The day after New York Fashion Week ended, while I can only assume the majority of fashion designers were nursing the hangover from exclusive afterparties the night before, I was instead at the real “future of fashion.” self-proclaimed fashion. Set inside a nondescript SoHo storefront, I experienced ZERO10, an augmented reality app that lets users shop and photograph themselves in digital-only clothing. The company of the same name had set up, in its own words, the first physical pop-up store with digital-only clothing.
“With almost nothing physical, the space was designed for people to create, interact and explore through content creation, adapting virtual objects to augmented reality using only their smartphones,” it reads. in company promotional material for the pop-up.
Let me tell you: it was weird.
According to my guide, Anna, the theme of space and digital fashion items designed specifically for the event was 90s video game nostalgia, which meant the walls, sofas and ceiling were covered in green , white and gray. checkerboard patterns and clothes named like “Video Game Pants” were available to try on in the app. A stand selling (physical) matcha offered concoctions with names like “Billie Eilish’s hair in 2019”; further into the space, the types of influencers massed. But the main attraction, Anna told me, was the cluster of changing rooms out back. There, users could “try on” digital clothing using an app on their phone or a phone preloaded with outfits that had been placed in the room.
I posed in a hoodie and sweatpants ensemble that matched the dressing room checkerboard pattern, then “tried on” a leopard print sweater that was intentionally low res, making me look like to be half of an 8-bit video game character. A greenish shawl shimmered and clung ethereal to my arm as I raised and lowered it. Then I tried on a pair of silver-blue skinny pants, and the illusion was shattered: I saw my hip pop out of the AR clothing boundary. Did I just get shamed by the digital pants?
ZERO10 (and other similar apps) designs and sells digital-only clothing that can be worn the same way filters work. This means you can post a picture of yourself in an outfit that doesn’t exist. Whether these companies sprung up around a real or perceived need is still up for debate: Daria Shapovalova, co-founder of one such company, DressX, recently told McKinsey analysts that she valued the digital fashion market at $31 billion. According to her, gamers, influencers and young people would constitute the clientele ready to deposit money on virtual wires.
“First, there are those Millennials who immediately understand the idea of digital fashion and are active buyers of luxury goods; they want to try something new, so they use it to elevate their social media,” said Shapovalova at McKinsey “Then there are Gen-Z customers who are on platforms like Snapchat or TikTok, where video becomes the main communication tool rather than the still image.”
According to these retailers, we are all born naked in the metaverse.
If you buy into that argument, there’s a financial reason digital fad exists. But are there others? Many of the posts from these companies read like fashionable spaghetti tossed against a wall: pushing physical boundaries, allowing self-expression in the metaverse, and promoting sustainable fashion have all been used as industry talking points. , but that’s not how real people experience digital fashion today.
The thing is, digital-only fashion hasn’t taken off on its own. At the ZERO10 popup, the crowd seemed sparse – I checked with an employee, who confirmed that around 200 people visit the space in a day. The physical space, especially the dressing rooms, confused May, a tech company employee who came to the popup due to an interest in “different retail experiences.” Although it’s “a little weird,” she decided the popup was a “homage to classic retail.”
In my experience and on the official app platforms, the clothes have issues and don’t seem to fit well. If the goal is to meet the needs of social media influencers who already regularly use image-editing apps like Facetune, you’d expect the clothes to look like the real thing – or at least not leave the collars fluttering. in the air next to your neck.
“According to these retailers, we are all born naked in the metaverse.”
“There’s a lot of room for improvement in the fit,” Celine, a graduate student in art criticism who attended the pop-up and talked about it on Instagram, told The Daily Beast. Rather than make any statement about the future of fashion, she decided to post photos of the pop-up to be candid and “quirky.” But she said she probably wouldn’t spend the money on digital-only fashion (which comes on top of free outfits, sometimes as NFTs).
Perhaps the most dangerous misconception about digital-only fashion is that it’s a green, guilt-free alternative to the well-known labor and durability issues associated with fast fashion. . “Sustainable self-expression” seems to be a selling point for these companies’ products,
Yet there seems to be no consideration for the energy it will take to power the metaverse. Digital fashion is strongly linked to the buying and selling of NFTs with cryptocurrencies, which has real and devastating environmental impacts. Currently, existing research has primarily focused on how aspects of the metaverse can reduce carbon emissions, and future work to quantify the energy expenditure of processing, trading, and hosting digital selves and objects. as AR clothing is required.
But a more pressing issue is that digital fashion hasn’t found its purpose. The way young people see themselves using digital fashion is different from how brands currently sell to them. Celine, for example, said she would like to see a future in which digital fashion offers an accessible alternative for all bodies and abilities and “fits” those bodies well.
For digital fashion to bring cohesion to a user’s online personas, there would need to be greater integration across platforms and technologies, Celine said. Outfits that can be worn in AR, VR, video games and that exist as NFTs are, for the most part, made separately and cannot be part of a unified “brand”.
Greater accessibility and personalization of what’s on offer today would also attract new users and make them feel like they can use digital fashion as a form of self-expression. But that won’t happen if a handful of small businesses continue to corner the digital market in the hope of turning a profit. The lack of democratization smacks of the classic rulebook used by brick-and-mortar retail and traditional businesses, Celine added.
“It just fuels the well-oiled machine that is capitalism in America,” she said.
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