The digital age has seen people try to imitate reality online. A result of this trend is that people are buying the online versions of what they would normally buy in real life: luxury houses, dresses, and even land.  For example, this year saw the purchase of the world’s first digital home, sold for over $500,000 on the NFT market. Instead of physical artworks, people now buy Non-Fungible Tokens (NFTs), digital assets whose ownerships are recorded on the blockchain.

Digital fashion allows designers to model their designs in pixels instead of silk, cotton, lace, or polyester. Digital fashion can be in the form of digital fashion conceived to produce physical garments or fashion that a person can wear only with augmented or virtual reality. Or it can be fashion that is sold directly to an avatar.

Powered by blockchain and NFTs, the digital fashion world is steadily growing. This growth is marked by the emergence of fashion houses like The Fabricant, which creates digital-only fashion; and RTFKT, a company that specialises in making digital sneakers that can be used and traded in virtual spaces as NFTs. In what represents a landmark moment in digital fashion, The Fabricant sold the world’s first digital-only dress, ”Iridescence”, for $9,500 to a Canadian, Rachel Ma.

The Fabricant’s ‘Iridescence’ | @the_fab_ric_ant

The coronavirus pandemic forced designers to rethink and seek a digital option to showcase their collections, leading to the creation of hyper-real digital showrooms around the world.

A product of digital fashion, hyper-real fashion, is used to explain the use of tech to virtually showcase fashion products. By removing the need for humans to physically examine fashion products, hyper-real fashion tech continues to blur the lines of a prominent human physical experience: shopping. 

This has also led to the development of Obsess, an experiential e-commerce platform, that uses 3D to create 360-degree virtual stores. Their portfolio includes brands such as Tommy Hilfiger, Dior, and Charlotte Tilbury. “Virtual stores can be created completely digitally and don’t have to exist in real life. Brands use this option to create super engaging experiences for their customers,” says Neha Singh, Obsess’s founder and CEO, in an interview with Vogue India earlier this year.

Positioning for “meta fashion”

The metaverse is the use of the combination of technology like virtual reality, augmented reality, and video to create a digital world. The metaverse, unlike the way we currently access the internet, is immersive.

Some of the earliest collaborations between the metaverse and fashion industry can be seen in games. There is Burberry’s first-of-its-kind NFT collection with Mythical Games’ Blankos Block Party, Gucci’s Garden Metaverse with Roblox and their Aria Collection Film at Christie’s, and Louis Vuitton’s “Louis The Game” NFT in celebration of the 200th anniversary of the French house’s founding.

While it is evident that the metaverse will enjoy massive investments from the fashion industry, the gaming industry is not left behind. Collaboration between the fashion and gaming industry in the metaverse presents a huge economic opportunity. Some notable collaborations in recent times include Balenciaga and Fortnite working together to design accessories and skins, Burberry partnering with Tencent to create exclusively designed skins for Honor of Kings characters.

The fashion industry is investing in the metaverse to create the branding of the future. While the metaverse is still new and building around it is still ongoing, its building blocks—fashion avatars, digitally designed spaces, exotic pets in games—are not entirely foreign. 

In an attempt to tap into the trend of combining fashion and the digital world, Delz Erinle, a product and UX designer and Niyi Okeowo, an art director, started Thrill Digital, a company that started as a virtual fashion showcase and now pioneers a fashion metaverse. Thrill Digital uses a combination of Web3 technologies like XR (AR/VR), video, audio, crypto, and gaming to create its own fashion metaverse and other unreleased digital products. 

During the pandemic last year, Erinle saw how difficult it was to shop. So, he decided to bring in Lead Developer and Chief Technical Officer (CTO), Luke Jeffers, to use 3D to create a VR shopping product, to make shopping more accessible and effortless for an audience that was stuck at home.

Pivoting from creating the initial idea of a fashion show, Thrill started working on a VR shopping product. Thrill Digital pitched a lot of investors and won Epic Game’s MegaGrant worth $40,000 in January this year to create the VR shopping product. They eventually delivered the product during Lone Design Club fashion week in February.

After that, Erinle carried out research in a mall in London where he asked people if they would play a game to win luxury prizes. The feedback they got from people was affirmative. “We didn’t set out to create a metaverse project initially.  It was like a virtual shopping experience, first, ” Erinle said. 

This was how Thrill Digital started Astra, a fashion crypto game where players can win real-life fashion luxury items. The game would have its own crypto token, which must be connected to a crypto wallet like the popular crypto game, Axie Infinity. The game will be open on December 20 and users can play to win a Balenciaga Small Hourglass Tote Bag. When players win a luxury item on Astra, it would be delivered to them wherever they are in the world.

Erinle, who doesn’t believe a fully fleshed metaverse has been created yet, explained the metaverse as “a collection of interoperable virtual worlds which people can experience using an avatar. The metaverse is a virtual 3D environment where people can interact but this time with phones; it is an immersive experience.”

Lead 3D designer, Charles Egbejule, believes daring to dream they can build a mini metaverse out of Africa was one of the biggest challenges they had to face. While lead VR architect, Adekunbi Ajai, believes building remotely from different parts of the world also poses a challenge for the team. But they were able to adapt and can now easily communicate, she added. 

For the team’s brand designer and co-founder, Niyi Okeowo, one difficulty they faced was raising awareness on a new concept like digital fashion. “We were trying to sell the product while teaching people about it.” 

The audience that Astra is targeting is people who love fashion, people who use crypto, and people who love games—or people who love all three.  

So here is how the game works: players amass as many crypto tokens as they can within an allotted time, after which a leaderboard is created where winners will be declared and win luxury fashion. 

Jeffers explained that NFTs would play a huge role in claiming ownership of clothing accessories and land in Astra. 

Erinle explained that it chose to build its metaverse on the Solana blockchain because of its low gas fees and low energy consumption. Citing a report that says transactions on the Solana blockchain consume less energy than two Google searches, Astra believes it is contributing to the reduction of environmental sustainability issues. 

The game will be available first on PC before VR headsets and, hopefully, mobile devices. 

Tapping into the play-to-earn trend

Like the play-to-earn crypto game, Axie Infinity, Astra will make money through protocol profits too. Revenue is generated via fees for interacting with a protocol—a game’s unique crypto token. 

Axie Infinity made huge profits using a similar approach this year. The leading crypto game has raked in $84.9 million in funds, making its protocol profit one of the biggest in the market. In the case of Axie Infinity, whenever a player sells one of the Axie creatures, he pays a 4.25% marketplace fee. He does this when he sells land or special items. Another way Axie makes money is through the fee of 4 AXS, the game’s native token for “breeding” more digital creatures called Axies

Sultan Quadri Staff Writer

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