As technology continues to permeate every walk of life, existence is increasingly based within the digital realm — including fashion.  Just recently, Facebook rebranded to Meta and the company announced its plans to focus on the metaverse, a shared online space where virtual, augmented, and physical reality will converge. So why would fashion be any different?

When I first heard about digital fashion, I was confused, to say the least. I thought about the Barbie dress-up games I would play on my computer as a child. Little did I know this was something a lot more complex and was fast becoming one of the most promising products. So, what exactly is digital fashion? More importantly, is it going to be the future of how we dress up in a world where Instagram posts matter more than real-life events?

Digital fashion explained

Digital fashion first came into existence in 2018 when the Scandinavian brand Carlings unveiled a completely digital clothing line. However, it was the Covid-19 pandemic that brought this convergence of technology and fashion into the mainstream. While virtual fashion shows became the norm, it was the increasing sales of purely digital clothing that represents the most interesting aspect of digital fashion. Through companies like The Fabricant and DRESSX, consumers can first try digital clothes via augmented reality before purchasing them. Once the item is purchased, the customer can upload a photo of themselves to the website and will soon have the item professionally edited onto their body, ready to be used across social media (or however they please).

Before and after photos of a woman wearing a digital outfit.
[Image description: Before and after photos of a woman wearing a digital outfit.] Via @ninocene on Instagram

How digital fashion is changing the game

Digital fashion has not only helped the fashion industry weather the pandemic, but it has opened a whole new world of possibilities. No longer limited by the physicality of the real world, designers can now get more creative than ever. In conversation with Dezeen Magazine, Amber Slooten, the co-founder of The Fabricant, said, “we can go completely crazy. We can wear a dress made of water or have lights everywhere and change your textile according to your mood”. This creativity is also accompanied by the possibility of an answer to the problem of fast fashion. As social media encourages a consumer culture where clothing must not be repeated, digital fashion can provide consumers with the opportunity to be on-trend while also being ethical. DRESSX claims that the “carbon footprint of producing one digital item is 95% less than the average production for a physical garment”.

Inclusivity in digital fashion

In addition to claims of being environmentally friendly, digital fashion is a lot more inclusive than traditional clothing. Regardless of body type, size, gender, and disability, these digital pieces can be perfectly fitted to anyone and thus allow consumers to express themselves in a way that has never been possible before.

Dhanush Shetty, a consumer of digital fashion told Vice that “I don’t need to worry about being ‘too big’ for digital fashion or whether [it] was made in a sweatshop”. From an industry point of view, the increasing popularity of digital fashion presents an opportunity to cut down on both costs and time. For example, Puma was able to reduce their time to market and costs by 30%. Adapting to the digital fashion trend would not only allow companies to reduce their environmental footprint, but also gives them the opportunity to become more efficient in the long term.

Before and after photos of a woman in digital clothing.
[Image description: Before and after photos of a woman in digital clothing.] Via @dressx on Instagram

Digital fashion meets digital currency

Digital fashion certainly presents an exciting opportunity for the future of fashion, but there are those that are not as optimistic. Research has shown that consumers are much less likely to pay more for digital counterparts of physical items. There are also claims that digital fashion may not be as environmentally friendly as it seems. Some digital fashion items are being sold as NFTs (non-interchangeable digital tokens) on the blockchain. Most NFT marketplaces have been developed on the Ethereum blockchain, which has a carbon footprint comparable to Sudan. Blockchain technology like Ethereum is considered to be highly determinantal to the environment due to its high energy consumption.

The fact of the matter is that the concept of digital fashion is still in its infancy, and as such, it presents both exciting new opportunities. The question is — are you willing to try on some digital clothes, or is all this starting to sound a little too sci-fi?

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  • Saleha Noor

    Saleha is currently completing her undergraduate in Asian and International Studies from the City University of Hong Kong. As someone who is highly opinionated and believes that words can be extremely powerful she spends most of her time writing about everything from politics to fashion.