Talk of the metaverse has reached a peak recently, mainly due to Facebook’s rebranding as Meta. The renaming of the company is synonymous with its transition into a new stage in the digital era. Meta will concentrate its efforts on creating a digital, 3D space where people will be able to interact with each other. Making use of virtual reality (VR) technology will produce an illusion of presence allowing one to do practically anything.
If that sounds abstract, that’s because it is. There is no one correct definition of metaverse, but multiple. Put simply, however, it is a parallel reality that allows one to extend one’s life into the digital world. Not constrained by physical boundaries, one will experience things that are currently impossible. But how exactly does this relate to fashion?
Fashion and the Metaverse
Simultaneously living in the physical and the digital translates into a necessity to cultivate one’s personhood twice. And since our digital selves will not have actual bodily needs, what is left is the construction of identity. The metaverse being inherently visual, our digital selves will have to resort to aesthetics in order to express themselves. That’s exactly where fashion comes in.
Video Game Apparel
Unfortunately, the metaverse as has been previously described does not exist per se. It’s more of a thing of the future — though a very near one. Still, some windows into such a prospect are presently thriving. The simplest example is video games.
Video games usually require one to go through particular adventures in the skin of an avatar. It follows that one should want its avatar to look nice, especially in multiplayer mode. Hence the recent explosion of video game apparel.
Just to name a few examples, Louis Vuitton collaborated with League of Legends in 2019. The collection of skins was available for purchase in game tokens. A little later, in late 2020, Tommy Hilfiger digitized its Fall 2020 collection to fit the characters in Animal Crossing. High fashion brands turning to the virtual is a clear reflection of the importance it is beginning to amass.
Additionally, the availability of designer items in video games translates into accidental democratization of fashion. Digitized goods are exponentially cheaper than physical ones. Hence, video game apparel makes accessibility to luxury somewhat widespread. Considering the elitism that predominates in the industry, this is most definitely a change for the better.
While video game apparel might represent a dip into the metaverse, this is merely the first step.
Non-fungible tokens (NFTs) are “one-of-a-kind digital collectibles, holding a unique code, stored in a unique blockchain.” They are digital certificates of authenticity that prove ownership over a certain digital product. Such technology seems to be specifically tailored to the needs of digital artists.
Indeed, due to the very nature of the internet, publishing works online previously meant risking people appropriating one’s art. NFTs, however, seemingly present the perfect alternative, allowing artists to sell their pieces while guaranteeing exclusive ownership to the buyer.
Considering fashion as an art form, it is evident why NFTs have become a fad in the fashion industry. Brands have begun selling digital dresses as NFTs, allowing for garments to transcend the physical and move into the virtual. But why exactly would one ever want to own digital clothes?
Well, there are plenty of reasons. On the one hand, startups such as Neuno are working on garment NFTs that can be superposed onto pictures. The buyer takes a picture and puts a filter on it. The end result is a photo of them wearing the digital garment. There are also NFTs with in-video game usability. Unlike non-NFT video game apparel, NFTs allow for a feeling of exclusivity, the core appeal of high fashion. Finally, there are fashion NFTs that exist in their own digital space. Ownership of such products resembles that of works of art rather than wearable garments.
While NFTs represent a plethora of options, such versatility is a reflection of what is currently lacking in the metaverse. Multiple companies are creating different platforms that could be considered to compose it. Yet the lack of unification represents a great obstacle for the thriving of digital fashion.
The whole point of digital garments is to help one craft one’s own digital identity. The problem hence arises when one cannot bring the NFT one bought within a certain video game to another platform. There are currently very few cross-platform NFTs, which necessarily hinders their desirability. Why buy them if they are exclusive to a single platform?
It’s also worth noting that, as they presently stand, NFTs are plain and simply horrible for the environment. Blockchain technology requires a lot of energy, so it produces astronomical amounts of greenhouse gases. Nevertheless, plans to cut Ethereum’s energy consumption by 99% would necessarily improve the situation, NFTs being Ethereum-based tokens.
Still, NFTs and video game apparel are far from fashion’s only intersections with the metaverse.
There have been some attempts to explore how retail could look in the metaverse. To be more specific, British department store Selfridges recently joined forces with Pokémon and Charli Cohen to create “Electric City”. The project consists of an immersive digital shopping experience that allows users to wander around digital stores.
Such a project represents a peek into the metaverse’s role as a parallel reality. It permits one to digitally undertake even the most mundane tasks, such as shopping. Everyone in fashion has a place to fill within the metaverse. In that, this virtual universe entails endless business opportunities.
Nonetheless, not everything is as good as it seems. With progress always comes regression, and this is no exception.
Trouble In the Metaverse
While the concept of the metaverse might be exciting, it also sounds like something straight out of Black Mirror. What might dive further into the digital mean for humanity?
Consider the obviously perilous effects of living online. VR can lead to developing myopia, nearsightedness, and an atrophied eye-brain connection. Spending more time on our screens can also translate into sleeping problems, addiction, and weight gain.
There is also the issue of the digital façade. A digital persona gives people the freedom to present themselves in fictitiously perfect light. And as the digital becomes more and more integrated into everyday life, performance might become predominant. This could prove hazardous to humanity, for it could lead to losing ourselves in our own façades, becoming inherently inauthentic.
The Dangers of Monopoly
As was previously mentioned, one of the downsides of the metaverse is that it currently does not exist as a whole. It is fragmented into myriad platforms, making it difficult to establish a unified fashion marketplace. A unified multiverse, however, might prove just as problematic—or even more.
On October 4th, three Meta-owned platforms (Facebook, WhatsApp and Instagram) all went offline. The incident shed a light on the world’s dependence on a single company, revealing Meta’s role as a monopoly.
Monopolies are dangerous for a number of reasons. In this context, however, it is mainly about being subjected to Meta’s regulations and having no alternative to recur to. In 2020, Meta was accused of misusing user information and failing to protect it from external actors.
Now, imagine Meta’s plans of crafting a far-reaching metaverse came to fruition. Our digital selves would live within Meta’s regulations. We would provide more information than ever, considering that the digital realm would constitute a kind of secondary existence. Meta could very easily fail to protect user information, and who knows who would have access to it? Information provides insight into people’s lives, and that necessarily creates room for extortion, manipulation, and control.
Such concerns have been wandering the mind of experts such as Dr David Reid from Liverpool Hope University. Who exactly will police the metaverse if it is privately owned? How to make sure you are really interacting with who you think you are interacting with?
Netflix’s infamous Social Dilemma exposed the ways in which the self-assuring algorithms of social platforms can lead to political radicalization. Algorithms feed you want to see and ward you from what you don’t. Hence, users end up accidentally diving into rabbit holes of their political ideologies, never allowing them to consider viewpoints – the famous political bubbles.
Now imagine that, but times a hundred. The metaverse provides a unique opportunity for us to literally drown out whatever we don’t like about the world. That’s nice, but only to a certain point. What happens when everyone lives in a world of their own making? How is it possible to then interact with those who don’t agree with us? What happens when you take off those VR glasses and step into the real world?
It all feels a little dystopian. The metaverse represents real dangers, and it is necessary to point them out now to avoid them in the future. That being said, there is no doubt the digital world is full of exciting opportunities. Unconstrained by physical boundaries, the art of dressmaking might transform into something unlike anything we have seen before. We must keep an eye open, both for the good and the bad.
Like this article? Check out 6 technological trends reshaping the fashion industry.