Digital Fashion: Opportunity, or a Threat?
The Fashion industry has long been known for its novelty and freshness. It comprises an intertwined network of designers, stores, factory workers, tailors, the press, models, textile manufacturers, and others. This industry suffered many losses due to the Covid-19 pandemic. They also learned that, despite their massive influence on the global economy, their practices must change for the sake of sustainability and climate change. A positive step forward would be to invest more time and effort digitally, specifically in augmented reality clothing. Suppose you have ever played sims and spent hours designing your sim's clothes, choosing their hair and eye color. In that case, you have some digital fashion experience.
Similarly, if you have paid 5$ to choose the "Skin" of your player in Fortnite, you have dealt with digital fashion. The entire concept of digital fashion has existed for an exceptionally long time in the virtual gaming world. Still, it is now emerging in the fashion world. One might even say the fashion industry is "fashionable late" to it.
Digital fashion is the incorporation of technology into the product and consumption of fashion apparel and services. Augmented reality is the technology that allows one to visualize, hear or sense information in the real world. It provides for the enhancement of one's experience and reality. AR is changing how consumers interact with clothing by seeing themselves in the dress they would like to purchase.
With the Covid-19 pandemic, the very idea of trying on clothes in a fitting room has become less favorable. The fashion industry has had to adapt to this change rapidly. Many stores like Zara and Gap have begun implementing this type of technology. Zara has offered consumers the possibility of visualizing models wearing a piece of clothing from the latest line. Gap offers an app where one can "customize an avatar based on your body type and see how the different pieces of clothing will look from different angles (1)." On social media, influencers have started buying outfits solely for Instagram! Instead of physically wearing an outfit, one buys a piece of clothing and submits a photo of themselves. In return, they receive that very picture of themselves wearing the article of clothing they purchased virtually. Brands like IL3X, a digital-only fashion brand, specializes in creating AR clothing and accessories for virtual spaces. They offer this service to their users.
Digital clothing has the possibility of reducing the effect the fashion industry has on the environment and can help the rise of pro-sustainable brands. With the clothes being digital, clothing's massive physical production is no longer needed, nor are the factories, transportation and packaging, and any other polluting practices. However, a consequence of these changes would be the massive job loss suffered by countries like Bangladesh, a significant supplier to the fashion industry.
Recent research conducted by Orde stated that fashion buyers and designers that attend one fashion show were equivalent to 241,000 tonnes of CO2 emissions a year. In June 2020, the London fashion week went digital, and the environmental impact of this show was much less apparent. They offered virtual showrooms, panels, and interactive videos and podcasts. With the fashion show going digital, many applauded the reduction of the environmental impact of the show. However, with so many people watching the show from their computer screens, the amount of energy being consumed increases with massive servers being used.
Furthermore, there were people specifically chosen to be in the same room as the designers and models of well-known fashion houses in the past. However, with the pandemic, the playing field was leveled. Everyone from celebrities to fashion students viewed the London fashion show from their computer screen. Everyone had the same experience and interaction with the clothing presented. Similar to how social media has slowly democratized fashion (do not get me wrong racial hierarchy and systematic racism still exists in the fashion industry), the fashion show's digitization allowed for the consumption to be equitable. However, the digital divide still affected many from even being aware or consuming the digital fashion week compared to others.
The LFW has paved the path for future digital fashion weeks. On the one hand, future digital FWs could help reduce fashion weeks' impact on the environment. However, it could also face backlash since clothes are meant to be worn and experienced as analog rather than digital. Finally, without the full acceptance of the lack of representation of BIPOC people in the fashion industry, democratizing the fashion industry will be extremely difficult.
So, to answer the question, "Is digital fashion an opportunity or a threat?" it is both. It is an opportunity because it will help in reducing the fashion industry's footprint on the environment. Digital fashion will increase the importance of pro-sustainable clothing and create a unique experience with clothing. It is a threat because, with digital fashion, there would be a massive reduction in producing clothes, leading to a significant job loss. In addition to this, the ability to express the value of a piece of clothing becomes extremely difficult in a digital setting for many creatives. Overall, digital fashion is the future for the fashion industry. Still, the complete digitization of the fashion industry will take time.
Digital Fashion Week and Covid-19: Why It Happened and What It Means