Welcome to the fourth edition of State of Digital in Fashion
In 2020, Your Majesty published our first-ever State of Digital Fashion report, reporting on the rise of digital fashion and how it was changing the world of expression. Ever since, technological advancement has accelerated and brought with it numerous implications for the fashion industry to consider and reorient, topics we covered in the second and third installments.
From the crowning of TikTok as a cultural hitmaker, to the reclaiming of the digital ownership movement from Web3 communities, the NFT boom-and-bust, the metaverse investment, and now AI, the tie between fashion, culture, and technology has become ever more symbiotic.
Whereas fashion in the past adapted to technology, today, more often than not, fashion and its cultural constituents pave new paths for innovation. The kinds of innovation that no longer solely pertain to their go-to-market efforts but ones that can catapult brands into change-makers, risk-takers, and industry leaders. This is a pivotal moment for those who work in digital, and even more so for those spearheading digital in fashion.
In this fourth installment of the State of Digital in Fashion, we decided to broaden our scope of research. Going beyond the digitization of garments, we are looking into the many intertwined developments of technology that have the potential to innovate both the supply chain and (re)distribution of fashion.
Through conversations with fashion-tech experts and practitioners, we synthesized three key themes to help brands navigate the current state of digital in fashion:
Addressing the (Missed) Opportunity of Web3 — where web3 and the metaverse fall short, and how we can do better with their potential.
Making the Most of AI — thinking clearly about the ethical considerations and where to begin.
Embracing the Memeification of Brand Expression — taking risks and letting go of your brand guardrails in exchange for brand love.
Through these three perspectives, we aim to equip you, fashion-tech pioneers, with an actionable view of your fast-moving landscape, providing pointers and concrete examples on how you can begin to make a difference through your brand.
1. Addressing the (Missed) Opportunity of Web3
In 2014 Gavin Wood, Ethereum and Polkadot co-founder, coined the term “Web3.” His definition being a "decentralized online ecosystem based on blockchain”. A vision of the internet that is democratic, where users are in control of their data; making users owners, not products. Although in its infancy Web3 is moving from theory to reality, yet it risks failing to reach its full potential, being tainted before it’s even really started (something Apple’s Vision Pro launch has only compounded). Some argue it’s already dead.
This might be the “trough of disillusionment” talking but cryptocurrencies are proving as (un)trustworthy as banks and the very technology created to equalize ownership is now being used for exclusive rights and royalties.
Web3 promised the decentralization of the internet, but it seems to be replicating the monopolies that already exist. We discussed this very issue with Seb Dancer-Michel, a Your Majesty developer with passion for all things future web, he explained “the monopolies are still there [...] it’s still venture capitalists. It’s still the same”. Blockchain, which was supposed to enable the decentralization of the internet (a technology that stores information transparently, forever) has been somewhat reduced to a token; a means to pay. And not a widely accessible one at that.
The metaverse that promised to integrate our digital and physical worlds is being used as a marketing tool; an online shop masked as a VR experience - especially when it comes to fashion brands. We reached out to Fernanda Fernandes, a Digital Fashion Lecturer at Amsterdam Fashion Institute (AMFI) to get her point of view and she agreed, “it has been strongly connected to a very commercial mindset like Facebook” and it’s putting people off as a result.
Misuse beyond the metaverse
The developments in Web3 that promised a reduction in fashion waste and emissions are now being used to create on-demand direct to consumer models (championed by the likes of Shein) to create even faster fashion. As Fernandes explains “the risk is, we consume more. We make everything so efficient we create a faster, fast fashion. Buying releases a lot of dopamine but that's a difficult thing to cure”. That being said, the slope of enlightenment is on the horizon.
Our prediction (and hope) is that as the hype dies down, those that jumped on the bandwagon for short term commercial gain will leave, making room for those with intentions and contributions more inline with Web3’s philosophy. Dancer-Michel refers to this phase as a type of filtering that’ll lead to more “on the ground advancements”, and, more importantly, “less bullshit”.
Sunniva Ottestad, a Producer at Your Majesty whose Masters thesis explored ‘"Emerging Understandings of Online markets, Digitalisation, Sustainability and Identity Expression”, echoes this sentiment, that while the current attention may be focused on Web3 cynicism “I know there are a lot of people that are silently building and keeping their hopes up that it’ll turn out for the better”.
How can we do better, in general?
It’ll take more than just financial investment to develop our collective vision for the future. When it comes to Web3 we need to evaluate and expand the blockchain use cases immediately; pushing the boundaries beyond currency. Kryha is a positive example, a company that uses blockchain to evaluate, and make transparent, a businesses supply chain. In a similar vein, Tex Tracer, uses the same tech to offer transparency into the sustainability of fashion supply chains.
The future of the metaverse is in the hands of those willing to invest the time, money and skill to push it in the right direction. In the gaming industry, skilled 3D designers and those with an artistic vision are the key to unlocking virtual worlds of the future.
In a 2022 article, Your Majesty’s Managing Director, Georgios explored exactly this, concluding “A few years from now, I think the companies that relentlessly focus on interoperability, better and faster UX, and strong partner relationships with the gaming industry will be the ones coming out as the big winners.”
And this is a common point of view. In a recent fashion-tech event by the Business of Fashion, Michael J. Wolf, founder and chief executive, Activate Consulting backed this up, “The only path to the metaverse is through video games.” He goes on to explain that in 2022 the metaverse reached its peak in the hype cycle and now, it’s time to invest.
Fernandes believes there’s a skills shortage and it’s not just the gaming industry that needs to come to the table, its creative and fashion designers with 3D skills too, “A lot of the time this technology is in the hands of the classical gaming industry, but if they don't have the fashion insights or educational background, it will be very difficult to change something.”
“Showing up in the metaverse with mediocre digital twins and avatars is no longer enough.”
Luckily, there are companies already investing in this vision - digital fashion industry leader CLO Virtual Fashion and Epic Games have announced a partnership to help designers across industries make life-like digital fashion garments. Simon Kim, CEO of CLO Virtual Fashion commented recently "We are building toward a future where we imagine the digitization of everything, the convergence of fashion with entertainment and the metaverse. Our visions are aligned and we are committed to building the future that we envision.”
Showing up in the metaverse with mediocre digital twins and avatars is no longer enough. Brands must treat this like any other channel and decide what value they want to bring to it from an original, creative, and digital-first point of view, as opposed to replicating what already exists. “A good example from Fortnite was their concerts” explains Dancer-Michel, “where the expression of the artist's creativity is much more free - they have crazy ideas that you can’t do in the real world. [Brands] will soon realize that if they want to be competitive in that space they’ll have to be more original”.
How can we do better, in fashion?
As for fashion design, brands can and must use digital technologies to increase the quality and life cycle of their products to strive for circularity; as opposed to using it to produce more of the same. And there is no shortage of ways to do so.
AI sizing solutions like that from Bold Metrics, can help brands reduce returns and “provide personalized recommendations to customers, enhancing the shopper experience and boosting conversion”.
Fashion tech companies like Ordre are revolutionizing virtual experiences with its 360° technology helping designers get their collections in front of retailers faster. Cyber tailoring can enable brands to produce custom fit pieces - encouraging users to create something that they truly love, that fits them perfectly, and that is built to last.
2. Making the Most of AI
As we know too well, we’re living in the age of rapid AI evolution. With new applications, technologies and developments being released almost daily, even experts in generative AI like our CTO Kasper Kuijpers are finding it hard to keep up “it’s insanely overwhelming; just by the sheer amount of stuff that’s being released. Keeping track of what that means, and if it’s anything significant or not.”
Too often conversations around advancements in technology are framed as robots vs. humans; as opposed to how machines can enrich the lives of those they serve. Yet right now we are entering an era in which the integration of this technology will become impossible to avoid and the technology that enables it is only going to get better. This is just the beginning.
Industry leaders are quickly integrating AI into research, creative and design processes, and encouraging others to do the same. Levi’s started experimenting with AI in its design process a few years ago and more recently revealed it will integrate AI-generated models on its website, albeit with some backlash, to help improve customer experience. Online shopping assistants have evolved from linear chat bots to helpful conversations thanks to the evolution of Chat GPT.
But the future of AI goes beyond Midjourney’s visuals and Chat GPT text capabilities, Stability AI’s Harmonai is a generative AI music production tool, powered by the music community themselves. The opportunities in this space are endless, audio is just the beginning, imagine what kind of 3D video and film creations will be possible in just a year. Although already happening, the benefits of integrating AI into video, audio and music are yet to be truly realized at scale.
The ethical considerations
Beyond new and exciting applications of the technology there are endless ethical and societal considerations too. What impact on societal norms is this new technology going to have, given it’s being released into the wild daily? As Kuijpers rightly points out, “this is a big concern for a lot of people. We need to check these things, we need to make sure that they are ready for society, because this problem already exists with the way we've dealt with social media.”
AI generative tools only exist because of the human-created art and text datasets used to train them, and this training enables them to reproduce the styles of others with great accuracy. But ethically, and legally, who owns the rights to the creative output?
As Domestic Data Streamers explains: “While using these tools to create and distribute art may be legal, it’s important to consider the impact on the creators whose work is being used and potentially exploited by corporations and companies.”
“Understanding the main two types of output is important for any organization wanting to integrate these technologies.”
Whilst this is hotly contended, globally, countries have their own rules on the matter. According to the US Copyright Office “users do not exercise ultimate creative control over how such systems interpret prompts and generate material [...] copyright can protect only material that is the product of human creativity.", whilst in the UK “A copyright work may be created by a human who has assistance from AI.”
Understanding the main two types of output is important for any organization wanting to integrate these technologies. Latent content relies on close approximations to the data set (actual people, photos, art for example) which does pose a higher risk of copyright infringement. Transformative content is combining elements of the data to create new, novel outputs (think of a remix or collage) which has historically been clear from any copyright issues.
How can we better integrate AI?
The best way to tackle AI for your brand is to review how it fits with your company’s strategy, processes, innovation, and values. Long-term value of this technology will be realized when businesses carefully consider how it fits into the future of the business, rather than jumping onto a rapidly evolving technology trend. Does it add value to your team, customers and business model, or are you just using it for the sake of it?
3. Embracing the Memeification of Brand Expression
We see it clearly in the Burberrys and Levi's of the world, strong brands not only make a lasting impression on consumers but stand the test of time through technological developments, revolutions and innovation. And the same goes today, whilst technology is developing at a faster pace it’s those brands that embrace and integrate it into their processes and creativity that will continue to thrive.
Opportunity or a threat?
Having a strong identity in the ‘real world’ gives brands an opportunity to actually make the most of these technologies and be more fluid, creative and experimental. Recent creative evidence suggests that even if they don’t embrace it, others will, regardless of the brand's involvement.
Take the Harry Potter x Balenciaga runway AI-mash up (by DemonFlyingFox) as a prime example. In one regard it is great exposure for the brand, however from a legal point of view, it could be seen as harmful. Literally anyone can create whatever they want using generative-AI and a series of great prompts.
This poses an opportunity for brands to embrace the exposure, just like they would if a celebrity or influencer shared posts about their product without an official partnership. As Michael Miraflor, Chief Brand Officer at VC firm Hannah Grey, comments in the Business of Fashion (BoF) “I would have to think that many people who saw the Balenciaga Harry Potter mashup ended up doing further searches about Balenciaga.”
And he wasn’t wrong, once the runway mashup video gained traction in the media a few weeks after it was posted, searches of “Balenciaga”’ did increase.
Whilst this chart demonstrates a positive outcome for Balenciaga, that might not always be the case. Consider discussing your measures of success for memeification internally; that way you can understand and assess what you deem an effective vs harmful manipulation of your brands identity, and take the necessary precautions as the memeification unfolds.
How can we encourage co-creation, in general?
To “control the conversation” brands can consider handing over the keys to fans and brand ambassadors and offer the opportunity to “play” together across platforms.
Allowing customers to co-create, design personalized products, share their own creativity and build a sense of ownership into the brand experience can help increase brand relevancy and longevity - Heinz did exactly this in their Draw Ketchup campaign, in which they invited fans to write prompts they then used to generate creative depictions of the iconic condiment.
It’s worth noting that successful memeification requires investing in a brand's distinctive assets to ensure maximum payback. There’s a reason Wes Anderson’s co-creations are so recognisable, having created and reinforced the same, now iconic, design motifs over time (symmetry, use of pastel colors and whimsical music); or in the case of Heinz and their campaign the distinctive bottle, label shape, and brand color.
How can we encourage co-creation, in fashion?
When it comes to fashion, “I would like people to realize that it's not only about selling more, producing more, it's about having a stronger relationship with a garment and a brand,” says Fernandes. She goes on to explain that choosing the color, fabric and fit of a pair of jeans or sneakers helps build a relationship with the garment or accessory.
Consumers are more likely to take care of it, invest in it for the long term and feel a much stronger connection compared to cheap, fast fashion items that are poorly made and go out of fashion season to season - “this is the most difficult, but most exciting thing that digital fashion can do”.
Many brand-led communities are still a sales and marketing effort to encourage consumers to buy more stuff. However, those that focus on personalisation, co-creation and embrace shared ownership will likely see longer term benefits when it comes to brand longevity, relevance and support from future generations.
Brands, fashion or otherwise, have an incredible opportunity to improve relevance and longevity through unique applications of the latest technology. Getting clear on the future direction of your business is the first step in understanding where each of these digital developments fit into your strategy. Align this with your business values and you’re one step closer to getting the best out of the technology, rather than just riding the trends.
Whether it’s AI, the metaverse or an exciting new application of digital in fashion, consider your original, creative and digital-first point of view. Adopt technology to enhance the quality of your products and service, to better your customer experience and ultimately to achieve a stronger, long-term relationship with consumers.
In the fourth installment of State of Digital in Fashion, we uncovered three key themes:
- Addressing the (Missed) Opportunity of Web3
Without further investment in the skills, applications, and quality of the technology behind the promise of decentralization, Web3 risks falling flat. There is a clear need to harness skills and technology from across industries to fuel original applications of digital that help improve product longevity, tackle environmental considerations, and better digital experiences.
- Making the Most of AI
Keeping on top of ethical considerations, such as ownership rights and potential exploitation is essential for any business adopting AI. When doing so, brands must carefully consider how AI aligns with their strategy, values, and long-term goals rather than adopting it solely for the sake of following a trend.
- Embracing the Memeification of Brand Expression
Investing in a strong brand identity will define a clear brand expression and help to make room for co-creation and memeification with fans and brand ambassadors. In doing so, brands can increase relevance, longevity, and foster stronger relationships with consumers.
Written by Sarah Warsaw, Marketing Manager and Sara Keegan, Senior Strategist
Foreword written by Viet Hoang, Strategy Director
Images created in MidJourney 5.0 by Sunniva Ottested, Producer
How might digital impact your brand?
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