Fashion Technology, Insights
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Digital Fashion: A New Essential

Leela: The world’s first digital-only fashion platform. Digital-only fashion comprises clothing and accessories that only exist virtually.

Earlier this year we published an opinion piece — State of Digital Fashion — intending to spotlight the growing popularity of virtual worlds and the role of digital-only fashion as a redemptive solution for the industry to steer into a phygital future.

Little did we know that the world was on the fast-track to a digital future, where virtual worlds were soon to become an everyday reality. Yet here we are in an unprecedented time, where everything we thought we knew needs to be rethought — and digital, in particular, can no longer be an afterthought.

Fashion at a Halt

As the whole world battles the pandemic, no one has been spared from the impact of COVID-19. Not even the fashion industry.

Billions of dollars have been lost from cancelled orders and losses in sales as the pandemic forces the closure of fashion stores, bringing many brands to the brink of bankruptcy.

Termination in production and the challenges of “socially-distant” supply chains have not only had a knee-jerk reaction to business models but also cost a lot of people their jobs and livelihood.

The “temporary” shutdown has threatened a permanent end of many physical stores, forcing brands to take a good look at the presence and endurance (or lack of) of their online infrastructure.

Historically fashion has always been playing catch-up with consumer expectations — “data” is still thrown around as a blanket solution to cater to the changing needs. On one hand, the industry is navigating the repercussions of catering to on-demand needs that have now labelled it a global pollutant, while on the other hand, even the biggest names in this space are yet to make sense of the complexities, norms, and regulations of entering the digitized lives of consumers.

The COVID-19 world poses new curveballs for fashion brands to rethink their role and accessibility for consumers as behaviours are set to change yet again.

The future of fashion experiences — everything from stores, global supply-chain, seasonal collections, even the much-lauded fashion weeks — may never be the same again and one can’t help but wonder if this is just a small pause or a halt in the road ahead for fashion.

65% of people say they would not feel safe trying clothes in changing rooms even once stores opened up — digital-only offers a safe and accessible alternative. Image contains digital-only designs created by The Fabricant.

A New Normal for Fashion

While fashion as we know it may have changed forever, the signals all around us point to its transformation into other familiar worlds. Fashion has always been a highly personal category, with more and more consumers expecting a made-to-measure experience from brands as well as the designs they have to offer. While COVID-19 might have thrown a wrench in the number of personalised purchases people can have their mark on, this time has also seen a rise in DIY (design-it-yourself) trends as people shift their behaviour to get creative from the comfort of their homes. As track pants become the new #ootd in lockdown, we see an uptick in lifestyle content from brands, influencers, and every other person as they share tips on the new stay-at-home culture. There is a shift in interest to more classic, effortless styles, while on the flip side we also see people craving opportunities to get dressed up again.

The Hermès flagship in Guangzhou brought in $2.7M in sales only from its re-opening day post lockdown in China.

More people are seeing the value in “forever pieces”, a natural progression of making sustainable fashion choices. Today, this has prompted brands to rethink the iconic seasons that fashion has historically been known for.

Gucci, one of the biggest names in luxury fashion, announced [through a series of Instagram posts] they would be adapting to a more seasonless future.

Platforms like Instagram and TikTok play a major role in this “new normal” for fashion as we see a shift in people’s mindset — from possession [of fashion] to access [to fashion].

While fashion has always been the greatest statement of self-expression, currently that means a more blended role in our lives, much beyond the physical world.

Fortnite had already democratized the role of fashion in virtual worlds, with digitally-rendered “skins” becoming the new social currency for it. Animal Crossing has taken this forward by offering a rewarding alter life amidst a pandemic — the game has gained immense popularity during the lockdown as a form of escape into a virtual world that gives people more control, something they miss in their current reality.

In the past, games like Sims have inspired a whole new fashion collection. Today the likes of streetwear brands such as Highsnobiety (who have always been on the forefront of curated e-commerce) are flipping that script — bringing three of its collections into the Nintendo world.

“Video games present the opportunity to explore realities untethered to our public personas, a sacred space where we can grow in and out of identities just as quickly as we can switch clothing — where the visible can match the rapidly shifting nature of the invisible.” — Kara Chung, artist and fashion photographer
The real question: How can fashion champion this new normal?

All this hype about the intersection of fashion and gaming is driven by people’s need to create carefully crafted digital avatars that display their best selves online — customizing them with curated fashion statements which may even be hard to find (or afford) IRL.

With the future being more conducive to virtual worlds and realities, Minecraft graduations, Zoom weddings, and cloud-clubbing may as well become the new normal. Fashion, for one, will definitely have a distinct role to play in these new worlds.

Fast-track to the Future

The real question is — How can [or will] fashion champion this new normal?

Be always [digitally] on

Contactless payments have seen a massive jump in the new 1.5-meter economy and global e-commerce will continue to rise even in the post-pandemic world as we are forced to accelerate digital adoption.

We have seen this from the rise [in volume and dollars] of livestream shopping which brings together the social and commerce elements combined in the joys of retail therapy.

Brands investing in creating a digital flagship store — blending brand experiences interlaced with [social-local-mobile] commerce capabilities — will have a stronger digital footprint in people’s lives.

Recreate your physical reality

Virtual fashion shows may already be the new normal in fashion, as large gatherings still seem a distant dream. One step beyond is the idea of virtual showrooms — opening up a global channel to reach more people and give them access to fashion pieces from anywhere in the world.

Brands should use this momentum to enable themselves to think beyond what is physically possible — in the entire production process. Quick product design edits, digital sampling to test purchase interest before committing to the whole line, and a tremendous reduction in dependency and costs of traditional supply-chain methods — the obvious positive impact on our planet serves as a bonus to this new business model.

Embrace fluidity across virtual worlds

Marc Jacobs (among many other fashion brands) announced a collaboration with Animal Crossing to introduce new outfits that people could download and wear while playing the game, with the option to buy their physical versions through a quick QR scan if they’d like to.

As virtual worlds become our new reality — from activism in gaming, to the confluence of 3D digital art with fashion, and a new “inclusive” MET gala — the need for virtual experiences is only set to be amplified by the internet-powered passion economy. By adopting a lateral role for fashion in these increasing numbers of virtual worlds, fashion brands can champion a new normal for people who are craving new ways to connect and co-create in this fluid world.

What’s Next

The Great Recession in 2007 gave birth to a new wave of increasingly sustainable, and ethical choices in the world of fashion. Today, we are in another crisis. People are changing behaviours to meet their core needs by tapping into things they have access to. The core shifts in fashion — the need to be sustainable and inclusive — are amplified as we fast-track into the future. Fashion brands need to proactively advance these shifts by leveraging digital-only fashion as a gateway — to become more accessible in a future that is virtual at most, and socially distant at the very least.

Senior Strategist
Nishita Tamuly
Managing Director
Georgios Athanassiadis