“Digital fashion is here and it is taking centre stage as accessible fashion, which is reflective of every individual, regardless of gender, age, sex or race,” Nick Molnar, Afterpay’s co-CEO and co-founder, said about the activation.
“We see digital fashion as an emerging avenue for all stakeholders in the industry, both creatively and in terms of its potential as a new market. It fulfills the needs and wants of the next generation consumer, particularly with the recent boom of avatar dressing in gaming, NFTs and the rise of blockchain.”
When it comes to technology, for the most part, the Australian fashion industry has lagged behind other industries. We need bold statements and activations such as Digi_Couture for the wider creative community to see and experience technological innovation up close to spark ideas.
While Afterpay is just now forging a path in Australia for immersive fashion experiences that blend the physical and virtual worlds, digital fashion has been a hot topic since early 2018 when The Fabricant launched with Kerry Murphy and Amber Jae Slooten at the helm.
Since then, brands such as Balenciaga in 2018, Carlings in 2019 and Hugo Boss and Burberry in 2020 have released collections incorporating 3D design. Hugo Boss was first to develop an entire collection from start to finish digitally, and Carlings is the only brand so far to release a digital-only collection, nabbing net zero carbon emissions in the process. It also collaborated with virtual influencer Perl.www.
Alternative applications in digital fashion are being explored beyond stunning 3D renders in advertising campaigns. Some focus on reducing environmental impact within the design and development phase, while others spruik a new online medium for true self-expression.
“Designing fashion in 3D speeds up decision making on prototypes without limiting a designer’s creativity as it usually takes weeks to receive low quality prototypes. By using 3D design technology, a designer can virtually tweak the model until they’re satisfied with the result. Saving time and money in the long run,” Martina Ponzoni, digital fashion specialist and sessional lecturer in digital techniques for RMIT School of Fashion & Textiles, said.
The adoption of 3D technology in the sampling process is slow; however, as large brands begin to see the advantages, this will increase. That includes easier and more collaborative communication with vendors, according to Ponzoni.
“They’re able to see a hyper-realistic image of the design rather than a flat sketch, which often is left open to interpretation and prone to errors between sampling changes,” she said.
Musk, save the planet
The advantages of incorporating 3D fashion are impressive, but is there a cost to the technology being used? While Elon Musk is doing his bit to provide our planet with energy efficient power sources, it takes a considerable amount of electricity to fuel the internet and computers.
It’s estimated that in 2019, Australia consumed 70,644 billion kilowatt-hours of energy. To non-engineers, using 1 KWh is similar to using your laptop all day. Data centres and server farms store hundreds of millions of terabytes of data from people accessing the internet. Astonishingly, cloud-based solutions (think Netflix, email and social media) use 70 billion KWh per year, and that was just in the US during 2016.
Even though we can’t physically see energy consumption, we’re constantly using electricity to power our conveniently connected lives. The industry is working hard to reduce pollution in fashion, but as consumers, our individual internet usage is creating about 300 pounds of carbon dioxide per year. Being consciously aware of these factors will aid in the decisions we make going forward so there isn’t anyone trying to pull the wool over our eyes.
Cher’s digital closet
As digital fashion makes the dream of having infinite clothing possible, we could finally see digital closets – like Cher’s from Clueless – become a reality. There have been many attempts since the ‘90s. This YouTuber, for example, tried to create a version herself using a mobile app.
Collecting favourite styles for a virtual avatar, swapping items with friends and purchasing digital couture are a few ways we can expect digital fashion to emerge in the near future, but even if we don’t physically wear digital fashion, at what point does it become excessive?
We’re already experiencing hyper-consumerism in society, with youth fixating on trends that last just a few months. They live in a world driven by vanity metrics and social comparison. This is concerning, given that people who are heavily influenced by social media are four times more likely to purchase unnecessary products.
Our true selves, or perfect perceptions?
As we lead more of our lives online, it makes sense that we want to dress our avatars in digital fashion that portrays our personal style. What will be even better is if digital fashion designers leave behind traditional rules and ideas around clothing to genuinely offer more diverse and inclusive digital fashion.
Some will inevitably ask whether these avatars reflect or mask our ‘true selves’. This concern goes back to the days of ICQ – a precursor to AOL’s instant messenger – when we first started interacting with strangers online. It was about 10 years after that I learned about ‘catfishing.’
How can we trust that the people we’re interacting with online are being their most authentic selves? Should we be free to create and curate our identity the way we want? And should it matter what other people think of our cyberselves?
According to sociologist Charles Horton Cooley’s Looking-Glass Self theory, individuals devise concepts of themselves by observing how they are perceived by others. It’s hard to imagine how much more complicated the looking-glass self process becomes through a social media lens.
In a virtual environment, where each person can control how much of their true identity is revealed, we must ask how inclusive digital fashion is, and whether it helps people represent their most authentic selves online, including people with disabilities.
The power lies in the hands of creators who are designing attributes and characteristics for people to customise their identities. If this is limited, then so is our ability to truly express ourselves the way we want to be perceived.
We are living and actively participating in the digital era. How we navigate virtual environments requires empathy, purposeful actions, a shift to circular models and inclusive spaces, where we can all wear digital clothing and portray ourselves in a way that makes us confident and safe URL and IRL.