A couple years ago, I spent two hours picking a “Thanksgiving outfit” for my bitmoji.
Scrolling through the “digital closet”, I was surprised to see what must have been a partnership with real, reputable clothing brands to make simplistic digital options for the animated version of me. Did I care if my bitmoji had on Alexander McQueen, Ralph Lauren, orGucci? Apparently, some people do. And that was just the tip of the iceberg as we begin down the path of digital fashion.
Today, we are going so far beyond just dressing our bitmoji’s up in pretty pixels. New designers are beginning to replace production of textiles and clothing with designs that are only digital. Consumers can purchase these digital items, and many times they superimpose the “shirt” over an existing photo to change up their look. Fashion startups like DressX and The Fabricant are diving in deep. They are not only offering digital clothing for purchase, but gifting digital versions of clothing, to influencers, for promotional purposes. In more mass-market facing news, Google released a free collection of digital clothing that users can “try on” and post to social media. Yeah, watch out Gucci in the meta world could the future really be “House of Google”.
So, we are going full-blown digital. What’s new? Well, this trend has implications for the fashion industry that are a bit beyond just the digital transition. It hints to a shift in the value perception and features that matter.
The world of influencers, and especially fashion influencers, has long been built around trust in real people and their style choices and authentic commentary on the fashion items. Sure, we want to know what she wears. But millions tune in to hear how the fabric feels, if the sizing is consistent, and what the fit is like. There is heavy industry focus on building trust as an influencer and showing authenticity. This trust was generated through the content by giving “real-feel” commentary about the benefits of the clothes, maybe how the material was so buttery soft or how the structure of the shoulder seam was just a bit smaller than last season.
But with this new digital fashion- where pixels replace threads- that’s gone.
All of it.
Do I need to trust you, or just think you are cool?
Do I need to think you are authentic? CAN I even view you as authentic when you don’t possess the clothing you are promoting!?
With digital fashion, those elements of “the influencer” are gone and the role is reduced to someone who gave their thumbs up to that look. One who likely hasn’t touched it, will never wear it and – since many digital clothing items are superimposed onto existing images- may only know they supported a certain brand if they look at the image their assistant posts on their Instagram feed.
Imagining this outside of apparel helps to put things into perspective. And, begins to look a lot like a product-placement photoshoot by a stock retailer in 1998. I’m imagining the latest “influencer” staging a photoshoot and just holding an empty hand in the air. She can send the beautiful empty pic to CPG companies everywhere and they can superimpose their product into her hand. Viola! Endorsement!
What I fail to imagine is how this is revolutionary? How is this new? Is this not like a faux commercial, just using someone’s life instead of a professional set? Is this not going backwards to print ads and commercials? What am I missing?
I am missing one thing.
The main benefit touted for digital fashion is sustainability. And this I understand. Surely, it is much friendlier to the earth to edit a photograph with a new colored shirt every day than to design, test, produce, ship and sell an actual physical garment. Outside of traditional sales, More Dash- a digital retail company based in Paris and LA, reminded us “there is a significant demand for fashion “consumption” for the sole purpose of digital content creation”. The argument there is that people are just buying, posting, tossing. That’s a problem and there has to be a better way.
However, this is not the solution. We are just feeding that beat. Taking it one MORE step away from an honest endorsement. We need to make our behavior sustainable, not just our return cycles. We need to address our intentions and motivations rather than green-wash the digitization of the industry.
The success of digital fashion will- and should- depend on trust. Will the market trust the need, the benefits and the process?
Trust, in turn, is rooted in authenticity. According to digital content engine Stackla, in 2019, over 85% of customers said that authenticity was a key factor when deciding what brands they like and support. And since then – largely due to Covid-19 - the need for authenticity only increased.
It will take strong and highly selective brand message to convince the market this will lead to any ends that give MORE authentic interactions.
Of course, if I’m sitting on a zoom call next year with a superimposed blazer on, well then color me wrong.