Digital Fashion: How Virtual Fittings Are Paving The Way For Sustainable Fashion
The 2022 Met Gala ball saw the world’s biggest celebrities take fashion inspiration from New York’s Gilded Age, as part of a celebration of American fashion throughout history. Over recent years sustainability has become a growing trend on the red carpet, and this year we saw stars such as Billie Eilish and Shawn Mendes in completely sustainable, upcycled attire. With the rise in second-hand shopping, or ‘thrifting’, sustainability on the red carpet reflects changing consumer attitudes towards fast fashion. A more recent phenomenon which also aids in championing sustainability is the rise of ‘Digital Fashion’ and virtual wardrobes.
Digital fashion aims to address the sustainability problem behind fashion modeling and influencer marketing. Each year fashion companies send influencers large quantities of physical clothing samples to promote their newest campaigns. To eliminate the waste generated by these fittings and physical samplings, digital fashion proposes that brands promote designs using realistic 3D digital clothing. This allows brands to visualize and sell clothes which have not yet been made, and they can then take pre-orders for pieces to ensure exact quantities of clothing are made with limited waste.
One way of promoting digital fashion so far has been through the use of computer-generated fashion influencers, essentially computer avatars designed with their own personalities and backstories to showcase new designs. Characters such as Lil Miquela, Shudu Gram (the world’s first digital supermodel), and Noonoouri have amassed millions of followers across social media and have worked with luxury brands such as Gucci, Dior, Versace, and Prada. These virtual influencers have featured in campaigns alongside celebrity supermodels and are expected to be prominent marketing figures in a metaverse world.
Outside of virtual influencers, digital fashion has also been showcased in perhaps a more ‘traditional’ sense using human influencers and models. In September last year, Farfetch became one of the first large retailers to test launch promotion of brands such as Balenciaga, Off-White, and Dolce & Gabbana via digital dressing. Farfetch worked with the digital fashion platform DressX to create the digital garments, and the 3D creator Threedium to design accessories. The influencers selected their favorite looks and were briefed on how to pose for photos to fit with the virtual outfits. They are then able to review the images and make any necessary changes.
This type of technology can also be harnessed for more conventional shopping. The artificial intelligence app Zeekit is the first dynamic virtual fitting room which aims to give consumers a real-life experience of trying on digital clothes. Users are asked to take a full-length picture of themselves and upload it to the Zeekit app. The algorithm then uses deep learning to divide the clothing and the image of the person into small segments which match up to each other. Shoppers can browse items on the app and see what the clothing will look like on their own body, encouraging them to purchase items they like and will know are suited to them.
Using digital fashion in this way allows brands to promote a product before it is made, and reduces the environmental footprint produced by shipping. For smaller businesses it also means being able to work with influencers without giving away products for free. There is however a need for the technology to become more accessible for this to become more widespread practice, with technology giants such as Facebook and Shopify thought to be key in this process. Another roadblock is getting influencers to sign on to promote products that they haven’t yet seen or touched. It may be that in the future we see a mix of digital and physical fashion being promoted on social media, with influencers having a choice of which product they would like to promote at a particular price point. With what we know currently about the impact of fast-fashion on the environment, it is clear that an alternative path towards more sustainable fashion is needed, and digital fashion will likely have a role to play in that transition.