Have you ever asked how we create killer special effects in movies and animated films and have truly talented deep-fake artists, and fully immersive video games with cult followings, yet some of fashion still looks like they're stuck in the time of the Sims?
This is only the beginning of many conversations and possible topics that explore the relationship between fashion and tech, some that are already happening and some that we will discuss further in future articles.
To be fair, while the fashion industry has been famously late to migrate to digital, essentially every major brand is now fully aware of the need to evolve technologically, and are ready to invest accordingly, with some companies like Gucci and Nike leading the charge. Brands now understand the value of e-commerce and of creating digital ecosystems that connect them to customers and predict trends. As consumers we see this technology happening in the customization of footwear and apparel online, in life-like 3D images of products, and even short videos via online stores, campaigns, and on social media.
When it comes to integrating the virtual and real world however, there are some clear limitations industry-wide - and there was no moment more revealing than during lockdowns when the in-person events that the industry relies on were no longer an option. Highly social and charged events like fashion week, the Met Gala, trade shows like Pitti Uomo and others have been organized down to a science to make sure the right people meet, but converting these carefully crafted PR cocktails into online events that delivered the same solidarity and immersive experience proved to be a challenge that few brands were equipped to provide.
Desperate to connect with their fan base and keep droves of influencer troops unified, brands have been forced in recent years to improvise with the resources available to them, often made to choose between canceling shows or inventing a digital alternative.
From real models dancing on digital sets, to live streaming, to gaming-style interactive presentations, to digital models that look more like the first edition of Second Life, it became glaringly obvious to the tech-savvy Z-Gen and Millennial fashion audiences that the fashion industry has no idea what it’s actually doing when it comes to virtual reality.
Conversations about the Metaverse, NFT’s and cryptocurrency have seeped into fashion circles, putting more pressure on brands to innovate and prepare for an digitally integrated future. Instability both in traditional and the crypto-currency markets make for a tumultuous environment to try out new technology, but successful brands will leverage the low energy into long-term planning and apply their creativity to enrich relationships with current clients via strong narratives, supported by a robust ecosystem that can adapt with future generations.
Now that Covid restrictions have eased up and business is picking up pace again, we’re already seeing some of the first attempts by brands to claim a space in the virtual future. Designers like Balenciaga, Prada and Thom Browne have all entered into the metaverse recently by way of Meta, the colossal tech giant that owns Facebook and Instagram, making their product available to shop on Meta’s online store, with the option to buy using a customized avatar. However, shopping on Facebook and Instagram with an avatar that looks like a sticker is still a far cry from the bougie feeling of the brands' physical concepts. The digital concept that represents the brand in the Metaverse will eventually have to provide the same luxury experience for which the brand is known in the physical world, and the unique elixir of design, customer service, packaging, location, and brand story, to name a few.
Movies and video games with such believable visual effects remind us of what is technically possible on a daily basis so why is fashion so reluctant to catch up? A few designers have made an effort, like Demna Gvasalia for Balenciaga with his proprietary interactive game Afterworld, and also a collaboration with Fortnight, and Burberry, Marc Jacobs, and Gucci, who all collaborated on existing video games like Animal Crossing and Tennis Clash.
Try Balenciaga's lookbook video game, Afterworld here:
But why these? Where is the data that shows that fans of Animal Crossing and Tennis Clash are involved in conversations or even aware of what’s happening in fashion?
Even if these games have massive followings the demographics don’t seem to match up. There needs to be more research by fashion brands of which environments make sense and how they should be utilized to enhance brand-to-consumer relationships, authentically. Just like not every trend is meant for every person, not every digital environment is right for every brand. For example, if a brand wants to produce an NFT collection or hold an event in the Metaverse, more work needs to go into the ecosystem and not just the product. Like, which blockchains and cryptocurrencies really make the most sense, where community building should happen and on what basis, what long term value they plan to deliver, and how this technology will connect their digital ecosystem to their physical one.
To be taken more seriously, to have their needs understood, and to connect with a digitally native generation, fashion needs to be more involved in conversations in spaces in which they may not be accustomed.
The gaming industry is a great place to start. Someone who plays Elden Ring or Dark Soul will notice right away the contrast between a fashion “avatar” and a suped up character from Horizon Forbidden West or Call of Duty, and are therefore great environments to connect with communities built on appreciation for graphic art and story. It’s important to note that depending on the type of game, whether it's multiplayer or single-player or a mix of both, the psychology, and therefore the opportunity, changes greatly.
While there is a lot to be said on the technical side of how fashion needs to connect their digital ecosystem to their physical one, there might even be a simpler, more human explanation. It may be a question of tech being willing to work with fashion and vice versa.
There tends to be an “us” vs “them” narrative when it comes to the hard sciences and the arts, each staying in their prospective lane and even at times criticizing each other - one for being overly pragmatic the other for being frivolous. Now however, technology is part of our daily lives and part of our humanity and the need to work together is more important than ever. While fashion may be criticized for being less adaptable to technology, the technology sector itself experiences roadblocks when trying to propose new software or hardware like clunky VR headsets that are simply not aesthetically pleasing or impractical for someone's lifestyle. While the tech industry may be ahead in efficiency and in scientific progress, most areas could benefit from long-term, trusted artistic or creative synergies, just as fashion could benefit from having more digitally native perspectives, tapping into channels that share similar values that relate to aesthetics and storytelling.
Both fashion and tech will greatly benefit from being more involved in each other’s conversations not only in the media but by tuning into dark social media spaces like on Twitter, Discord, and even Facebook groups, among others.
Understanding the origins of conversations, becoming acquainted with Key Opinion Leaders, and analyzing how value is defined are the first steps toward creating a blueprint for Fashion and Tech working better together.