Remember when we thought following virtual influencers (e.g. Lil Miquela, etc.) was the craziest thing? Boy, have we gone a long way…
Picture this: you’re scrolling through Instagram. You watch your, your friends’ posts, etc. Then, you come across an influencer’s post. They’re wearing a black dress with gold accents and a matching cape. The outfit’s impeccable. Surely it must have cost a fortune! Until you realize… the outfit was photoshopped.
Lo and behold digital fashion! Thanks to augmented reality, influencers (and average netizens) can now purchase digital clothing. The catch? The outfit is exclusively online, without a solid equivalent in real life.
Made with Pixels, not Textiles
So how does digital fashion work? For starters, digital clothes are not made out of fabric, nor are they tangible. Digital clothes are virtual, built using computer technologies and 3D software.
Depending on the retailer, you can send a picture of yourself and have a team of 3D designers photoshops your garment, or you can download a file and with the retailer’s software edit the outfit onto your body. In the end, you’ll get to wear a virtual outfit that is Instagram-ready.
Digital fashion has been gaining traction in the past few years. Carlings, a Scandinavian retailer, became the first to launch a digital clothing collection back in 2018. Meanwhile, in 2019, digital brands like DressX and The Fabricant popped inside the fashion scene.
However, since the COVID-19 pandemic, digital fashion has been exploding. Because of pandemic restrictions, fashion brands have been forced to experiment outside of their comfort zone. Now, other luxury brands like Moschino, Tiffany & Co, and Gucci have been experimenting with virtual fashion.
Retailers like Farfetch have even begun testing virtual fashion on influencers. Last month, Farfetch digitally dressed influencers in various luxury brands instead of gifting them clothing; some brands included Balenciaga, Off-White, and Oscar de la Renta.
Buy, Click, and “Wear”
Digital fashion’s appeal largely stems from being an eco-friendly alternative to today’s fast-fashion industry. Best of all, virtual fashion allows anyone– of any gender, shape, or size– to wear high-fashion garments at an affordable price.
In an interview with Elle, Kicki Perrson, brand manager at Carlings Sweden, explained:
“In real life, these types of designer clothes cost thousands of pounds and will usually be worn on social media once because of their distinct design… By selling the digital collection at £15 [$20] per item, we’ve sort of democratized the economy of the fashion industry and at the same time opened up the world of taking chances with your styling, without leaving a negative carbon footprint.”
It is undeniable that the fast-fashion industry has been taking a toll in today’s climate crisis. According to Elle, fast fashion has contributed to climate change more than air and sea travel combined. Digital fashion could provide a more sustainable business model for fashion brands, while it can also make it more accessible for common people to “wear.”
Like or Delete?
Sustainable and body-positive influencers are open-minded to virtual clothes. However, its critics are skeptical.
According to Sara Semic, writer for Elle magazine:
“Despite offering a possible solution to our culture of disposable fashion, doesn’t digital fashion fall into the same trap? You’ll not only (likely) post once before relegating that oversized blue puffer jacket to the back of your virtual wardrobe, but are actively encouraged to do so.”
Likewise, for many fashion-lovers, their relationship to clothes is often linked with touch. Part of the fun is to actually wear your clothes, rather than parade them online.
When it comes to technology, feeling skeptical is normal. Back in the day, we didn’t expect virtual influencers would be a thing—then LilMiquela happened; she’s one of Instagram’s greatest influencers, with 3 million followers and counting.
So, how is virtual fashion any different?
Instead of seeing digital clothes as a replacement, consider it as a fun option. Virtual fashion allows designers greater creative liberty. Unlike other fashion brands, digital clothes can come in different shapes and sizes. It’s also more affordable, and it can offer an eco-friendly alternative to today’s wear-and-toss business model.
Unconventional? Yes. Straight out of a sci-fi movie? You bet! But hey, whoever said fashion had to make sense?