The Future/Present Of Virtual Fashion

In 2020, with nowhere to go (no travel, parties, office, festivals, so on) the demand for fashion dropped dramatically. And 2021, showed its first victims: Rihanna’s Fenty Fashion House has closed less than 2 years after launching with LVMH, the French giant with a $320B+ valuation. (If Fenty has closed, in the same day, the lingerie line announced a $115m funding round (it has recently grown 200%+). But, it is not only Fenty affected….

The recent report released by McKinzie shows that the well-performing fashion companies share at least two characteristics: a strong digital presence and a focus on Asia-Pacific. So, it is expected that in 2021, digital will remain the king, with many executives considering that it will be the key driver in this year.  (The detailed McKenzie report, you can found it HERE)

Physical retail has been under pressure, some 20,000 to 25,000 stores were expected to close in 2020, more than double the number that did so in 2019. With the pandemic, many brands have accelerated digitalization. Nike announced the acceleration of its digital strategy, which it said would lead to job cuts in stores. Zara said that it plans to cut 1,200 stores over two years and invest €2.7 billion in store-based digital. But, will retail die totally? More experts consider that it is time to rethink physical retail, with a focus toward discovery zones and creating more emotional experiences.

On the contrary. Immersive technologies were among the favorite playgrounds for creatives, even before Covid. Fashion industries were always keen to experiment with new trends, so already in 2018, 2019 VR and AR were gaining traction. Offering a digital “try-before-you-buy” was designed to close the gap between online and offline sales channels. For example, Dior used AR to allow consumers to try on sunglasses using their smartphones, while Zara used AR to bring virtual models to life in-store. Through its innovation labs, Tommy Hilfinger was set up to reinvent the experience of shopping, mixing online with offline shopping experiences, some products being tested. The startup MemoMi  https://memorymirror.com/ invented the world’s first digital mirror, which allows you to try on clothes, add accessories, plus change patterns and colors without actually trying on a single item. Digital mirror can be used also for in-store experiences, where the mirror acts both as a mirror and fitting room. And as the McKinzie report proves, the more digitalized, the more stable they were during the pandemic. 

As with other industries, the pandemic just accelerated the rate of digital adoption, by pushing the creative minds to invent even more experiences to drive sales. How much sales? AR engagement accelerated 20% in 2020, with conversion rates up by 90% among users who engage with AR vs users who do not.  The report released by Planable media also highlights how AR was used by brands. Gucci did a partnership with Snap, and nearly 19 million Snapchat users have tried on Gucci products. Snap and Ralph Lauren shake hands for two projects: 1. wardrobes for Bitmoji, and 2. for a series of interactive street artworks by local graffiti artists commissioned by RL. It seems, gamers are driving the industry. “It makes sense: just as Gordon Gekko defined fashion in the 1980’s, Techies are leading the sartorial look of the moment. Gamers are the new superheroes.” Catherine D. Henry, CEO, Palpable Media. Read the entire report HERE.

Virtual Humans might be the new Brand Ambassadors that attract, engage and support customers across the retail value chain. As already in 2020, IKEA collaborated with the Virtual Influencer Imma. The Direct to Avatar market is growing (D2A refers to business models selling products directly to avatars or digital identities); experts consider it is the new password to enter the Gen Z market. Genies was set up for avatar creations and companies are joining them – even Gucci has noticed the platform, and now Genie users can dress their icons in Gucci’s digital wardrobe. It is estimated that Digi-Sapiens become the next trendsetters because digital identities are more and more considered an extension of our physical identities. 

As such, special attention and a unique representation of the digital self will emerge. The virtual spaces offer the possibility of unique representations and interactions that are possible only in virtual worlds. Tech Futurist, Cathy Hackl, analysis the D2A market, suggesting that brands would need to have a virtual strategy.

Fashion Shows are replaced by Virtual Shows, a tendency that is expected to continue in the next years, as well. As such, the wholesale retail will be much more comfortable to watch from your couch and interact in VR with others. In the studio, buy from the catwalk can be done easily by customers as well, considering that you can try now online. At the beginning of the pandemic, digital fashion was only a copy of the real world on a flat-screen. But soon, things have changed and virtual offers an experience that is different and can complement the real fashion show. Such an example is the Fabric of Reality developed by the London College of Fashion and Ryot Studios, and presented by Matthew Drinkwater, Head of Fashion Innovation agency https://www.fialondon.com/, at the Berlin Fashion Summit. The Fabric of Reality meant creating a VR experience, where viewers were not passive and could get each narrative behind each fashion collection. Viewers could fly through the experience, get a sense of the storytelling behind the collections and even try on products. 

One important aspect for the organizers was that the presentation could be experienced collectively, as this meant to be a social experience. Compared to regular Fashion Shows, It was something that felt entirely different.

Mixed realities experiences might also bring more immersive experiences to fashion shows,  by combining digital models and real models, fashion presentations that led to a 60% increase in sales. Matthew Drinkwater highlighted that it is not the end of the physical catwalk shows, but an opportunity and the future would be that VR to sit alongside physical shows. And in this way,  brands will be able to communicate with a wider audience. 

Bringing VR entertainment into retails is another strategy for attracting customers – as they drive emotion and social sharing. Matthew Drinkwater described experiences where the use of game technology can redefine communication, and can create an environment in real-time that tells stories that explain the origins of products, revealing the way it was produced, or can tell stories about products. Or viewers can visit places from where the products came and see how they are produced. This can be a real changer in the entire experience of retail shopping. Especially if they would be coupled with an integration of virtual opportunities in the brand and marketing strategies of the brand. A consistent customer experience has to be maintained, and virtual marketing strategies have to be in line with the company’s vision. 

Taking into consideration all these creative opportunities that are opening up (avatars, digital humans, digital stories about products, new types of virtual fashion shows, etc), fashion as we know it will be redefined as a completely new ecosystem. Physical fashion will blend with the virtual one, offering a completely new range of how we experience the products, their stories, how we buy.  In the next period, brands will have to keep up with new trends. As Virtual is the new darling buzz world for the years to come, in the creative industries, it will be crucial for brands to design their virtual strategy, but also to be able to access talents that are able to implement both on the design, creative and business side. 

A crucial aspect will also be the constant education of creatives from the fashion industry. As Leslie Holden from the Digital Fashion Group pointed out, during The Berlin Fashion Summit, the new generation of designers needs to be educated on how to use technologies, highlighting that there are not fashion schools that are teaching designers how to work with big data.

There are more and more discussions and debates around not only how the future will look like, but also what are the concrete next steps to be made in this period of transitions and how can brands respond quickly to varied customer demands that come. And such a debate platform is which brings together leading visionaries from around the world is 202030 – The Berlin Fashion Summit, highly recommended for experts in the fashion industries that wish to stay up to that with trends that are here or are coming, such as digitalisation, sustainability, and in general rethinking fashion culture.

The second edition of the 202030 – THE BERLIN FASHION SUMMIT will take place in summer 2021. For further information please see www.202030summit.com.

And if you are interested in the digitalization of fashion, another interesting event that is coming up is Crypto Fashion Week. They promise to assemble an avant-garde community of designers, crypto practitioners, artists, and enthusiasts for a week-long exploration of blockchain-powered digital fashion.


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