“You have to be so futuristic if you want to change the rules,” says Aileen Carville of the current fashion industry metamorphosis. If there’s one thing Carville knows, it’s that technology has secured the future of the fashion industry.
A fashion industry veteran and founder of luxury fashion tech company Skmmp (pronounced “skimp”), a B2B virtual showroom and online ordering platform for luxury wholesale brands, the native of Monaghan now finds herself at the forefront of the Irish and international fashion ‘metaverse’. .
Condensed in its simplest model, the fashion metaverse is a virtual universe of augmented reality, social-meets-gaming, accessible by phones, computers and smart devices. Think of it as a fully interactive Internet (Web 3.0), where you can create a digitized version of your life with purchasing power through new, very real currencies like cryptocurrency and NFTs (non-fungible tokens).
Imagination is needed when dealing with concepts that do not yet fully exist in reality, but in its fully realized form, the metaverse promises to offer realistic sights, sounds and even smells, where a a visit to ancient Greece or a visit to try on your favorite designer costume at a high-end boutique can happen right at your doorstep.
For Carville, Skmmp already enables designers to present entire collections to eager buyers through metaverse technology, without restricting appointments or mitigating supply chain disruptions, thanks to its virtual showroom.
Launched in 2018, Skmmp’s multi-brand showrooms, which have been used by Valentino and Prada, allow shoppers to see collections and place orders seamlessly (the “nuts and bolts of Fashion Week,” as it’s called). Carville).
It wouldn’t be strange to imagine a savvy, well-dressed fashionista wearing a virtual reality headset, wandering aimlessly around her studio or home, her arms outstretched so as not to fall on unseen objects or step into walls. For the most part, however, this is not the case. Not yet, at least.
Currently, Skmmp’s innovative 3D showrooms can be accessed on a mobile phone using login credentials, but just as mobile phones have shrunk to handheld devices, consumers may soon be able to access the metaverse. while wearing glasses (think Google Glass) or contact lenses.
Part of Skmmp’s success, Carville notes, comes down to timing. When the global pandemic took hold in 2020, Skmmp had already done case studies and gained insights from previous Fashion Week seasons, and refined Skmmp’s already sophisticated technology. By the time the fashion world came to a standstill, Carville and his team of techs had already implemented a new pivotal digital download system, or “digital dam,” that made it quick and seamless to download scanned versions. of the latest designer goods without disrupting supply chains.
“When all of Covid happened, we had the right product at the right time,” she explains from her home in north Dublin.
The fashion industry has gone through a huge transition over the past 10 years. The last 18 months in particular have seen something of a tech renaissance with traditional fashion titans like Gucci and Balenciaga trading genuine leads for Roblox (an online gaming platform with 202 million monthly active users which allows users to program games and play games created by other users) and physical clothing for unique “phygital” collectibles.
For digital immigrants (those who grew up before the digital age and had to adapt to the new language of technology), “fashion metaverse” and “phygital” clothing may sound like futuristic jargon, but knowing that last year, 65% of Gen Zers purchased n digital versions of real clothes in a game where the metaspace is indicative of what’s to come.
In the not-too-distant future, people may be spending more time shopping for phyigital clothes than they do in the real world: in 2021, a digital version of Gucci’s signature Dionysus bag sold around 4 $115 on Roblox, which is 19% more than his IRL. (in real life) retail price of $3,400; Ralph Lauren’s recent Holiday Escape World metaverse on Roblox reported a 27% increase in revenue to $1.8 billion in the third quarter; Burberry created a series of unique playable NFT creations featuring characters wearing logo-mania armbands and pool shoes that sold for nearly $400,000; and Dolce & Gabbana sold its nine-piece Collezione Genesi collection on the UNXD luxury digital marketplace for $5.7 million. Goldman Sachs has estimated the Metaverse to be valued at $8 trillion.
Closer to home, independent Irish fashion brands are also keen to digitize their retail offering in the fashion metaverse. Circular fashion brand AforeAfter has introduced avatar technology that allows customers to virtually try on an item of clothing before buying it. Working with the MYAVA digital fashion platform, the technology allows shoppers to create a virtual stand-in with their exact measurements and skin tone, allowing them to see how the garment will cling to their body and how the colors will look like their complexion.
“The easiest way to describe what AforeAfter does is give the customer, who would normally walk into a physical store, that same customer service online,” says AforeAfter founder Sandra Murphy.
“In reality, a person can’t physically jump into their computer and try things on, so we digitize our clothes. Customers can login and create an avatar. It’s quite customizable: you can choose your skin tones and submit height measurements. If you provide measurements, you will get a more accurate body shape. From there, you can try on different items virtually through your personal account.
For Murphy, a Co Clare native, a textile designer and speaker with more than 20 years of experience and an unwavering passion for sustainability, implementing smart technology isn’t just about making online shopping more convenient, but also to feed the circular mission of its brand. Sandra hopes that if more brands engage with the fashion metaverse, it could drastically reduce the huge amount of waste generated by returns from online purchases around the world. When we learn that the distribution giant Amazon generated 211 million kg of plastic packaging waste in 2019, wanting to reduce the environmental footprint of the fashion industry is not a bad ambition.
One has to wonder if metaverse fashion – whatever its final form – can ever replace the real, tangible clothes on your back? Will haute couture workshops be a thing of the past? For Skmmp founder Aileen Carville, the two worlds “completely work in tandem,” suggesting that the very purpose of the metaverse isn’t to replace reality, but to enhance it.
“My vision of Web 3.0 is very immersive,” explains Carville.
“I don’t believe in hangers and rails and stuff like that in the Metaverse at all. For me, it has to be an absolutely different experience,” she adds, noting the difficulties of transporting real human emotion into metaspace.
For AforeAfter founder Sandra Murphy, nothing will ever replace the feel and feel of a real garment, but admits the Metaverse’s abilities to improve the customer experience are unmatched even in its infancy.
“Fashion is tactile. I admire the finish of a garment and the way things are made, and the touch or feel of cotton versus cashmere,” she comments from her home along the Wild Atlantic Way.
“What I think is hugely beneficial in what the metaverse can do for the fashion industry is how I approach it, as a complement to e-commerce. I can’t confidently convey to every client with individual body types what a dress will look like on her but the way i can do it is through this kind of digital complement.
Whether virtual clothing can trump the real bricks-and-mortar experience is up to personal preference, but it’s hard to argue about the effectiveness and convenience of trying on the new Prada season in the comfort of his home.
For young Irish brands looking to expand their digital horizons, Carville says it’s all about taking a leap of faith: “Start slow. Consider looking at a small NFT application, like exchanging something for a physical coin in the store.