Virtual Fashion: From Gaming to the Runway

When a startup known as The Fabricant sold a diaphanous $9500 virtual dress to Richard Ma, the CEO of Quantstamp, as a present to his wife, its founder Kerry Murphy, knew that they were really on to something.

“If you think about what is happening in the art world, it really makes sense. Some people justify these purchases because they see them as the Mona Lisa of the future,” said Murphy in an interview during the e-P Summit in Milan last week.

Through blockchain technology, these items cannot be owned or reproduced by anyone, so even though it is virtual, the only one who can post that virtual dress on social media is its true owner. In a way, the gaming industry – World of Warcraft and Fortnight have been selling skins for over two decades – paved the way for fashion without even knowing it. And now, experts say that the trend is here to stay. In addition to satiating the appetite for fashion of the rich and famous, it is also a solution to fashion’s biggest problem: mass production and excessive waste.

Amsterdam-based The Fabricant is a digital fashion house that operates at the intersection of technology and fashion. They use technology to create intriguing and seductive fashion narratives of endless possibility, unconstrained by the boundaries of the physical realm.

“Our work exists beyond the current concepts of catwalks, photographers, studios, and sample sizes. For The Fabricant, imagination is our only atelier, and our fashion stories are free from the constraints of the material world,” Murphy said.

Norway-based brand Carlings made 120 million euros in revenue in 2018, as it invests its efforts in 3D design and training employees to produce 3D collections. Known for their denim lines, they were one of the first brands to stampede into selling virtual 3D collections and items from 10 euros to 30 euros a piece. Carlings CEO Ronny Mikalsen said that he sees 3D collections as the future, and also a sustainable solution for the world, currently inundated with excess clothing trash. The digital clothing industry, currently driven by a legion of social media-obsessed millennials, are expected to drive those sales, and has the potential to represent one percent of the fashion market share at $25 billion. Fortnite, the top money making, free-to-play game reportedly made an estimated $2.4 billion in 2018.

Other designers feel that simply designing through the lens of a 3D-design can reduce waste, because they are crafting something that consumers actually want and, therefore, would be less willing to discard or throw it away. 

Abdul Abasi, co-founder of Abasi Rosborough, produced a 2020 collection that was made entirely through innovative 3D tailoring. “We make the suits for people who don’t have to wear suits but choose to. We found that they are willing to wait a few weeks to get something custom and special. This month we will launch our new designs using 3D visualization. When client reaction is strong, we take orders and make the clothing. If not, we can now change colors, or delete the file and start over, without a wasted stitch being sewn,” Abasi said. 

Abasi said the company uses technologies that have long been favorites of motion graphic designers in the film and video game industries, but that are increasingly adopted by fashion designers.

Abasi’s 3D design software developed by Seoul-based CLO Virtual Fashion allows the Abasi Rosborough design team to draw, drape, sew, and fit garments in real time, with 2D patterns being generated simultaneously. The resulting 3D garments are exported as images or videos to use in client appointments or via the website, email, and social media. What once took the designers months can now be done in days, or hours.

Every day we read the headlines about global warming, pollution of the fashion industry, how big retailers are failing. We want to be part of the solution, and we’ve built a model backed by tech that is powerful, to share and build upon with other designers,” said Abasi Rosborough’s co-founder Greg Rosborough.

In Europe, the high end luxury industry hasn’t been sleeping. Dior and RIMOWA launched a capsule last month through their collaboration on a Snapchat application. “It opens up intriguing new horizons – three exclusive augmented reality lenses bring to life creations designed by Kim Jones and the luxury luggage specialist,” Dior said a statement. The first evokes the collection’s ad campaign lensed by Steven Meisel, notably revealing a futuristic car inside which the RIMOWA cabin suitcase can be discovered, while the second, like a magic mask, covers the viewer’s face with the iconic Dior Oblique motif. Finally, during an event in Paris, guests were able to scan cards via the application, allowing them – thanks to Marker Tech technology – to make the Personal clutch appear in 3D.

Virtual purists like Mikalsen say that in a few years, all fashion brands, and even Apple, will make 3D designs commonplace, as people’s attitudes change regarding how much clothing they actually need, versus how many clothes they need just to merely appear cool in a photograph. In the case of the latter, a virtual wardrobe makes much more sense in economical terms and for the environment.

 “I say five years from now every design will be made in 3D,” Mikalsen said.

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