Fashion’s constant has always been change. Digitizing is the next logical step.
It is often the industry that sets the trends, but fashion may have to follow suit in a digital world.
30 years ago, as Naomi, Linda, Christy, and Cindy were storming the runways in New York, Paris and Milan, scientist Sir Tim Berners-Lee had just launched the World Wide Web. In 1991, the world of fashion could not have felt more removed from this daring new world of technological innovation.
High streets and fashion capitals teemed with shoppers hungry for new fashion throughout the 90s and 00s. As global production ramped up over this period, so too did the voracious appetites of consumers, leading to the need for new clothing on a colossal scale.
At the turn of the millennium, fashion and the internet collided, and the birth of digital fashion began. But in an increasingly digital world, can the fashion industry still control the trends?
Dotcoms and eCommerce
As the dot-com bubble burst in the early 00s, burgeoning online retailers forged a new path in ecommerce. Now household names, e-tailers Net-A-Porter and ASOS were founded in 2000 and revolutionised the way we shop.
Offering fast service and trends straight from the runway, online retailers have satiated consumer’s desire for fashion in new ways. Same-day delivery, free returns, and the freedom from high street shopping played to ecommerce’s advantage.
Still setting the trends at this point, online fashion retailers inspired technological innovation too. Ecommerce platforms such as Shopify have blossomed over the last 20 years, helping retailers serve their customers online.
Digital fashion events
Ecommerce invariably led some designers to take adapt their online shopping offering. Designers including Burberry and Tommy Hilfiger have staged fashion shows in recent years that allowed shoppers to buy looks straight from the runway.
Robotics and technology have also featured heavily in fashion shows of late. Dolce & Gabbana used drones in a recent show (to many an editors’ frustrations as they held up the show start time). While Philip Plein had models walk side-by-side with automated and branded robots.
These interactive fashion events helped pave the way for virtual fashion shows, allowing designers to control their narratives in a digital world. Born from necessity, digital fashion weeks in Milan, Paris and London rose to the challenge of the COVID-19 pandemic in fresh and innovative ways.
Fashion and innovation
Technological innovation is helping to reshape the fashion industry too. Digital technology such as 3D printing has been adopted by some of the world’s finest designers.
Iris Van Herpen is one such designer embracing digital tech for her couture shows, often creating otherworldly dresses worn by the likes of Gwendoline Christie, Cate Blanchett and the aforementioned Naomi Campbell.
Digital innovation is also disrupting the textile industry. Plant-based alternatives to leather and silk are now being developed, with luxury brands like Hermés working with tech company Mycoworks on mushroom leather for their signature bags.
Although designers may be leading the way in the physical space, virtual fashion is burgeoning. Blockchain currency and Nonfungible Tokens (NFTs) have opened a new market: the gaming community.
In one such instance, a virtual hoodie was recently sold to a prominent gamer via an NFT for £19,000 even though the buyer will never be able to physically wear it.
Digital clothing and sustainability
Sustainability is a major concern for fashion houses and retailers. On the surface digital fashion looks like a sustainable option. Requiring fewer resources and less transportation than traditional clothing.
Studies have shown the damage internet use can do to the planet. Storing documents and digital clothing on Cloud servers has been proven to significantly heat the planet. The more expansive your digital wardrobe becomes, the less sustainable it could be.
Consumers as designers
Digital fashion could also democratize an industry. The old guard in fashion guarded how trends were set and clothes were made. But now, anyone with the right coding and programming experience can build digital outfits.
For the world’s leading luxury brands this poses an existential problem. Owning a luxury item has represented a certain social status and transferring the status of a designer label to a digital garment could prove difficult.
With no one to witness the authenticity of digital clothing, coders could undercut big brands and offer luxury status at a fraction of the price.
As production lines and global supply continue to suffer, and high street retailers close on mass, is the future of fashion really digital? And what happens to our redundant bodies when we have nothing real to wear?