The metaverse. Take a leisurely stroll on the internet and I’m sure that you’ll come across it. It's a term that is being used to describe a future where our physical lives and our digital lives collide.
I won’t go into what the metaverse is or what it isn’t. Many great minds have already covered the topic. I also won't dive into the technical foundations of the metaverse, the Web3 technologies that power it or the founding principles of what the metaverse is supposed to represent: decentralization, autonomy, ownership.
My area of interest is more pragmatic.
Say the metaverse — this collision of gaming, entertainment and culture — gains mass adoption. Our avatars begin roaming around in a digital universe of our choosing. And we can casually hang out with friends and colleagues as if we are physically there.
We can choose whoever or whatever we want to be in the metaverse. The possibilities will be endless. Still, there is a red thread here: Usually, digital representations of humans, or other beings, are fully dressed.
This leads to a question: If we are always dressed in the metaverse, who will be creating these digital garments?
Brands Entering The Metaverse
The concept of the metaverse isn’t new to the apparel industry. In the past few years, we’ve seen many luxury brands start to engage with the space: from Louis Vuitton's collaboration with League of Legends to Dolce & Gabbana's NFT offering to Gucci’s many game partnerships.
And it’s not just luxury fashion. The sports giants are at it, too: Nike collaborated with Roblox to create NikeLand, while Adidas recently announced a series of partnerships with metaverse-focused companies, including with BAYC, Coinbase and the Sandbox.
While there is lots of activity, the reality is that many of these initiatives are still in experimental phases. These metaverse moves are likely a small percentage of these brands’ overall investment and strategy. And they are definitely not a big revenue driver (yet). That also means the number of teams working internally on these initiatives is still limited.
At the moment, brands wanting to take advantage of the hype work together with front-running agencies and companies. Take the example of Puma working with The Fabricant or Gucci with GEEIQ. The Fabricant and GEEIQ will help these fashion brands by digitizing their collections, brokering relationships with the digital world and ensuring files are converted to match the right specs.
Oftentimes, this process is done for a limited number of fashion styles only because creating these high-quality and highly specific 3D assets is time-consuming, takes specialized talent, and is expensive. Plainly stated: For brands, this process isn’t scalable yet — at least, not when you consider the size of most fashion collections out there.
And that right there is an interesting opportunity that might just drive industry-wide change.
A Solution For Fashion?
The increased need for digital garments at scale — be it for participation in virtual worlds or even virtual stores — might just be the push fashion brands need to change their ways.
“But how?” you ask. Well, let’s consider it.
Imagine fashion brands were to create collections with 3D at the core. In an overly simplified way, the actual process of digital product creation might be a separate article altogether, but designers and other members of the creator teams design the collections entirely in 3D instead of using 2D CAD and physical prototypes. Brands can leverage existing technologies like CLO3D or Browzwear and possibly even make use of a visual library and workflow product like Stitch3D.
With this 3D-based creation, brands can start exploring two separate tracks:
1. Collaborating with their supplier base to create the physical goods. Leveraging 3D to communicate with suppliers can offer significant benefits, from the reduction of physical prototypes to greater efficiencies in terms of time and costs.
2. Engage directly with the digital realm using these 3D assets. This could potentially provide brands direct access to virtual worlds without needing to rely on external parties to create the assets in the first place.
This 3D fashion value chain has the potential to ignite endless amounts of use cases. For example:
• Create marketing assets and campaigns without needing to produce a physical garment.
• Sell collections digitally to wholesale partners without producing a single physical sample.
• Test your collections with actual consumers without creating waste.
• Sell your collections digitally and produce to order — potentially paving the way for made-to-order at scale.
• Sell your collections digitally only.
Not only does a digital value chain like this create incredible opportunities for fashion brands to work more sustainably, more efficiently and with reduced costs, but it also builds the foundation for brands to unlock the value of these digital collections and could allow participation in the metaverse — at scale.
Who Will Dress The Metaverse?
So coming back to my original question: Who will dress the metaverse? I think the brands that will come out the strongest will be the ones that are able to transition internally to a digital creation process. The journey to unlock 3D design will allow brands to upskill their teams, create new ways of working and, above all, create a new digital mindset.
Working with creative agencies will always be possible, but imagine if your own teams could do this kind of amazing work? With the amount of innovation happening in the Web3 space, the opportunities for brands that get this right could be endless. To be sure, there are many hurdles to overcome before we get there. But for brands that are strongly positioned in this space, I’m sure they will succeed in overcoming them.