The fashion industry is to blame for 10% of humanity’s carbon emissions every year. Moreover, about 85% of all textiles end up in landfills, while nearly 500,000 tons of microfibers are released into the ocean from washing clothes. At the same time, fashion production consumes more than 90 billion cubic meters of water – enough to meet the needs of five million people – thus heavily contributing to water scarcity in some regions.
What about the social cost of fashion? The fast fashion brands worldwide are known for underpaying workers, infringing their human rights and even threatening their health.
On the other hand, a recent study shows that the travel undertaken by buyers and brands during major fashion weeks around the world generated 241,000 tonnes of carbon emissions in a year – enough to light up Times Square for 58 years.
With the advance of technology and the rise of the metaverse, however, the fashion industry is about to witness a digital revolution that many believe would pave the way towards further sustainability. Here is what has already happened and what else we can expect in 2022 and beyond.
Digital Fashion Week
In 2020, the Helsinki Fashion Week was the first to go 100% digital. The utopian cyberspace platform Digital Village was created specially for the event and allowed viewers from the whole world to enjoy 31 fashion shows and presentations from the comfort of their homes. The event featured collaborations between fashion and 3D designers and allowed for wild and extravagant settings without sacrificing nature. After switching to a purely digital format in 2020, the carbon footprint of Helsinki Fashion Week per visitor went down from 137 kg to 0.66 kg.
At the end of 2021, the metaverse platform Decentraland, in collaboration with the luxury marketplace UNXD – the company that worked with Dolce & Gabbana on their first NFT clothing collection, announced that it would host a four-day virtual fashion week in March 2022. More such events are expected to go digital in the next months.
Brands Enter the Metaverse
Fashion brands are also rushing into the metaverse. Dolce & Gabbana (D&G) was the first luxury brand to incorporate non-fungible tokens (NFTs) in its business model. During its virtual auction with the UNXD marketplace, D&G sold nine digital pieces with sales reaching USD 6 million.
In April 2021, Gucci collaborated with Roblox and organized a unique virtual garden exhibit that was live for two weeks. During this time, Roblox users had the opportunity to purchase digital clothing and accessories with some pieces selling for amounts higher than in the physical world. This was the case with one Gucci Dionysus Bag With Bee which sold for 350,000 Robux, the platform’s native currency, or USD 4,115. For comparison, the retail price of the bag is USD 3,400.
Similarly, Ralph Lauren partnered with Roblox in December 2021 to create the Ralph Lauren Winter Escape featuring an exclusive gender-neutral digital clothing collection of eight winter looks. Roblox’s users could try the pieces as well as to customize their avatars at Polo Shops as part of the virtual experience.
In 2019, Louis Vuitton united with Riot Games and released in-game looks, known as “skins”, costing between USD 170 to over USD 5,000. Similarly, Burberry collaborated with Tencent Games and designed pieces for the popular Chinese battle game Honor of Kings.
Balenciaga collaborated with Fortnite on the release of digital clothing for the game’s avatars, thus breaking the boundaries between the real and the virtual space.
Most recently, Barbie entered the metaverse, announcing a collaboration with Balmain for the launch of a ready-to-wear fashion line and three non-fungible tokens (NFTs).
Adidas partnered with Yuga Labs, the creators of Bored Ape, and launched the “Into the Metaverse” collection. The 30,000 NFTs sold out in minutes on Dec. 17, 2021 for more than USD 22 million in the span of an afternoon.
Other fashion players decided to acquire metaverse companies to facilitate their virtual reality game. This is the case with NIKE that acquired RTFKT – an innovative company that leverages blockchain technology and augmented reality to create virtual products and experiences.
Another metaverse trend is virtual influencers. More and more digital characters are entering social media and they could be of help when brands want to communicate their views on diversity or sustainability, for instance.
Have you heard of 19-year-old Lil Miquela? She may seem as real as you or me, but actually she is an avatar created by LA-based startup Brud. Today she has more than 3 million followers on Instagram and has already collaborated with a number of brands like Calvin Klei, for instance. Another digital fashionista – Noonoouri, worked with luxury names like Dior, Miu Miu and Gucci.
The concept of digital influencers may seem odd and is quite questionable. One of the major problems is the unrealistic beauty standards that these avatars could set. On the other side, they bring the potential for turning marketing into a more creative and planet-friendly sphere.
The whole metaverse is made of unknowns. One thing, however, is for sure – it offers endless possibilities not only for the virtual but also for the physical world. Of course, taking sustainability in mind right from the beginning is crucial.
Digital environments have the potential to completely change the way we buy fashion products. Imagine your avatar trying the clothes and accessories you wish to buy while you are staying at home. This could decrease returns as well as facilitate on-demand production and data analysis, thus driving our sustainability efforts forward.