Last week marked the first ever Fashion Week in the Metaverse and was hosted by Decentraland, the 3D decentralized virtual world platform.
Decentraland is one of the first virtual worlds where you can virtual land using MANA, the platform’s native decentralized cryptocurrency. The space has become more popular amid the recent crypto boom, with people rushing in to buy plots of virtual land in hopes of building virtual shopping districts to sell virtual goods in the form of NFTs. In February this year, German designer Philipp Plein spent $1.4 million to acquire a plot in Decentraland.
The vision is that brands will be able to leverage the world-building capabilities used by video games to create these virtual shopping districts to offer 3D experiences and ultimately, create new ways to reach more potential customers.
For this first instalment of Metaverse Fashion Week (MVFW), Decentraland created a number of devoted digital spaces for the event, where visitors can check out designer pop-up shops, watch runway shows, listen to panel talks, dance at after-parties and of course, shop. Kind of like a virtual SXSW without having to leave home. A full schedule of events is available here.
While it seems like we’ve only started to hear more about the ‘Metaverse’ in the mainstream news (probably thanks to Facebook’s recent transition to ‘Meta’), Gartner predicts that by 2026, 25% of us will be spending at least one hour in the metaverse for work, to shop, to learn, or just be social.
The rising popularity and mainstream adoption of cryptocurrencies over the last 12 months has certainly been a huge driver behind the interest in web3 technologies and the motivation to prove out use cases and application for businesses and consumers has never been stronger.
The real winners of the Superbowl this year seemed to be the crypto companies like Crypto.com, who followed-up their first feature length commercial starring Matt Damon with this one starring LeBron James.
Particularly interesting has been the NFT craze, and the growing hype around NFT wearables. If NFTs still got you confused here’s a quick explainer I wrote a little while ago.
An NFT wearable is basically just an NFT but instead of it being just an item you hold it has the added utility of being something that you can use in the metaverse.
What do I mean ‘use in the metaverse’? Well aside from having a digital wallet to store your cryptocurrencies, the next prerequisite to joining any metaverse is creating your profile which in the digital world, is your avatar. Gone are the days of the humble profile pic to set and forget, you’re now required to show up, in 3D and look good. And naturally, all of this presents a unique opportunity and completely new channel for people to try sell you things.
With fashion brands always looking for new ways to appeal to new customers and creators looking for opportunities to showcase and earn money for their creations, the metaverse is creating a whole new market ecosystem with uniquely digital distribution channels.
NFTs as wearables
The bet is that in the future, everyone will have an online identity that transcends the Instagrams and Twitters. Everyone will have their own avatar, and your you in the metaverse will need to get dressed and accessorize just the same. But unlike in the human world, your digital identity can be everything and anything you want to be. In the metaverse the objective is not to recreate your current self but to become the most most fantastic version of yourself.
Assuming that people will want express their uniqueness through their fashion choices in the metaverse there are seemly endless opportunities for brands to attract and engage new customers. Marketplaces that exist within these digital worlds provide an ideal distribution channel to reach users who are younger, fashion focused, and are already familiar with cryptocurrencies and NFTs and value them.
What was it like?
With this being my first trip to Decentraland there was a bit of a learning curve. Figuring out how to move my avatar around started out as the first challenge. As a non-gamer, trying to coordinate keyboard and mouse together was laughable at best but I eventually got a handle on the basic moves. Some of the tips here were helpful to start but once I figured out how to use the chat box the universal /help command also worked to bring up a list of handy shortcuts.
Events took place in a few locations, a central one being the Luxury Fashion District; which was more like an outdoor mall featuring various pop-up shops from Elie Saab, Etro, Imitation of Christ (still around it seems) and D&G. These stores actually felt so much like traditional stores that it was actually kind of disappointing. They were also eerily empty and most of the time I didn’t know what I was supposed to be doing and ended up just leaving quickly.
A more positive experience was at a dance party being DJ’ed by Bob Sinclair. My avatar really wanted to move and I kind of had fun struggling to create a routine using the emotes (what are emotes?) It was a bit strange that many of the musical artists were featured via livestream video as humans. It would seem to have made more sense if they were featured as avatars themselves but perhaps the tech is still too early to allow someone to perform live in their avatar form just yet.
I’ll admit though that the main reason I wanted to check out MVFW wasn’t really for the dance competition, it was for the runway shows. Would they have the same energy as the real thing? the same excitement? the same feeling of exclusiveness and anticipation?
Generally speaking, they did not live up to the same hype but I think everyone can agree this is all still very early. The main stadium with the figure-8 shaped runway was certainly fantastical and felt like something from the future.
Overall the still primitive web3 graphics didn’t lend themselves to showcasing the details of the designs on the runway and the generally laggy feeling of trying to to do anything this intense via a web browser was a bit frustrating. There also wasn’t that may people in attendance, in the few times I checked the most number of attendees I saw was no more than 200. On the positive note, all events started on time.
The Fabricant show was one that I was looking forward to in particular. The Fabricant is a completely digital fashion house that has it’s own in-house team of digital fashion designs as well as it’s own platform that allows other creators to design and mint (create) their own wearables and sell them on various NFT marketplaces. Here’s a few moments from their runway show featuring a collection entirely co-created by its community.
Some of my main thoughts on the experience…
The technology still has a ways to go – Metaverses now are slow, klunky to use and the graphics don’t do much to enhance the experience. For these reasons you may think ‘what’s the point?’ But you probably felt something similar at some point on your digital journey and look where we are now. I personally think it’s going to take really immersive (think sensory takeover) experiences like VR headsets to help people literally feel the metaverse experience and I believe this is coming sooner than we think.
Brands need to understand customer motivations to purchase – It’s pretty clear from this experience that brands who want to connect and sell to customers will need to do more than just ‘exist’ in the metaverse. Just having a digital brick and mortar shop isn’t going to be enough and there will have to be more interactive and enticing ways to attract customers to buy.
The success of wearable sales in games is driven by the utility a purchase provides to a user (aka their avatar) during game play. Ironically, the utility in a functional sense is actually none. Fortnite skins are purely cosmetic and typically provide no game benefits. I don’t think any brands have cracked this one yet and I think it will have a lot to do with the growth and popularity of the ‘world’ they choose to build in.
Connecting web3, web/mobile and offline experiences – To have any shot at success businesses will need to invest in teams with the expertise. Creating fashion for the metaverse is different from creating fashion for real life. Will brands be willing to invest in people and make sure they’re are working together seamlessly to create the intended experience? With ROI still TBD, this seems like a critical decision brands will need to take a leap of faith on.
Marketplaces and resale value – For brands that want to sell things there needs to be a marketplace that scales. I think NFTs have experienced a lot of growth thanks to dedicated markets where people can buy, sell and trade like OpenSea, NiftyGateway, Rarible, and SuperRare. Brands will also want to consider that customers will want the ability to buy and sell their wearables post initial purchase on these NFT marketplaces. While the resale market for physical fashion continues to grow, the NFTs marketplaces and their dynamics will be new to most retail brands.
Which metaverse will win out – ‘Metaverse’ at this point in time is a general reference to a virtual reality universe. There is no one single metaverse so there are currently many metaverses, most exist for purposes of playing a game of some sort.
There are a lot of companies clamouring to land the first mover advantage metaverse and be the ones to lay the groundwork (make the rules) for others to follow. That said, there are still no standards so it’s still the virtual wild wild west out there. If one metaverse to rule them all does not emerge, and if companies try to build their own in hopes the avatars will eventually come, will this leave everything too fragmented to provide the economies of scale brands need to succeed? Or maybe we’ll find out that buying and selling is not enough, and that the community that grows and strengthens around a game like Fortnite or Roblox is really what’s needed for a metaverse to truly succeed.
Metaverse Fashion Week 2023?
If there is a MVFW 2023 would I go? Yes most definitely. I’m looking forward to seeing how much things will evolve between now and then and if the brands who participated this year make it back. I’m also very interested to know if we’ll hear from any of the brands who participated on their experience, what they learned and if the virtual opportunity is one that’s tangible for them.
If you made it to any of the live events or checked it out more casually I’d love to hear about your experience.