What’s digital fashion anyway?

The most common question I’m asked about New Codes is a simple one: “What is digital fashion?”

While digital activations & influences are increasingly common in mainstream fashion & social gaming platforms like Fortnite & Roblox can be seen as major “fashion” retailers in their own right based on sales of skins & in-game assets, there’s still so much work to do to frame the concept, build awareness & help people share in the excitement of what’s coming.

If you’re looking for a thoughtful survey of the digital fashion landscape I recommend this article by Dani Loftus.

For my own part, I like to think of digital fashion broadly (& in a slightly circular way) as any fashion expressing digital identity.

This would include:

  • purely digital garments that can be worn by an avatar or character in a digital space (the wearer might be e.g. your own avatar, an AI character in a game or virtual influencer).
  • garments that are offered as digital artworks, provided they are capable of expressing digital identity (if a digital asset ceases to be communicative of identity, to me it ceases to be digital fashion)
  • phygital/networked & semi-digital offerings comprising a physical garment & digital twin or digital enhancements (e.g. using near field tech, QR codes etc)
  • garments rendered in augmented reality over the physical world
  • physical garments the style of which is influenced by digital culture or identity. This last one may seem a bit of an overreach, but when I see a physical garment that expresses an affiliation to a particular digital culture or space or reflects someone’s online persona, I like to think of that as digital fashion.

The fact that a significant proportion of clothing will eventually fall within this definition suggests to me that we’re on the right track, given how much time we spend in digital spaces & the growing importance of digital culture. On the current trajectory much clothing will soon have some form of digital expression, enhancement or influence.

But to me the idea of digital fashion goes beyond the fashion itself.  It’s about a new tech stack for the industry, new ways of engaging with communities & new approaches to storytelling for brands.

Systems that are with us or in the pipeline will transform workflows & supply chains, enabling co-working, reducing waste, tracking provenance & empowering creators. Audiences & communities will be empowered like never before.

The realisation of this opportunity will entail bravery, swift execution & calculated risks by corporates. That’s why it’s so exciting to see industry leaders like LMVH & Nike start to execute compellingly in this area.

With the proliferation of cheap or free to use design tools & AI, there’s also hope we’ll see reduced barriers to entry for talented global creators in what has traditionally been a very gate-kept industry, increasing diversity & bringing the most compelling design to the fore.

I look forward to delving into these topics more at the New Codes summit. It’s such a pivotal time for the industry as digital pioneers harness the power of AI & build an immersive 3d layer for our lives.

I recently heard a panellist compare this period we are in to the advent of the internet.

Time will tell, but there’s no question that fundamental change is on the way.

Joe O’Callaghan

Founder, New Codes

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