in the virtual space, but can continue beyond in connection with reality. The reproduction of clothes also has the same meaning. Crossing the real runway and virtual space, the garments were designed so that users could wear outfits with Lie’s identity anywhere.”
By entering each room, visitors received three tickets that could be collected in order to “purchase” various digital items from each of the brands. The pieces could then be selected and worn by their avatar, providing users with an incentive to explore each domain. Other brands taking part were Besfxxk, Bonbom, Ceeann, Seokwoon Yoon, The Studio K, Bemuet(te), Beyond Closet, Ul:kin, Wnderkammer, C-Zanne, Doucan, Dew E Dew E, Kichéleehém Yugadang, Eenk, Greedilous, Open Plan and Nohant.
Meanwhile, ‘Shopping City’, another accessible section of the festival, was designed specifically for retail platforms such as department store The Hyundai Seoul and online marketplace EQL, where users could shop in a virtual setting and view fashion shows. Alongside it, ‘Enter City’ was centred around K-Pop, a genre of Korean music that has gained popularity around the world. At the virtual location, visitors could view a schedule of events, including a fashion show and a performance by K-Pop artist Hyolin.
KMFF went beyond being solely digital, however. The festival planned various offline programmes and pop-ups at the likes of The Hyundai Seoul and Hankyu Osaka Department Store, where it hosted promotional events throughout the course of January. Its phygital presence allowed for the festival to engage with users both online and offline, expanding its reach across both brands and customers.
The distinction between this festival and others like it not only comes in its reliance on phygital activations, but also its ability to appeal to both consumers and an audience with a B2B outlook. Alongside collections, much of the festival was based around providing a comprehensive overview of the brands, including its history and the team behind it. This, while possibly not entirely intentional, allowed a wider range of viewers to get to know the brand in a unique setting, without having to travel to the other side of the world. Ultimately, while consumers were brought into the experience through the desire to purchase digital clothing and witness performances by popular singers, the multi-brand layout enabled others to access an all-in-one showroom experience and learn about the participants in new, immersive ways.
Fashion and the metaverse in South Korea’s future
With strong backing from South Korean leaders and businesses, it does seem the metaverse is likely to play a prominent role in the country’s future. This was seconded by the perspectives of those involved in KOCCA and KMFF, for which the concept does its job in providing brands and consumers with a vast number of opportunities to engage with the fashion industry.
The organisation’s Rosa Park said on the festival’s own features: “[Designers] can deliver the concepts and products of their brands by enabling prospective consumers to experience them as content, not through lengthy explanations or ads. The virtual showrooms, in particular, help the audience understand each brand’s concept and ambiance as they embody designers’ imaginations, which is difficult to achieve offline. Such an engaging experience will likely lead consumers to purchase products, become fans of the brand, and better understand the brand’s values. So one of the advantages of such events is that they effectively retain loyal consumers.”
Park further commented on KOCCA’s decision to work largely with independent fashion labels, which she envisions playing a role in increasing the added value of the fashion industry. She added: “One of the big strengths of an independent fashion label is that it can build a unique identity based on the designer’s creativity and plan and create differentiated products. KOCCA supports and nurtures independent fashion labels as part of the cultural content industry, as they produce products based on their creativity.”
As for the participating brands, KMFF and KOCCA’s efforts were received well as per their sentiments towards the event. Womenswear brand Dew E Dew E expressed it had struggled to garner funds on its own to support the realisation of a metaverse showroom. The brand’s creative director, Jinyoung Kim, was grateful for the supportive project, adding: “The metaverse world is infinite. And it is just the beginning and the end of the scale that we all don’t know. As we could not imagine the popularity of K-Pop 10 years ago, the future of Korean fashion in the metaverse may have any amount of influence. What is clear, however, is that in an era where content is important, the fashion world in the metaverse has infinite possibilities.”
Besfxxk’s creative director Jae Hyuk Lim also viewed the metaverse in a positive light, noting that he believed the digital realm would have a strong demand in the market in the near future. The brand recognised what opportunities there were, as seen in its approach to presentation during the event, where its underwater themed showroom defied the possibilities of the real world.
Speaking on his views for the future of this platform, Lim commented: “Metaverse fashion was considered a ground-breaking system which could suggest new ways of purchasing and supplying fashion content. It did not seem overrated or exaggerated, but was quite tangible and active already. We wanted to be a part of a future-oriented project. I do believe the metaverse will have strong demand in the market in the near future. South Korea has been well-known for its rapid growth in digitalisation, and digital society and fashion are familiar to most of the public.”
Meanwhile, other brands like Wnderkammer are planning to adopt the metaverse into their own operations. Creative director HyeYoung Shin said that, while official plans had not yet been decided upon, the brand’s presentation of its future collection will likely be held both offline and in the metaverse. On the concept as a whole, Shin said: “[The metaverse] is not the future, it’s the present. Transcending time and space and freely moving between reality and virtuality can allow you to experience a designer’s products in many ways. I think it is the present and future of, not only Korea, but also all the creatives in the world.”
With such a positive outlook from brands, it seems that the metaverse really does have a firm current and future stance in South Korea. For KOCCA, that means building on its support of local designers that are hoping to enter the digital realm, introducing them to the concept and subsequently the rest of the world. While the agency noted that timings for these plans were currently undecided, it said it is expecting to implement potential propositions towards the end of 2023.