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Is Digital Clothing the Future of Fashion Ecommerce?

November 19, 2021

Could digital clothing be the next big fashion trend? Nike seems to think so. 

At the beginning of the month, it was reported that sportswear giant Nike had filed a trademark application for its signature “tick” logo and “just do it” slogan in “downloadable virtual goods, namely, computer programs featuring footwear, clothing, headwear, eyewear, bags… for use online and in online virtual worlds.” This move indicates that Nike are planning to launch their branded apparel in the metaverse – where virtual reality, augmented reality and video live within a digital universe. 

Nike is not the first brand to venture into the virtual fashion world, however. In 2018, Scandinavian retailer Carlings launched the world’s first ever digital-only clothing collection. Consisting of 19 pieces each costing £15, customers had to provide Carlings with a photo. Their team of 3D designers then edited the virtual outfit onto the customer. 

Whilst Carlings’s virtual collection is currently unavailable, you can still get your digital fashion fix from DRESSX, founded in 2019. DRESSX is filling the gap for a solely digital based fashion brand, offering clothing collections from a growing number of global brands. Shoppers simply upload their photo via the product page before proceeding to check out as normal. There’s also a section for the buyer to add comments before the transaction is complete.

DRESSX Product Example

Gucci dresses gamers 

World-renowned luxury label Gucci even ventured into the world of virtual clothing in March this year, releasing their first ever line of digital trainers, known as the Gucci Sneaker Garage. This is particularly unexpected as high end designer brands have been the slowest to embrace a digital approach, still favouring the in-store experience and relying on runway shows to launch new collections. But even the most prolific fashion houses know they must incorporate a digital approach into their business strategies, especially since the pandemic. 

Photograph: Gucci

The shoes, which can be worn in virtual or augmented worlds, retail for just $17.99. A pair of Gucci sneakers usually retails for over $500, meaning digital apparel could make designer clothing more accessible. Available from either the Gucci or Wanna AR apps, the trainers can be worn in virtual worlds such as VR Chat and Roblox, both of which are popular online gaming platforms. Whilst it’s currently unknown whether Gucci plans to roll out digital clothing away from the gaming world, it could be a test to see how people respond before incorporating digital fashion into their core collections. 

Digital fashion: the pros and cons 

Whilst the majority of readers may be somewhat bemused by the idea of spending money on an item you can’t physically touch or own, there are undeniable perks to digital clothing. There has been much attention on the environmental impact of the fashion industry, both fast and luxury alike, as well as the ethical issues posed by the manufacturing process. Demand for fast fashion, created by social media platforms such as Instagram and celebrities such as the Kardashians has only accelerated this problem as fans want to replicate their looks, and fast. 

We all know that fashion is an industry fuelled by trends. And these trends often go as quickly as they arrived – digital clothing could help quench consumer thirst for fast fashion whilst keeping clothes out of landfills. Digital files don’t leave the same carbon footprint – no physical product means no mess left behind. No chemical dyes being deposited into rivers, carbon emissions being emitted by huge clothing shipments, no more fresh water being used by the gallon for garment making rather than drinking.

The key benefit of digital fashion is also its main downfall – you don’t own a physical product. This may be off putting for many, if not the majority, of fashion consumers. You can’t really blame shoppers for wanting a little more to show for their money than a file on their laptop. The obvious problem here is that you can’t actually wear the product, and unless we plan on spending our entire lives indoors and living only in a virtual space, traditional clothing isn’t going anywhere. Digital clothing fills a very specific need – those who seek constant fashion newness for their online persona. 

How digital clothing could change influencer marketing as we know it

With that being said, we can’t help but ponder the ways in which digital fashion could shape the influencer marketing industry. Since the rise of the Instagram influencer, a problematic trend has occurred among fashion consumers: purchase > Instagram > return. Fashion is now viewed as disposable. If fast fashion consumers are purchasing garments purely for the purposes of one photo for Instagram, then digital clothing could be a great alternative. Fashion influencers are often gifted items of clothing from brands, meaning a huge number of garments are being shipped off every month for the purpose of one or two Instagram posts, and several influencers have said they never wear gifted items for more than a few minutes. If brands were to instead gift brand ambassadors digital attire, waste would not only be cut down, but it would be more lucrative financially too with no materials or shipping to pay for. 

Whilst this may seem like the perfect solution, it’s far from being a perfect business model. Questions around authenticity already surround the current influencer model, with laws being introduced to ensure that all paid posts are declared as such with the use of specific hashtags. If an influencer promotes an item of clothing they haven’t seen, touched or worn for money, why should we buy it based on their recommendation? If both influencer marketing and digital fashion are here to stay, then marketers may need to find a way for them to work together.

The future of fashion, or another passing trend?

As the fashion industry continues its transition from analogue to digital, and faces increasing pressure to adopt more sustainable methods, we are likely to see more brands follow the likes of Nike into the virtual world. Whilst people will always need clothing and want to look their best (in the real world), the significant demand for fashion consumption for the sole purpose of content creation could be met with digital clothing. This is a specific type of consumer, but one that has a big part to play in how the fashion industry operates today, and physical ownership for this type of shopper is at least partially redundant. 

Various experts working in the industry claim that a hybrid model may mean we can have the best of both worlds, so expect to see new options appear on your favourite fashion ecommerce websites as more and more consumers begin to curate their virtual wardrobes.  

Wondering how to successfully launch your brand online? We offer a range of digital marketing services and ecommerce solutions, from Shopify development to digital design. Get in touch to chat to a member of our team.