NFT fashion hits the runway as designers launch in the Metaverse

The rise of the Metaverse has resulted in an entirely new digital economy, one defined by virtual experiences and interactions. In turn, metaverse ecosystems consisting of avatars are also emerging, allowing individuals to express themselves through digital customizable 3D characters. This idea was recently broadcasted to the mainstream when Facebook’s parent company, Meta, introduced a series of inclusive avatars. 

While the Metaverse may sound futuristic, recent findings from technology research and consulting company Gartner predict that 25% of people will have spent at least one hour per day in the Metaverse by 2026. Gartner vice president Marty Resnick has also predicted that 30% of organizations worldwide will have products and services in the Metaverse by 2026.

Fashion NFTs are the next big trend

Given this, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that digital fashion created for metaverse environments is also starting to unfold. Lokesh Rao, co-founder and chief operating officer of Trace Network Labs — a decentralized protocol enabling lifestyle and luxury brands to enter the Metaverse — told Cointelegraph that fashion has always been a way for people to express and carry themselves in the physical world. Yet, as it becomes more common for people to split their time between the physical world and the Metaverse, Rao believes that demand is growing for virtual luxury lifestyle goods. In particular, Rao mentioned that digital fashion in the form of nonfungible tokens, or NFTs, are starting to gain traction with major brands and high-end fashion designers:

“Fashion NFTs are simply tokenized outfits, accessories, textiles and other wearables that have been created to exist in virtual worlds. Their purpose is quite straightforward. They provide a way for us to express ourselves in the Metaverse.”

To Rao’s point, it’s become apparent that major brands are starting to pay attention to NFTs. In December 2021, sportswear manufacturer Nike announced the acquisition of virtual sneakers and collectibles brand RTFKT as the first step toward metaverse enablement. Dani Loftus, founder of This Outfit Does Not Exist — a digital fashion platform — told Cointelegraph that the acquisition demonstrates that traditional fashion brands will soon have to move closer to digital models. “In the future, the Metaverse and digital fashion will have to be taken seriously,” she said.

It’s also notable that high-end luxury brands such as Dolce & Gabbana and Jimmy Choo, launched their own NFT collections last year during New York Fashion Week 2021. Dolce & Gabbana’s nine-piece NFT collection was designed by UNXD, a creator and curator boutique for iconic luxury brands. Shashi Menon, the Dubai-based publisher of Vogue Arabia and founder and chief operating officer of UNXD, told Cointelegraph that fashion plays an incredibly important role in identity, as well as NFTs:

“Part of UNXD’s thesis is that fashion is going to be one of the first killer use cases in the Metaverse. What’s in your wallet says something about who you are, how you want to be perceived and what you can do on Web3 platforms or even in the real world.”

With this in mind, Menon added that UNXD is focused on crafting not only the best visuals that can be enjoyed as art but is also unlocking experiences with the world’s top brands for UNXD’s collector community. “This is all made possible because of NFTs,” he remarked.

Fashion NFTs hit the runway in 2022

Given the impact NFTs are already having on the fashion world, it seems only logical that digital designs are now being presented in metaverse environments. Specifically speaking, the fashion world and Web3 truly collide as “Metaverse Fashion Week” events come to fruition.

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Jonathan Simkhai’s NFT collection. Source: Everyrealm

For example, Everyrealm — a group of active investors and developers for metaverse ecosystems — hosted its Metaverse Fashion Week on February 14, 2022, coinciding with New York Fashion Week 2022. Everyrealm’s metaverse fashion show was produced by Blueberry entertainment, a digital wearables brand, and took place in the Second Life Metaverse, a virtual world that launched in 2003. The fashion show featured designs from Jonathan Simkhai, a high-end women‘s fashion designer and New York Fashion Week staple.

Julia Schwartz, co-founder of Everyrealm, told Cointelegraph that the company’s goal was to illustrate that digital fashion has a place in the broader business by giving digital wearables a runway in the Metaverse. Schwartz added that the event coincided with New York Fashion Week to allow people to experience fashion in a new and immersive realm that was also unconstrained by COVID-19 restrictions. “When we opened Metaverse Fashion Week to the public in the Second Life, we had over 40,000 attendees,” said Schwartz. She elaborated that Everyrealm collaborated with Jonathan Simkhai to create ten Fall/Winter 2022 styles for the Metaverse:

“For the first time ever, digital NFT wearables made their debut in the Metaverse before their physical counterparts, demonstrating a dramatic shift in the way people consume and experience fashion and culture.”

While innovative, it’s important to point out here that Everyrealm’s fashion show consisted of wearable fashion NFTs and not just digital fashion designs. While digital fashion can be superimposed on photos to be worn in social media posts, or on 3D avatars, Schwartz remarked that the Metaverse creates opportunities for people to not only participate in culture but to own a piece of it through the purchase of nonfungible tokens. Echoing Schwartz, Justin Banon, co-founder of Boson Protocol — a platform that enables brands to sell physical items in the Metaverse — told Cointelegraph that incorporating NFTs into digital wearables gives individuals strong property rights, as they own an asset that is permanent. “It becomes a piece of fashion history or an heirloom that could be passed down through generations. These property rights are driving the value of NFTs as people value truly owning an asset.”

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Jonathan Simkhai white pants suit. Source: Everyrealm

That being said, Schwartz explained that six of Jonathan Simkhai’s designs were developed into NFTs for Everyrealm’s fashion show, noting that one was a one-on-one piece that sold for approximately $3,000 dollars. “The owner of the 1/1 NFT will receive a physical piece from Jonathan Simkhai‘s Fall/Winter 2022 collection,” said Schwartz.

NFTs take fashion to new heights

While Everyrealm’s metaverse fashion show coincided with New York Fashion Week, another NFT fashion collection was launched during Paris Fashion Week this year. Terrence Zhou, a New York-based designer whose pieces have been featured on magazine covers including Vogue, Elle and Marie Claire, told Cointelegraph that he launched his first NFT collection on March 3, 2022, via the digital fashion marketplace The Dematerialised. Known as INFINITE, Zhou describes his NFT collection as a fashion experience built for the consciousness rather than for the body:

“This collection reimagines and elevates the potential of wearable art in the virtual world. When people see fashion, they often think it’s a commodity, but I see fashion as art. This is why I find it empowering to create NFTs, so people can collect and own these as art but can also wear them virtually or in real life. This is a gamechanger.”

According to Zhou, there are six NFTs in his INFINITE collection, three of which were launched during Paris Fashion Week. He explained that the unique NFTs represent an extension of his physical designs yet complement areas that cannot be achieved in real life. “All of the fantasies I have about fashion can’t be realized in the physical world, but these fashion pieces come to life and can tell stories in the digital world. It becomes much more poetic.”

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Terrence Zhou’s “λ-02” NFT, inspired by the little mermaid. Source: Terrence Zhou

For instance, Zhou shared that the INFINITE collection narrates the transformative experience about the idea of love and intimate relationships, inviting people to a diorama of emotions rendered by such an exceptional human interaction. Zhou elaborated:

“Inspired by The Little Mermaid and the Greek mythology of sirens, three NFTs explore sexual fantasies in an illogical way by fusing anthropomorphic structures with absurd representations such as bulbous forms and fishtails. The balloon shape with a beating heart unifies the collection, accompanied by two distinct mermaid tails representing both unrequited love and bodily sacrifice.”

In addition to expanding upon creative possibilities, fashion NFTs also allow designers to connect more deeply with consumers. Zhou explained that NFTs are empowering from a designer’s perspective because it allows him to interact directly with his audience. Jonathan Simkhai, the debut designer for Everyrealm’s Fashion Week, further told Cointelegraph that an NFT collection is an exciting way to engage with a wider audience:

“The future of fashion exists in the Metaverse alongside in real-life garments and activations. To me, it‘s more about accessibility and community building. Activating in the Metaverse allows us to reach a customer who maybe isn‘t familiar with the brand but allows them to create a digital identity using the clothes.“

To Simkhai’s point, Schwartz mentioned that an attendee at Everyrealm’s Metaverse Fashion Week commented that she would want to virtually wear one of the white NFT pants suits featured since she would “never be able to pull them off in real life.” Schwartz explained, “These platforms allow us the space to explore, escape and exist without fear of judgment, stigma or societal pressures.”

NFTs will continue to hit the catwalk this year

Given the success currently seen around NFT fashion, it’s likely that digital designs will continue to make their debut in the Metaverse. This notion is being reinforced by the Decentraland metaverse platform, which recently announced that it would be hosting one of the biggest digital fashion week events that will take place during March 24-27, 2022.

Gigi Graziosi Casimiro, head of Decentraland’s Metaverse Fashion Week, told Cointelegraph that Decentraland will host four days of runway shows, fashion experiences, pop-up shops and afterparties, featuring some of the most renowned names in the global fashion world. For example, Casimiro mentioned that the London retailer, Selfridges, will kick off Metaverse Fashion Week on March 23 with the inauguration of its flagship metaverse store.

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Terrence Zhou’s NFT “Ω” was inspired by the embryonic stage of love. Source: Terrence Zhou

The event will also feature a futuristic runway hosting daily shows by iconic fashion houses such as Dolce & Gabbana, Dundas and Etro. Other purely digital fashion brands like The Fabricant and new designers will also make their digital wearables debut. “Fashion is its own economy. We are hosting Metaverse Fashion Week to connect community creators with the fashion industry in one place. The mission is to connect physical with digital fashion. Therefore, we are bringing big brands in alongside new creators,” explained Casimiro.

Moreover, Casimiro mentioned that Metaverse Fashion Week will consist of a mixture of NFTs and digital fashion, noting that some designs will be connected to NFT marketplaces. Casimiro believes that Decentraland’s Fashion Week will likely attract both Web3 and traditional fashion audiences: “Brands want to better understand how to reach traditional audiences and attract new customers by accessing the Metaverse. We expect to see a lot of newbies enter Decentraland for this event.”

Reimagining the future of fashion with NFTs

Although it’s becoming clear that NFTs are the future of fashion, it’s also important to point out that this sector still requires both technical and mental development.

For fashion brands entering the Metaverse, Casimiro explained that the primary challenge is getting them to understand the infinite possibilities and scale of virtual environments. “Brands are coming in and thinking they can do the same in the Metaverse as traditional catwalks, but brands can be much more creative. The creation process is becoming more collaborative.”

In terms of traditional fashion designers entering Web3, it can be challenging to initially transform real-world garments into digital designs but Simkhai shared that it was an interesting process to learn about. “As a designer, I spend so much time working with garments and fabrics in the real world. For this project, a ton of time was spent in ‘virtual fittings’ to ensure the garments maintained the coherence of the clothing in real life.” This aspect also remains a concern for curators, as Menon explained that UNXD’s role is to capture the designer’s spirit and extend it into the Metaverse in the most meaningful way. “For luxury brands, in particular, there‘s just a lot of detail involved in getting that right, and we work very closely with the designers to do so. It‘s a very high-touch approach, but one that luxury requires.”

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Futuristic catwalk at Metaverse Fashion Week. Source: Decentraland

Finally, technical challenges also remain to ensure that high-end digital wearables are appropriately displayed in metaverse environments. For example, Banon mentioned that one of the biggest challenges facing digital fashion today is the quality of resolution within certain virtual worlds. “Many don’t have the resolution to render fashion items as well as would be desired. However, as we‘ve seen in all other aspects of information technology, when it comes to quality, everything gets better over time.”

Indeed, as the future of fashion unfolds, improvements will certainly follow. Megan Kaspar, managing director at Magnetic Capital and member of Red DAO — a fashion-focused decentralized autonomous organization — told Cointelegraph that the need for industry standards and interoperability within all metaverse environments is now required to ensure a better quality of products. Fortunately, this challenge is being worked on.

For example, Marjorie Hernandez, founder of LUKSO — a blockchain infrastructure providing standards for physical and digital goods — told Cointelegraph that the platform is planning to merge both the physical and digital world by creating a seamless and interoperable ecosystem with blockchain technology:

“Both digital and physical garments can be authenticated on-chain as NFTs allowing for proof of ownership, proof of authenticity and multiverse interoperability and utility. With our new standards and NFT 2.0, digital fashion garments could even be upgraded based on seasons, trends, between owners or to mark special moments in a brand‘s history.”

Given this, Hernandez, along with other industry participants, believes that the future of fashion lies within NFTs that are interoperable and dematerialized. “With digitization, creative opportunities for the fashion industry and even emerging designers are limitless,” she said. Schwartz added that “as brands look for new ways to engage with customers, the Metaverse will provide opportunities for experimentation in the form of digital/physical activations and merchandise.”

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