For the better part of 2021 the hype surrounding non-fungible tokens (or NFTs), has been focused on digital art, however, prior to 2021 the fashion industry had already begun experimenting in the virtual world through digital garment design, and later, by giving customers the opportunity to own digital garments—including via NFTs on the blockchain.
Digital design facilitates physical fashion
At least as early as 2015, digital garment design began to emerge as a crucial tool for the fashion industry. It allowed brands to quickly and remotely design 3D, photorealistic digital versions of garments and other apparel, which can be used for sample production, marketing, virtual showrooms, augmented reality (AR) experiences, and the like.
More recently, digital design is seen as a way to decrease textile waste—i.e., become more sustainable, increase production and reduce costs, which allows brands to "feed three birds with one scone."
And during the height of the pandemic, digital design became a "lifeline" for digitally native brands when draping physical fabric, shipping physical samples internationally, and showing physical garments on runways throughout the world mostly came to a halt.
Then, trailblazing virtual fashion brands like Carlings, Tribute and The Fabricant saw an opportunity for customers to purchase digital-only garments for personal use in cyberspace and began designing and selling such garments. The thought was that customers who purchase these digital-only garments can engage 3D designers to digitally "fit" the garments onto photos, and the like, for posting on social media or for use on other virtual platforms.
In November 2018, in reaction to reports that influencers were buying one-off outfits solely for Instagram, Carlings (a Norwegian fashion brand) released a digital-only collection called "Neo X." The collection contained 19 pieces, which included a bright yellow crocodile skin coat, blue latex chaps covered in a computer code print and a black visor emblazoned with the slogan "Eat the Glitch." The collection sold out and ranged in price from $9 USD to $30 USD.
Tribute is the newest virtual fashion brand on the digital block. This Croatia-based brand "has perfected the art of making 'contactless cyber fashion' wear." Its designs are inspired by the Tekken and Grand Theft Auto video games and are typically priced from $29 to $699 USD.
Unlike Carlings and Tribute, however, The Fabricant designs and sells digital-only haute couture garments1 and, as discussed next, shot into worldwide notoriety when it sold its Iridescent dress as an NFT on the blockchain in 2019.
NFTs seem to have taken digital-only fashion to the next level.
In May 2019, a one-of-kind digital couture dress called Iridescence sold on the blockchain as an NFT for almost $10,000 USD—albeit a small amount compared to Beeple's "Everydays: The First 5000 Days" digital artwork that sold as an NFT for $69.346 million USD at a recent Christie's auction. Interestingly, Iridescence was the collaborative creation of The Fabricant (a Dutch virtual clothing startup), Dapper Labs (a Vancouver-based blockchain company that specializes in making video games) and Johanna Jaskowsa (an augmented reality artist and creator who creates some of the most prominent Instagram filters).
The expectation is that even more fashion brands and designers, including established luxury brands, will begin to exploit NFTs. For example, according to an April 5, 2021 Vogue Business article, "Gucci recently confirmed to Vogue Business that 'it's only a matter of time' before a brand like Gucci will release an NFT."
What is next?
Although the concept of creating and selling digital-only fashion may seem facially absurd, it may actually turn out to be revolutionary. For example, given the current emphasis on the need for sustainability in fashion, one would no longer need to purchase physical clothing for use within a digital environment.
Moreover, digital fashion is already proving to be a lucrative source for game developers in the form of in-game "skins." So, imagine the revenue potential for luxury brands and designers who distribute their high-end fashion in the context of video gaming.
And last, but not least, luxury fashion brands and designers—like artists and art collectors—would be free from worry about counterfeits because NFTs facilitate the "exchange of fungible money for non-fungible authenticity."
1. It is worth noting that The Fabricant employs "classically-trained fashion designers who work in a 'digital atelier' to design, drape, and code each garment."
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