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Digital Fashion: A Solution to Overconsumption?

by Alisha Bissessur

With well over 500 looks and 60 brands, the first-ever Metaverse Fashion Week (MVFW) took the world of fashion by storm in March 2022. Launched by the world’s biggest user-owned virtual world, Decentraland, visitors were able to purchase NFT’s created by notable brands at the digital event - ranging from Guo Pei to Estée Lauder to Tommy Hilfiger. 

Despite last year’s absence of high-end fashion giants, MVFW is set to return in 2023 with the curatorial theme of ‘Future Heritage’ to bridge traditional fashion designers and the next generation’s lineup of creators. Within the mere timespan of a year, digital fashion’s grand experiment proves itself to be one of the strongest cases for the metaverse. But many questions are left unanswered; Is this new phenomenon of ‘digital fashion’ synonymous with sustainability in fashion? Will our physical clothes eventually become irrelevant? Or is it all simply a trend waiting to fizzle out? 

Ⓒ Placebo

Digital fashion has been fuelled by our online presence, catalysed especially by the pandemic restrictions. The primordial function of clothing, despite its basic uses, is image. Self-identity is first conveyed through a sense of style- the colours, the silhouettes, and the style all reflect who you are. Digital fashion provided an outlet for self-expression on social media, which had seemed to be ever so sparse during Covid-19 when we were unable to leave our homes. 

Creating custom ‘non-existent’ clothing out of 3D software for online content or gaming avatars may also be our key to solving the issue of overconsumption. Our lack of conscious consumerism, excessive production, low levels of recycling and repairs, and poor quality textiles have tainted the industry, making fashion almost synonymous with environmental issues. With the industrialisation and globalisation of production supply chains, massive multinationals are able to have their production systems in place in a cheap country while selling in another. 

The latter is how fast fashion companies operate, all while taking advantage of the fashion industry’s frequent season changes. Fast fashion allows us to keep up without making our wallets ache, yet they come with a plethora of problems- worker exploitation and environmental degradation. Digital fashion may be our saving grace.

Ⓒ Decentraland

With the rapid advancement of technology in the fashion industry, one has to get used to brands like Republiqe, Tribute Brand, and The Dematerialised, becoming household names. These are all digital fashion houses, said to be approximately 100% sustainable. With no sign of actual, tangible clothing, putting together a digital outfit requires significantly fewer natural resources, therefore needing no logistics or packaging. With the fashion world notorious for leaning towards the environmentally-unfriendly side, digital fashion could be the industry’s glowing solution from contributing 20% of global wastewater, hefty carbon footprint, and microplastic pollution. 

By 2030, Morgan Stanley’s estimates suggest that digital fashion operations could be accounted for $50 billion USD by the year 2030. According to DressX, a single digital article of clothing produces 97% less CO2 than a tangible one, without needing any water. Influencers have been the main target for digital fashion. Replicant, a virtual-only multi-brand e-commerce platform, has over two hundred articles of clothing available in their catalogue with more than 36 cyber designers employed.

Any outfit can be chosen from their e-wardrobe, and all they need is for you to upload a photo of yourself to model the looks. Within a 2-day timespan, your photos are already tweaked with a high-quality superposition of your chosen trendy outfit. Any avant-garde look could be available to you, anytime, and without costing the Earth.

In reality, going digital isn’t automatically fully sustainable. Through the production of virtual outfits and fashion shows, there is a much larger demand for technological advancement. Powerful computers are required to piece together our virtual world- whether it be on social media or through gaming. Hefty data centres and servers are needed to successfully host MVFW, for instance. 

Already contributing around 2% of global greenhouse emissions, the technology sector could prove itself to be more harmful with time. The sheer repercussions of digital fashion may be rendering our motive, to essentially be environmentally friendly, null and void. However, there is not sufficient data to construct a long-term conclusion about digital fashion shows. 

For comparative purposes, the never-ending pre-Covid rotation of fashion shows around the globe was not doing the environment any favours either. With the sheer amount of travel to New York, Paris, or Milan, fashion designers and buyers are said to contribute over 200 tons of CO2 emissions annually (excluding press, staff members, models and other backstage workers). 

As previously stated, influencers are the main target for digital fashion. But, what about other demographics absent on social media? The majority of Gen Z and millennial folk believe that online presence is more important than IRL. However, past generations may not share that opinion. The extent to which digital fashion could be integrated into their lives could be negligible, which ultimately makes you ponder the limits of an e-wardrobe. 

Digital fashion doesn’t eclipse the need for tangible clothing- one could never be solely dependent on the looks their social avatars are sporting. Self-expression is still conveyed through your everyday work clothes, loungewear, or brunch attire. Nothing quite matches the rush of finally putting on those boots that you’ve been eyeing for weeks. 

With the integration between digital and physical garments, we have the ability to save trillions of litres of water. This provides a revolutionary glimpse into the future, steadily paving the way for a more sustainable business model.

Even with its recent launch, the fashion metaverse has been scrapping the need for single wear items- the new generation of conscious consumers could be eroding overconsumption and overproduction. If this tool is properly utilised, the fashion industry may finally shed its notorious reputation of wreaking environmental havoc. As digital fashion becomes more and more infused in our daily lives, maybe it's time to invest in better tech setups.

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