For most observers of the fashion industry, the technological impact of blockchain, Web 3.0, non fungible tokens (NFTs) and the decentralised metaverse are mostly met with a collective feeling of cognitive dissonance. There is a feeling that all of these advancements may not really address the pain points surrounding creating a sustainable future for the industry. Some feel it will just add a layer of complexity that will ultimately have little or no impact in the long term. This was discu
discussed at the recent Global Fashion Summit in Copenhagen. Leanne Elliot Young, CEO and co-founder of the Institute of Digital Fashion, believes that there is a massive opportunity for fashion brands to reassess their goals in the physical space and start a pivot into the digital world. Moreover, in her opinion, this decentralised metaverse-led revolution will also have a huge significance on diversity, inclusivity and sustainability as well. “Diversity and inclusion wasn’t something that was traditionally considered within digital representation. We want to think about how we can not just work with brands and digital solutions, but actually make a change for the industry,” she said. Evelyn Mora, CEO and co-founder of Digital Village, echoed this sentiment but also tempers expectations by mentioning that there is already a lot of greenwashing in the industry. She feels brands need to be very careful about how they communicate their sustainability goals, and her organisation is focused on creating traceability and transparency. “What is most important these days is not to get hung up on the terminologies in this space, but try to understand the purposes of these different tools and how to utilise them best in your business to create impact and essentially tackle challenges around climate change,” Mora added. Digital Village is a social metaverse with its own community lead and its blockchain technology prioritises social and digital sustainability. Mora created the first transparent global digital sustainability study for brands, which has led to more secure cyberspace initiatives. ‘Mind-blowing’ technology Jeremy Karl, co-founder of Hibiscus Tech, is also a big supporter of Web 3.0 technologies and blockchain in general. “The most interesting thing about blockchain is that it allows for true digital ownership, and its smart contracts can be designed to pay people throughout the supply chain in a fair and transparent manner.” As a designer himself he feels that the technology is ‘mind-blowing’ as his fellow designers can get a real return in terms of monetary value based on the work that they produce. In a lot of ways, he also feels that these technologies can go a long way towards eradicating modern slavery in the global supply chain of various vertical industries as well. Mora chimed in by stating that companies and brands need not rush into implementing these technologies for fear of missing out on the action. “Take your time to figure out what is the best approach, the best tool for your company, and actually create an impact to improve your current supply chain business models,” she advised. The elephant in the room With the world experiencing increasingly dire climate change events, businesses can’t avoid the issue of energy consumption that is associated with these new technologies. The cryptocurrency mining industry requires millions of computers the world over to process large amounts of data, whilst consuming huge amounts of electricity. This in turn contributes to greenhouse gas emissions. Marjorie Hernandez, co-founder of The Dematerialised believes that blockchain technology and the cryptocurrency world is still in its infancy. “New innovations, like proof of stake, could reduce 99 per cent of current electricity consumption by blockchain networks and cryptocurrency mining, but of course, these developments are still in their infancy, so it’s going to take time to see real results,” she said. She feels that we are currently living in an age where computing power is on the rise, game engines are getting faster, internet connections are getting quicker and all of this is coming together to create a metaverse vision that requires Web 3.0 to catch up to make it more sustainable. Karl also added that blockchain can enable incentives for users to use more efficient energy sources, which in turn can have an overall positive impact on the reduction of carbon footprints across the world. A massive challenge Mora is clear eyed about the difficulties that lie ahead for the fashion industry as a whole. Web 3.0 and all these new technologies are not a magic wand that can solve all these problems in one fell swoop. “It’s massive infrastructural changes that need to occur, and it goes to the roots of our society, and digitisation is just a tool to get us there, so the main challenge is sustainability at the very core,” she said. In her opinion, companies and brands in the fashion industry need to have long term strategies, think big and also address the ‘low hanging fruit’ systemic issues that are prevalent in their businesses. “I think the metaverse is just the beginning, I am a real big believer in IoT (Internet of Things), I feel everything will dive into Web 3.0 and these new technologies will surround our physical environments.” The power of collaboration Young, through her work with the Institute of Digital Fashion, believes that the most powerful element of a digital asset is the ability to collaborate. In one of their projects, when a user buys an NFT, which is in essence a digital garment, owners have the ability to actually work with that file and collaborate with the design house. “I think this is a really powerful moment, the fact that as a brand, it shifts the conversation from a hierarchical statement to a framework and a set of parameters that invites collaboration,” she said. Young feels users or buyers of NFTs will be able to embark on a journey of creative exploration together with the design houses, opening up a new phase of “collaborative ownership” in the purchasing process. From a design perspective, Karl believes that digital samples of materials and textures have eliminated the need for hundreds of physical material samples, thereby already solving one pain point. Hernandez summed up the session perfectly by touting the decentralised nature of these technologies and how they can impact everyone’s lives both in the online and offline space. “Decentralised systems are truly the answer, from your human rights to your ability to monetize your brand, intellectual property, and more importantly your future identity in the metaverse, so that’s why it’s important,” she concluded.