Digital fashion & Metaverse | The European House - Ambrosetti

16 March 2022

Digital fashion, an opportunity for fashion brands

The main fashion houses are investing in 3D production, virtual reality and artificial intelligence to create the "digital fashion" sector, which will dress the avatars of the metaverse.

Fashion companies are increasingly oriented towards innovation and technology, in response to new trends and changes in the scenario. The Covid-19 pandemic has triggered an acceleration in the development of digital tools and products, given the drastic drop of in-store purchases and the surge in e-commerce orders. The increase of online orders has also redoubled the returns of goods, and this requires companies to face the consequences of "reverse logistic", which have an impact on the business and the environment.

To ensure a positive user experience, increase process efficiency and be more sustainable, several luxury companies are developing production and management processes based on virtual reality and artificial intelligence, which are laying the foundations of a new sector, that of "digital fashion".

Today, "fashion technology" can rely on technologies that until a few years ago did not yet exist, and are starting to be available to end consumers as well. The latest models of mid-high-end smartphones have an optical compartment with a very high definition and some of them already integrate the 3D scanning feature, which allows to scan and digitally reproduce what is being shot. VR headsets are also becoming more accessible, starting at a cost of $75 for a mid-range device, plus cheap alternatives like Google Cardboard, which allows to use a smartphone as a headset.

By combining the increasing availability of these devices with the investments made by companies in tools and skills for the 3D product development, the next step is the creation of tools that enable "wearing" virtual garments through avatars created through a physical scan of the buyer. At the moment, this technology is not yet so sophisticated as to allow a perfect overlap between the real and the virtual body, but it already allows to identify any issue of tightness and to simulate how the garment fits when it is worn.

The advantages of digital fashion are many: the garments reproduced in 3D can be easily conveyed on various platforms, can reach consumers who do not have the opportunity to reach physical stores and also become an entertainment tool for users. 

Body avatars are already used in different contexts, for example among e-sport players, Vtubers and Twitch streamers who use alter egos to interact with their community during live gaming sessions. There are also instances of digital characters who have become real influencers, such as Lil Miquela, who has been a testimonial of various fashion houses (Chanel, Proenza Schouler, Vetements, Moncler) and Hatsune Miku, Japanese pop-star who in 2016 was dressed in a Givenchy Haute Couture dress by designer Riccardo Tisci.

Virtual clothes and accessories thus become an accessible product of the luxury range, as demonstrated for example by the success of Louis Vuitton’s "skins" –  League of Legends players could customize the clothes worn by their avatars for $10 – or Ralph Lauren’s bitmoji on Snapchat. The gaming and virtual reality platforms become a new touchpoint for the brand experience and encourage the creation of brand ambassadors, especially among the Generation Z, the public that fashion brands struggle the most to engage and communicate with.

Other companies have made “digital clothing” their distinctive element: The FabricantXR Couture, The Dematerialised and Dress-X are some examples of fashion houses that exclusively make 3D clothes, to be worn in virtual environments or to be overlaied on photos taken in the real world. Digital clothing also contributes to reduce the impacts of fast fashion, which implies the purchase of clothing and accessories that are worn only for a season or even for the time needed to take a photo and publish it on social networks.

Another example brought by Zara: the brand launched its first collection of digital clothing and make-up on the South Korean metaverse platform Zepeto, in collaboration with the brand Ader Error. Designed for mobile devices, the platform has more than two million daily users, mainly young women between the ages of 13 and 24, who can buy clothes for their 3D avatars. The collection is also sold in physical stores, at the same price as the virtual counterparts, but in this metaverse they use a proprietary currency (14 ZEM is equivalent to $0.99). Among the big brands that are experimenting with the metaverse there are Dolce & Gabbana, Gucci, Adidas, and Nike.

The cases of cross-contamination between virtual reality and fashion are numerous, but its potential is not yet fully exploited. Still few companies aim to acquire 3D production skills – be it internalising them or relying on specialized suppliers – while others believe that this technology is not made for them because it is designed exclusively for brands meant for Generation Z.

Considering current market developments, we are moving towards a scenario in which each of us, not only the last generations, can have a digital identity, parallel to the physical one. The idea of a metaverse interconnected among various platforms, where one can move, play and interact with others, seems to have become a real possibility during the pandemic, and represents an opportunity that fashion companies cannot miss.

To learn more and ask our support to explore the opportunities for the fashion industry, visit our Global Fashion Unit Practice.

Article curated by Elena Antiga, Global Fashion Unit