I don’t know about you, but for me, $9,500 (£7,500) is quite a chunk of money, so spending it all on one single dress would be quite extraordinary. But Richard Ma, the chief executive of San Francisco-based security company Quantstamp, did something even more extraordinary.
Not only did he spend all of that money on one dress, but he spent it on a dress that doesn’t even exist in physical form. Yes, that’s right, he bought a digital dress for his wife.
The Fabricant designed the digital dress and rendered it onto an image of Richard’s wife, Mary Ren, so that she can use it on social media. What might sound bizarre to us now could be one of the biggest money-making schemes going forward.
“It’s definitely very expensive, but it’s also like an investment,” Mr. Ma says. Typically, neither he nor his wife spends much on clothes, so the reason he bought this piece is because he believes it has long-term value. “In 10 years’ time everybody will be ‘wearing’ digital fashion. It’s a unique memento. It’s a sign of the times.”
Mary hasn’t shared the photo anywhere public, but she has posted the image on her own Facebook page and showed others through WeChat.
Carlings, a Scandinavian company, is another fashion house that has taken up digital fashion design. Last October, they released their own digital streetwear collection which started around £9 ($11), and it sold out in just a month.
“It sounds kinda stupid to say we ‘sold out’, which is theoretically impossible when you work with a digital collection because you can create as many as you want,” explains Ronny Mikalsen, Carlings’ brand director.
“We had set a limit on the amount of products we were going to produce to make it a bit more special. You wouldn’t buy a white t-shirt digitally, right? Because it makes no sense showing it off. So it has to be something that you really either want to show off, or an item that you wouldn’t dare to buy physically, or you couldn’t afford to buy physically.”
When you’re designing only digitally, you have the freedom to be a bit more creative and extravagant.
The Scandinavian company only created their digital line to promote their real products, but after its stunning success, the firm is preparing a second line of digital garments to be released at the end of the year.
Meanwhile, Fabricant puts out new, free digital clothes every month on their website, but in order to truly appreciate and combine the designs with their own pictures, consumers need specific skills and software. The Fabricant will also have to find another way to make money until the digital fashion market becomes more popular.
“We make our money by servicing fashion brands and retailers with their marketing needs, selling tools, and creating content that uses that aesthetic language of digital fashion,” says The Fabricant founder Kerry Murphy.
No one really knows who exactly is buying all the digital markets that Carlings has sold so far, or downloads from The Fabricant, but according to Mr. Mikalson, Carlings has sold 200-250 pieces.
A search on Instagram to find the pieces, however, only brings up four people who independently purchased with no involvement with the company. Of course, the digital clothes may have been shared privately.
According to Amber Jae Slooten, a co-founder and designer at The Fabricant, it’s mainly just industry professionals who use CLO 3D software who are downloading their clothes. “But it’s also just people are very curious to see what the files look like. People just want to own the thing, especially since that one dress sold for $9,500,” she says.
Where is this trend heading?
The long-term impact is yet to be seen of this “amazing phenomenon” of digital fashion, as Marshal Cohen, chief retail analyst at market research company NPD Group, calls it. “Do I believe it’s going to be something huge and stay forever? No.”
According to Cohen, it’s just for those who want the perfect image. “If you don’t like what you’re wearing, but you love where you are, you now have the ability to transition your wardrobe, and digitally enhance the photograph to make it look like you’re wearing the latest and greatest.”
The idea partly began with the popularity of games like Fortnite where players are willing to spend money on outfits or skins for their digital characters. “The only reason we made the collection the way we did – inspired from Fortnite – was because of the whole link between buying skins and buying digital clothing,” Mr. Mikalsen says.
“When it comes to technology and the way people are living their lives, we have to be aware of that the world is changing.”
Of course, designing skins and clothes for a game is a bit of a different challenge. All of it has to fit the character as well as the story. And designing it isn’t even the hardest part. After anywhere from one to 70 attempts at designing, you have to make sure the skin actually works in the game, when the character walks, fights, dances, etc.
“For a game like League of Legends, you have to do 3D, there’s sound effects, there’s animations, all of these things have to come together to make the character feel like they’re sort of expressing a different fantasy of themselves.
“It’s less like changing clothes and more like seeing an actor playing a different role.”
All in all, it was this growing popularity and success of games like these that gave the fashion industry the courage to give digital clothes a try.
“Digital fashion will become an important part of every fashion business’ future business model,” says head of the Fashion Innovation Agency at the London College of Fashion, Matthew Drinkwater.
“It’s not going to replace everything, but it will be an important part of that.”