Article written by: Mckenzie Miranda
Fashion designer Scarlett Yang’s best-selling dress defies the laws of physics. Literally. Made of clear glass, it changes texture in response to temperature and weather.
What if there was a place where people could wear dresses made of glass or fire? Or coats that conceal wings? And what if this was a real interactive society, just not a physical place? That’s the magic of the metaverse – and of the fashion designs created for those who interact with it.
Yang has sold hundreds of the dresses to customers around the globe. Yet none of these people will actually wear the dress in real life, because it doesn’t actually exist. Yang designed this dress to exist only in the metaverse. “Global spending on virtual goods reached an estimated $110 billion in 2021, more than doubling the total in 2015, with around 30 percent attributed to virtual fashion,” reports a 2022 Fashion Technology Report by The Business of Fashion (BoF) and McKinsey & Company.
The metaverse describes a virtual environment that bridges the real physical world with virtual and augmented realities, creating a space that allows them to coexist. The global virtual goods spending in this “interconnected, virtual ecosystem that overlaps with or offers an alternative to physical reality is expected to be worth at least $135 billion by 2024,” according to a 2022 Fashion Technology report by The BoF and McKinsey & Company.
The virtual space can be accessed through online metaverse platforms like Roblox and Decentraland, which allow people to enter and sign up for free with or without a digital wallet, similar to the idea of creating an account or entering as a guest when online shopping or playing web-based games like Minecraft or Fortnite. Some metaverse platforms have avatars and graphics that look very similar to the real world, like Decentraland and Meta, and others are the classic voxel-style, gamer aesthetic one sees on Minecraft, like Roblox and Sandbox.
The term “metaverse” dates back to 1992 when it was first used by speculative-fiction writer Neal Stephenson in his novel Snow Crash. Stephenson’s metaverse was a 3D, connected virtual reality where users could spend time and connect with others. Today, the metaverse has evolved to a point where it serves as a second digital life that allows people to interact with others via digital avatars, and the virtual world has a functioning economy through cryptocurrency that allows people to shop from digital stores and make real transactions. The virtual realm grew out of advancements in Internet technologies coupled with the new, younger generation being more accepting of the concept of existing within a game, simply spending time in it and having a virtual identity, rather than only to play the game.
This generation also brings forth a new market for fashion, one that seeks pieces designed specifically for the metaverse. With virtual skins expected to be a major driver of revenue streams, “fashion companies focused on metaverse innovation and commercialisation could generate more than 5 percent of revenues from virtual activities over the next two to five years,” according to the 2022 Fashion Technology report. Some anticipate that the adoption of virtual worlds could create the biggest opportunity for the fashion industry since ecommerce the report states. And fashion is taking advantage of that opportunity.
While it is still forming, the value the metaverse has presented for the fashion industry thus far is monumental, allowing for immersive shared experiences, endless creative design possibilities and monetization avenues. The many ways fashion brands and designers can participate in the metaverse include, but are not limited to: selling digital fashion on metaverse fashion marketplaces; creating virtual stores, showrooms, and pop-up shops; offering virtual try-on of clothes; partaking in virtual fashion events like metaverse fashion week; hosting virtual fashion shows; fashion NFT projects and more – all offered to much wider, and new, audiences.
The impact of the metaverse on the fashion industry can also be seen with the creation of a Metaverse Fashion Week (MVFW), an annual event in March hosted on Decentraland with an open invite to both designers and attendees. The first MVFW, held last March, attracted more than 108,000 people to the world of wearables and digital fashion, reports a 2022 Women’s Wear Daily (WWD) article about the MFVW’s return this year, and the number of attendees for the 2023 event is not yet known.
The event allows small players to set up their own designer shops alongside fashion icons like Ralph Lauren and Dolce & Gabbana, host virtual fashion shows and more. MVFW credits itself for having “shown the world one of the strongest and most obvious cases for the metaverse yet – digital fashion,” according to a 2022 WWD article.
Big fashion brands like Diesel and Tommy Hilfiger attended the 2023 MVFW, but the focus of this year’s event was on independent designers, who MVFW dubbed ‘Neo Designers’ and the next generation of fashion designers. The 2023 event’s theme of “Future Heritage” was aimed at connecting this more digitally proficient generation of designers with traditional designers, according to a 2022 Fashion Network article.
While the big brands still make a splash in the virtual space, the metaverse is the realm of independent designers. Yang is one of a growing number of fashion creators who are designing clothes specifically for the metaverse. And one of the best things about Yang’s innovative design? It was free to create. “Fashion is well placed to capitalize on the engagement with virtual worlds and the metaverse, owing to its connection to self-expression, status and creativity,” reports the 2022 Fashion Technology report.
Independent designers are tailor-made for the metaverse because they’re in the best position to take advantage of the two things that the metaverse has to offer: unlimited profit potential and unbridled creativity.
The metaverse also is a cheap way to enter the fashion industry as a designer because there are few to no expenses when creating virtual garments, offering the potential for phenomenal profit margins.
Whereas big brands have to worry about the real world side of their business like the production, shipping and supply chain, none of that exists in the metaverse, giving the small guys a head start. The metaverse provides “a new platform for independent fashion creators to showcase their work to a global audience without the need for a physical store or a large marketing budget,” said Mark Shut, president of SMU Blockchain Club and director of education for the nonprofit organization Web3 Texas.
Digital fashion designer Samuel Jordan, 23, is a testament to how the virtual realm allows Millennial designers to make more money and better profit margins than big brands, even when selling their designs for as little as the few cents you find at the bottom of your purse. Literally. Except in this case, a digital purse.
Gaining his initial success as a creator on Roblox, one of the most popular metaverse gaming platforms, Jordan pioneered the digital earring and handbag, and has sold more than 30 million originally-designed fashion items over the last three years, ranging from hats to belts to jewelry to clothing. Selling each piece for anywhere between 10 cents and one dollar, with Roblox taking a hefty 70% of the commission, Jordan has amassed millions in sales. “In 2019, I made $30,000 on Roblox and I thought wow this is a real job,” says Jordan. He then made $600,000 selling his designs on Roblox in 2020, $1 million in 2021, and he expects 2022’s sales to be much larger.
The secret to his monumental success selling free-to-create micro purchases? He designs for betterment of the user’s experience, not just for selfish profit like many brands do, which is what causes them to constantly be outsold by native creatives. Jordan explains that “when you hang out in digital spaces, you lose a lot of forms of communication like nonverbal and tone, so fashion becomes that much more important to people in digital spaces.”
Brands also have a generational disadvantage when up against metaverse-native designers like Jordan, simply due to the fact that they did not grow up in this space. Millennials and Gen Zers have an understanding, familiarity and comfort level with technology and virtual spaces that older generations do not. “Independent designers understand the functionality and limitless creativity of the metaverse, which is why their designs work to enhance the user experience,” says Jenny Davis, a fashion journalism professor of practice at SMU.
The new consumer in this limitless realm demands more utility, functionality, and immersiveness from metaverse fashion.
This virtual world where one can create anything they can possibly dream up finally brings to life the ultimate playground of every designer’s dreams, where the barrier-breaking creative possibilities are endless. Creativity in the metaverse means it doesn’t have to exist in the real world because there is no air, no gravity and no limits on design.
RTFKT, a digital fashion and 3D-creation studio dubbed the “Supreme of the Metaverse,” understands what boundless creativity allows for and demonstrates that with its innovative sneaker NFTs that shot the brand to success. RTFKT emerged as a dominant player in the digital sneaker space in January 2020 and quickly became considered a front runner in the world of NFT fashion after making headlines for a sneaker drop in collaboration with digital artist Fewocious in March 2020. The brand sold out a line of real sneakers that was paired with NFTs in just six minutes, generating $3.1 million in sales. By May of 2020, RTFKT was valued at $33.3 million.
Being an influential visionary of community and collaboration in the metaverse, “brands who are interested in advancing their digital product lines and joining the metaverse can learn from RTKFT,” reported a 2021 Fobes article.
Nike certainly agreed with this statement and made the move to acquire RTFKT for an undisclosed amount in December of 2021, calling RTFKT “a leading brand that leverages cutting edge innovation to deliver next generation collectibles that merge culture and gaming” in Nike’s 2021 press release about the acquisition.
The brand said the strategic acquisition “accelerates Nike’s digital transformation and allows [them] to serve athletes and creators at the intersection of sport, creativity, gaming and culture,” says John Donahoe, President and CEO of NIKE, Inc.
In December 2022, Nike and RTFKT made history with the debut of RTFKT’s first smart sneaker, the Cryptokicks iRL. RTFKT’s signature NFTs have been its customizable Cryptokick sneaker NFTs, which have historically only existed digitally, living on the Ethereum blockchain. But, the brand’s Cryptokicks iRL physical sneakers collaboration with Nike finally brings to life RTFKT’s signature “digitally-designed kicks in the real world, marking the first-ever major web3-IRL sneaker crossover with four colorways of one sneaker,” according to a 2022 HighSnobiety article.
The Web3 sneaker was inspired by Nike’s Air Mag and Adapt BB sneakers, which are part of Nike’s self-lacing sneakers Adapt line. Offered in the four colorways of “Blackout,” “Ice,” Stone,” and “Space Matter,” “with a futuristic basketball-shoe design, the shoes feature auto-lacing technology, gesture control, walk detection, lighting segments, app connectivity, wireless charging and more,” reported a 2022 Hypebeast article. With a limited quantity of 19,000 units, the Cryptokicks iRL sneaker was sold through NFTs on OpenSea, which provided the Lace Engine NFT-holders drop access to the purchase of the sneaker’s physical version for 0.38 ETH (about $478), only available from December 12-16.
Aside from releasing the “first native Web3 sneaker” in collaboration with established market leader RTFKT, Nike also “launched a new Web3 shopping platform called dotSwoosh to build a community around its virtual wearables,” reported a 2022 Jing Daily article. Nike is eager to prove its long-term strategy and future in Web3 is here to stay, and with RTFKT now under the brand’s belt, the two powerhouses continue to show how they can further merge the physical and digital worlds.
Boring digital twins of physical fashion pieces are not enough anymore. Metaverse users want digital fashion that heralds the space’s imaginative creativity with innovative designs.
Forget the cliche backpack that’s a jetpack, and cue the necklace that turns into a Mary Poppins flying umbrella. Now that’s unexpected.
“The metaverse is really lowering the barrier to entry for participation, and I love this new dynamic it sets up in business where very small brands and designers can compete against very large companies,” said Elizabeth McCalley, blockchain expert and founding board member of Web3 Earth. “This is where we see a lot of acquisitions, like when Nike acquired RTFKT, and that’s something we never would’ve seen just two years ago.”
Roblox Creator; Digital Fashion Designer; CEO & Founder of Samuel Jordan Inc.
Blockchain Club President; Founder for Web3Ready
Fashion + Travel Writer . SMU Fashion Journalism Professor . Editorial Stylist . Attorney
Blockchain Expert; Founding Board Member of Web3 Earth; Executive Member of Pavilion; Founder of Market Edge Partners