As of Friday, February 10, 2023
Fashion is experiencing a digital renaissance and poly-crisis at the same time. There is a fresh world of opportunity called the metaverse and a threat to human creativity called Artificial Intelligence. Both represent a massive cultural shift because they remove the need for humans, or do they?
While they intersect in various ways, the metaverse and AI are not the same thing. AI is one of the many tools that can be used to enhance the metaverse, but it is not the metaverse itself.
The metaverse is a virtual world accessed through a computer or virtual-reality headset that is inhabited by digital humans or their representations, where they can interact with each other and virtual products in a plethora of virtual environments. It is a shared space that exists outside of the physical world and is often used for gaming, socializing and creative expression.
There is no one destination to experience the metaverse—it’s many different places created through the evolution of multiple technologies emerging into digital experiences. Today’s metaverse experiences are made on a multitude of platforms with a combination of virtual-reality or augmented-reality technologies with specialized hardware. The barriers to an immersive metaverse experience are headsets for the all-virtual moments.
Technology has never been a core business for fashion, but pioneering a new virtual world is an exciting proposition for retailers and brands. The first Metaverse Fashion Week debuted last year with major brands watching from the sidelines. It proved to be more risk than reward, delivering a dim experience lacking computer power, rife with technical limitations and graphic glitches. It’s returning for a second time March 28–31 with hopes of proving to the fashion community that bigger budgets combined with realistic expectations can showcase collections and approach new technically savvy generations of consumers in a highly interactive way.
Gaming, the true pioneer of the metaverse, has created its own industry of digital fashion, design and commerce. Once locked in the basement and preferring the light of the computer screen to the light of day, gamer culture has exploded into mainstream culture. Its rebellious, “anti-culture” edge with cosplay, steampunk, post-apocalypse, fantasy, gothic is a community open to people of all genders, orientations and expressions where the limit is only their imagination. Because the normal rules of fashion do not apply in the digital world, the costumes and digital fashion designs literally have no limits. They can be as wildly impractical as the imagination can dictate, but human creativity worn by avatars has created a new industry of representations and personal style in the digital world.
With no barrier to entry to become the next designer, fashion is at a crossroads and in the crosshairs. During the pandemic, brands grasped at virtual design tools with an optimism to blaze a new digital trail through upstream and downstream apparel businesses. This enthusiasm fueled the adoption of 3D-design systems that have the potential to revolutionize the way fashion is designed while achieving corporate initiatives. Digital Product Creation could be environmentally responsible, eliminate waste and have the potential to drive apparel manufacturing into a more sustainable business model. The potential to make digital products without physical form is the pièce de résistance.
Like MVFW, 3D within apparel businesses has been met with practicality problems. It’s complicated and requires expertise. Traditional 2D fashion design uses Adobe Illustrator to create products, but finding talent or training current talent with resistances takes time. Like the metaverse, 3D is not just one technology—it’s multiple technologies with different providers and different file formats. Connecting 3D-design software with existing systems like PLM and ERP creates a new set of challenges. Digitization of an entire ecosystem takes time. 3D plus time is the definition of 4D.
4D fashion is where clothing and accessories can change shape, color or texture in response to external stimuli. The goal is to create clothing and accessories that are not just visually appealing but also interactive and dynamic—just like humans and gaming. It has the potential to revolutionize the retail industry with fabrics that change color in response to temperature or light or garments that can adjust their shape to fit the wearer’s body. 4D technology is in the development stage pushing fashion, manufacturing and design in new directions.
Take a scroll through Instagram and you’ll meet the new designers of the future. The younger, digital-savvy audience, which is already made up of metaverse residents, is generating its own fashion future and becoming the next fashion designers. Without training or expertise, or even creative aptitude, humans are designing everything from graphics to gowns because for the first time in history computers have the ability to render the human imagination.
Beginning in 2021, advances in AI-produced models could generate original images from simple text prompts. That means images can now be created without having to be executed with paint, pencils or pixel pushing. What DALL-E started was a technological revolution of generators that has reinvented fashion design within a Discord community of bots called MidJourney.
The craft of communicating with computer models dubbed “prompt engineering” is creating a new language and a new future for prompt fashion. Maybe this is exactly what the fashion industry needs to create a sustainable future. Instead of slowing fashion down for sustainability, let’s prompt it with quality. Removing obstacles between ideas and images could create a sustainable world that’s more humanly sustainable. But we’ll need human creativity to translate this work flow into real-world production.
Roxy Starr, a serial entrepreneur, pioneered the era of 3D scanning to enhance the fit of garments in the fashion industry. She is Chief Digital Officer of FastFit360 and founder of Addlane, an app to improve digital design communication globally.