Is the Metaverse the future of fashion?

May 13, 2024
Emmy Liederman
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Is the future of fashion in the Metaverse?

Carol Hilsum thinks so.

During the Drapers Future of Fashion conference in June 2022, Hilsum, the senior director of product innovation for the luxury fashion global platform Farfetch, took it a step further and shared that the metaverse (along with developing technology) will be “the next stage of luxury shopping.”

For fashion brands big and small, the idea of the metaverse is like one big question mark. As many opportunities there may be, there are an equal number (or more) of challenges.

So how do fashion brands get ready for the next step? What are they doing now?

As the annual New York Fashion Week gets underway in September, powerhouse brands like Tommy Hilfiger and Balmain are embracing the metaverse and creating experiences that complement physical runway shows.

Known as ‘phygital’ (physical and digital), in which physical and digital experiences are blended, fashion brands are getting more creative as they head back to runway shows that have largely been empty over the last three years.

What does this look like?

Tommy Hilfiger’s Autumn 2022 show will be held in person at Brooklyn’s Skyline Drive-In while simultaneously live streaming to the online gaming platform Roblox. Within the platform, which roughly hosts 55 million users daily,  avatars will be wearing the Hilfiger collection and walking around virtually throughout New York City.

In a statement to Hypebeast, Tommy Hilfiger said, “[New York] is where fashion, art, music, and entertainment was all coming together when I first started out in the industry. And today, it is still this approach that inspires me to engage with the cutting-edge communities building new creative experiences.”

A brand known for its classic garments and traditional designs, that Tommy Hilfiger is leaping into a more immersive, tech-savvy experience is exactly what other fashion brands need to watch and contemplate for themselves.

Fashion: Bringing the Metaverse Mainstream

If you’re on Twitter, it might feel like everyone’s been talking about the metaverse and NFTs for a while now. It’s because they have.

But for the general public, it’s safe to say there’s still a lot to learn. 

Ask your neighbor or parent what they think the metaverse is or if they would ever spring for an NFT, and they’ll probably look at you like this:

So, what is the metaverse, and why should fashion brands (or you, for that matter) care?

How we socialize and interact with others, how we work, and even how we shop are all expected to include some aspect of virtual or digital reality in the next phase of the internet, known as Web3.   

With a simplified explanation, TechTarget describes the metaverse as “a device- and vendor-independent collective virtual space created by the convergence of virtually enhanced physical and digital reality. It has its independent virtual economy, enabled by digital currencies and nonfungible tokens (NFTs).”

Because the concepts surrounding Web3 and the metaverse are emerging for the first time, there are endless possibilities for how brands can create new consumer experiences.

For some major fashion brands (Gucci and Balenciaga, for example), it’s been easier to experiment and hop on trends like digital experiences and NFTs. 

But can smaller fashion brands do it too (and what does that look like)?

Fashion brands collaborate with gaming platforms and event activations

Minecraft, Fortnite, Roblox – these are just a few interactive games partnering with fashion brands to bring new experiences to users.

Gucci x Roblox

In 2021, luxury fashion brand Gucci did something unique in partnering with the gaming platform, Roblox and creating Gucci Garden.

The partnership was used to complement the brand’s immersive multimedia experience in Florence, Italy, to commemorate Gucci’s 100th anniversary.

Gucci Garden featured themed rooms reminiscent of the fashion house's previous campaigns. The Roblox avatars became genderless mannequins when they visited the various rooms, allowing users to try on Gucci’s digital products. To make it worthwhile for Roblox to partner with Gucci, any items the fashion house sold were done through a revenue share model.

Balenciaga x Fortnite

Similar to Gucci, fashion brand Balenciaga partnered with Fortnite in 2021.

For this collaboration, Fortnite players could access limited-edition skins (downloadable graphics that change a player’s appearance) and outfits for avatars.

Within the game, users could visit a virtual store, which was created to look like actual Balenciaga retail stores in the real world.  In the physical world, shoppers could also purchase Balenciaga x Fortnite clothing.

Lacoste x Minecraft

Minecraft gamers were treated to a new universe – Croco Island – in collaboration with French fashion brand, Lacoste in spring 2022.

The new universe included mini-games such as tennis and scavenger hunts (these games also allowed gamers to accrue digital coins while on the island), a Lacoste clothing collection available as avatar skins, and real-world apparel. One cool feature that Minecraft gamers liked was the classic branded crocodile becoming blockified in true Minecraft style.

Luxe fashion houses tapping into the NFT frenzy

Taking fashion into the metaverse is just one way in which brands find ways to explore the future of the internet. Another way? 

Through NFTs (non-fungible tokens).

Keeping the explanation as simple as possible, an NFT is a digital asset purchased online (usually with cryptocurrency) that signifies objects we find in the real world, such as games, artwork, or music. 

NFTs are not new, but have gotten extremely popular over the last couple of years.

Because NFTs are often super limited and, in some cases, one-of-a-kind, it creates a FOMO and taps into that ‘scarcity of goods’ mindset. 

For luxury fashion brands, this is exactly the kind of sentiment they love and is often seen as an asset.

Dolce & Gabbana is one example of a fashion house dipping into the NFT craze by creating a collection that contains both physical and digital products.

Additionally, anyone who purchased a Dolce & Gabbana NFT package gained exclusive access to couture fashion shows.

For brands wanting to create a deeper loyalty with consumers and entice them to continue shopping, offering exclusive or one-of-a-kind packages appeals to that respective luxury goods market.

Aside from creating NFT packages, the fashion house also created the DGFamily NFT community, connecting shoppers with exclusive offers, unparalleled access to events, and even limited-edition drops.

The Fashion + Metaverse Connection

Why are fashion houses embracing the idea of virtual experiences and the metaverse? 

Doing so potentially changes the trajectory of the fashion industry.

Supply chain concerns, issues of sustainability, and poor working conditions aside, it’s time the fashion industry thinks about what’s next. 

Philipp Plein, the German fashion designer with a knack for over-the-top runway shows, makes a valid point.

In an interview with Barron’s, he explains, “In the real world, possibilities are limited. The metaverse opens a whole new frontier.”

Accepting cryptocurrency is another move for fashion houses. 

In addition to Plein, whose brand accepts over 20 cryptocurrencies both online and in retail stores, other fashion houses and marketplaces – Farfetch, Balenciaga, and Gucci, for example – also accept crypto payment options for goods.

As Fashion Week 2022 gets underway, more eyes will be on fashion brands to see what they do to combine the digital and physical worlds.

French luxury house Balmain, in particular, already has a few things planned.

Focused on long-term growth, the brand is creating a non-fungible thread to provide consumers exclusive access to Balmain virtually while offering exclusive incentives and unique experiences. 

And while Balmain is planning to host a physical runway show, virtual fans will also have an opportunity to attend the digital show.

At the end of the day, fashion and technology are intertwined because the lives of consumers are both in a digital and physical world. 

Fashion houses, especially those who want to reach an exclusive market, will need to embrace concepts like the metaverse if they hope to stay competitive.

Hilsum, of Farfetch, also shares this sentiment and NFTs, the metaverse, and alternate realities:

“This is not necessarily about catering to a new, younger audience – Gen Z, for example – but rather about evolving and elevating the shopping experience: adapting the digital for the traditional luxury shopper. Shopping in alternate realities can be tactile and beautiful  [and] fast-progressing technology is becoming more and more able to support and enrich the luxury experience.”

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