As technology evolves, so must we! The introduction of the Metaverse has been swift and sometimes confusing. So here at Playtime, we’ve gathered the relevant information for our community to understand what exactly the Metaverse is, how it is being used in the fashion industry today, what problems this poses for brands and retailers, and ways it can be incorporated into your business today and in the future.
Defining the Metaverse right now is a bit like trying to define the internet in the 1970’s – It is still in the process of being built. There are parts of this abstract idea that are already in place, so let’s stick to what these concrete aspects are first. There is virtual reality, virtual worlds that exist even when they aren’t being played, that are accessible through equipment like VR headsets. There is also augmented reality, which combines the physical and digital world through apps (think of Pokémon Go; the Pokémon weren’t really there, but through the app you could see them and catch them in the game while walking around the real world). Video games like Fortnite host concerts and can be accessed from a multitude of mediums: PCs, game consoles, or cell phones, allowing access to that world in different ways. The game World of Warcraft allows players to create, buy, and sell goods, embodying the idea of cultivating a digital economy. One of the most relevant aspects for the fashion industry is the creation of NFTs. NFTs are Nonfungible tokens that offer a certificate of ownership of a digital image. For example, Nike can create a virtual sneaker and sell the digital certificate/ownership of that virtual sneaker.
Basically, the Metaverse is a term being used to define an evolving sector of the internet that combines the physical and digital worlds. It is a broad term for all of these different games, websites, and apps, just like the internet is the host for a variety of sites, from social media to news organizations, search engines like Google and video streaming sites. Metaverse describes both current sites, as well as the vision of what tech companies want this technology to become.
Brands are creating NFTs and/or creating virtual storefronts on platforms to offer their products to a wider audience. Exclusively virtual fashion houses are being developed like The Fabricant, which makes virtual clothing that can be used and traded in virtual realities. Brands are also acquiring companies that make NFTs. For example, Nike recently purchased RTFKT which makes virtual sneakers. This technology enables brands to create their own official NFTs.
American artist Kaws took a three-layered approach to his latest exhibition in collaboration with Serpentine Gallery in London and the video game Fortnite. They held a traditional physical exhibit in the London gallery with augmented reality sculptures only visible through cell phones and also opened the exhibition in the replica of the Serpentine Gallery on Fortnite. By offering the same exhibition on display in the physical gallery and virtually on Fortnite, Kaw’s artwork was more accessible to viewers around the world, especially younger generations that either don’t have the opportunity to travel to London or are not typically interested in art, but feel more comfortable or more engaged by the idea of visiting a gallery on their favorite video game.
Virtual real estate is being purchased as well, as big companies bet on what the Metaverse may become. Crypto companies, and even countries, have spent millions on purchasing “land” on platforms such as The Sandbox and Decentraland. The island country of Barbados announced plans to open a “metaverse embassy,” while companies are purchasing real estate in Decentraland’s Fashion Street District. Canadian crypto company Tokens.com believes this Fashion Street District will become as important for luxury brands as having a store on Fifth Avenue in New York.
A familiar problem for the fashion industry is the issue of counterfeit products and that remains a concern with this new technology. Hermès has sued artist Mason Rothschild for creating and selling “MetaBirkin” NFTs, and Nike has recently filed a complaint against StockX for the commercialization of NFT sneakers without Nike’s permission. These cases can be more complicated than traditional intellectual property cases. For instance, Mason Rothschild has claimed that he is protected under America’s Constitution, which states people have freedom of expression. Rothschild argues his NFT Birkin bags are art, and therefore are equivalent to Andy Warhol’s use of Campbell’s soup cans in his famous painting.
Another issue posed by this new technology is the amount of energy it requires. The network of computers necessary to buy and trade NFTs need a lot of energy, adding up to a potentially large toll on the environment. It is still relatively difficult to track the exact numerical impact of emissions from NFTs, but remains something to consider before creating them.
Fashion forecasting companies like WGSN and Fashion Snoops have identified the Metaverse as a key source of inspiration for years to come. Some designers have already drawn inspiration for their AW21 collections by incorporating digital gaming aesthetics and futuristic elements. Some of the key action points identified by WGSN are the use of digital colors and prints that stand out on or off screen. Think punchy, bright colors and neons, in prints inspired by space, video game characters, and virtual worlds. These bright colors will come with a cost, as natural dyes will not be able to achieve such saturation. Certified low-impact dyes will be the best option for brands to achieve the vibrant shades. Sweats, tees, and sneakers that are comfortable for long gaming sessions, total looks in bright tie-dyes, and oversized proportions are going to be key. Kids are becoming more and more familiar with digital-first products, that later can be purchased in real life. This offers the possibility of collaborations, the creation of NFTs that become real products in stores, or unique product offerings inspired by virtual designs.
WGSN reported that over half of the platform Roblox’s 150 million users are under the age of 13. The Metaverse and its many platforms could become a great way to connect with young consumers. The development of the virtual real estate being purchased by some companies could also become important outreach. This would be a new way to interact with customers around the world who previously may not have been able to explore the products of haute couture houses and international retailers. Some companies are exploring ways to use the Metaverse to test products before producing them, to decrease overproduction or avoid developing a product consumers won’t respond to. It could be the future of the focus group.
The biggest takeaway we see from the Metaverse is that it is in the process of becoming. It remains, in its current form, an abstract idea that encompasses a lot of different technology. It also shows that virtual doesn’t mean zero impact, with the potential environmental cost of NFTs and the energy required to run all of these platforms.
What brands can immediately do is start drawing inspiration for collections from the merging of the physical and digital worlds via colors, prints, and patterns. Retailers can explore incorporating these products that will attract the attention of their young consumers.
One thing that is certain is that the physical and digital worlds are becoming increasingly intertwined and consumers ever more tech-savvy.
At Playtime, we have always been an intersection of physical and digital. With our online marketplace, Orderwizz, and physical trade shows, we have seamlessly integrated the phygital experience for our brands and buyers. With Playtime Paris and Playtime & Kid’s Hub New Yorkthis season, we have pioneered the use of “street view” technology to enable our trade shows to be visited for 6 months. Verified buyers can explore the aisles of the shows, and in just one click head to the virtual showrooms of brands to place orders. If the Metaverse has taught us anything, it is confirmation that phygital is the future of the fashion industry.
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Ravenscraft, Eric. “What is the Metaverse, exactly?” Wired, wired.com/story/what-is-the-metaverse