Since the age of 15, Chris Ierino has been in love with the Ralph Lauren brand. He has a whole collection of vintage items, Polo mugs and Purple Label items (Ralph Lauren’s best menswear) that make him feel like he’s part of a club. He even has the Polo Bear tattooed on his left arm.
So when he received an email last year about a digital Ralph Lauren collection — yes, virtual fashion is a thing — Ierino decided it was worth it, with some hesitation. Last year, Ralph Lauren collaborated with the global gaming platform Roblox in a bet that people will buy virtual outfits to dress up their avatars like they buy themselves in real life.
At first, Ierino thought the designer label was flattering, but his younger siblings convinced him to try it. He bought a blue-white-red beanie and a backpack, tiny, pixelated versions of similar real-life objects that would now live in his Roblox game. Her items cost less than $5 at the time, but doubled in value the next day.
“I wanted to contribute to my hobby, it’s another collectible. It’s about ownership. The same reason someone owns memorabilia, that’s what it is to me” , said Ierino.
The fashion industry is looking for a new pot of gold
Millions gamers like Ierino around the world purchase accessories, clothing, and skins (graphics that change the appearance of an item in a video game) for their digital avatars. In fact, Ralph Lauren assigned some of its strong third-quarter earnings to those virtual investments and the younger generation of buyers it attracted. The overall gaming market was valued at $173 billion in 2021.
And as the virtual world expands, more and more people are diving into computer-simulated online communities that replicate the real world.
The fashion industry thinks it may have found its next pot of gold there. Already, customers can dress up their avatars for virtual worlds like Horizon Worlds and Decentralized. But virtual fashion is not limited to avatars. You can wear virtual clothes in Snapchat or Zoom meetings, or pose with them for photos for social media feeds. You can show up to a business meeting in a black tie dress when in real life it’s just a t-shirt; or posting a photo on Instagram of a luxury jacket that has never been touched in real life. Virtual fashion is sold in a variety of ways: from gaming rigs and digital photos to videos using augmented reality and even NFTs.
Virtual fashion shows are on the way
In this new world, fashion brands and designers don’t need fibers or even factories. They can bring their designs to life through computer programs and 3D animations.
They hope the potential will be vast in this still murky thing called the Metaverse. The word has been in science fiction for two decades, but real-world application is nascent. When Mark Zuckerberg announced last year that his company would be called Meta, not Facebook, the Metaverse immediately attached itself to the juggernaut. But it doesn’t belong to Mark Zuckerberg, or to anyone in particular. Proponents of the Metaverse believe this is the next iteration of the internet.
“There is only one metaverse, but there are many metaworlds, just like on the internet you have many websites,” said Cathy Hackl, an author and tech futurist “And it’s not just virtual, it encompasses the physical world as well. It’s the convergence of the physical and the digital.”
Morgan Stanley estimates the virtual fashion market could be worth over $55 billion by 2030. And although some fashion houses are already planning virtual fashion shows and some sort of Rodeo Drive Style street in the metaverse, others have dismissed these investments as nothing more than hype.
Fashion brands are simply using virtual fashion as a marketing incentive to entice customers to spend money on their actual clothes, says Max Powell, senior adviser for The NPD Group, a US-based market research firm. . “I don’t see a direct business opportunity here. There are business reasons why you want to be [in that space]. And I have a feeling we’re going to see more brands jumping into space just because everyone’s talking about it, maybe not even understanding the consequences,” Powell said.
Not interested in selling virtual sneakers
Bernard Arnault, CEO of LVMH, the world’s largest luxury goods company, says the brands he oversees – Dior, Louis Vuitton, Fendi and Givenchy, among others – are in no rush to dive into the metaverse. “It’s not our goal to sell virtual sneakers at 10 euros”, Arnault noted during its annual presentation to investors.
But part of what makes this new era of fashion so appealing to creatives and designers is the erasure of real, physical constraints. Scroll DressX – an online virtual fashion marketplace – we see see-through clothes, color-changing jackets, shoes that look like they’re flying, dresses that burn.
This new space is more accessible to emerging designers than to the physical world of fashion. They don’t need formal training, expensive equipment, or significant access to capital.
“This is an opportunity to democratize the industry for designers and creators,” says Daria Shapovalova, founder of digital marketplace DressX. “It’s hard enough being a young designer, but with digital fashion, anyone can try. It’s just you and your laptop.”