Metaverse Fashion Is on the Rise, but for Whom?

Digital fashion is nascent in the Web3 space, with the potential to onboard millions of users in the coming years. But as brands work out who to target with hard-to-fathom technology, adoption is still in its early stages. This piece is a part of CoinDesk’s Culture Week.

AccessTimeIconMar 14, 2023 at 4:06 p.m. UTC
Updated Sep 28, 2023 at 2:28 p.m. UTC

In the last week of March, Metaverse Fashion Week will return to the virtual world of Decentraland.

Traditional brands including Adidas, Coach and Dolce & Gabbana will showcase their collections of digital wearables, host pop-ups and engage with their growing communities of fashion non-fungible token (NFT) collectors.

Last year, nearly 70 brands flocked to the metaverse for the inaugural event, hosting a lineup of runway shows, activations and immersive experiences. While the event itself turned out to be a whimsical, seemingly “clumsy” (in the words of one CoinDesk writer) interpretation on real-world fashion week, its deeply rooted Web3 ethos of accessibility, creativity and self-expression shone through to inspire innovation in the space.

This feature is part of CoinDesk's Culture Week.

Experts point to digital fashion’s utility as having five defining facets. These include digitally native garments such as an avatar’s clothing, augmented reality (AR) filters on Instagram and TikTok, digital tailoring or superimposing NFTs on real-life photos, speculative investing, and proof of ownership through blockchain data.

But while the use cases tout a future in which digital fashion can solve many faults of the current fashion industry, many experts are left wondering who these technologies have in mind as their consumer audience. Though traditional brands such as Gucci, Nike and Tiffany have been making moves to expand their presence in Web3, identifying audiences for the growing realm of digital fashion has been, and will continue to be, vital to the industry’s growth in the coming years.

Several builders have called into question whether target markets for these products exist currently, and how they must evolve for mass adoption for digital fashion to take place.

The ‘who’ in ‘who what wearables’

The intricate technological and cultural interweavings of NFT fashion have helped lay the foundations for early digital wearables markets, as builders in the space attempt to understand who comprise their audiences.

Cathy Hackl, chief metaverse officer and founder of Web3 consultancy Journey, told CoinDesk there are four main markets for on-chain fashion. These include the Web3-native consumers who purchase NFTs to wear in the metaverse, gamers on popular platforms such as Fortnite and Roblox, digital art collectors who buy these assets for speculation, and social media users of platforms such as Instagram and TikTok who will dabble with AR filters and digital tailoring.

To expand customer bases and utilize these technologies to their full potential, interoperability between metaverses must be at the forefront of creators’ minds to help better onboard their audiences.

“There is some interoperability [between metaverse platforms], but that bigger promise doesn't currently exist,” said Hackl. “That's if you view virtual fashion as something that you want to wear across virtual worlds.”

With many companies and brands looking towards physical fashion to build presences in the metaverse, that impact may be felt more on the street than, say, in Decentraland.

“Companies are wanting to experiment and also see if virtual fashion can also influence physical fashion,” said Hackl. “What culture is being created that impacts what you see on people wearing on the street?”

Hackl recently launched her own Web3 fashion label, Verseluxe, kicking off with her inaugural jewelry line Frillz created in tandem with designer Simone Faurschou. Users can scan a near-field communication (NFC) chip in the collection’s physical necklaces and bracelets to access a digital twin on-chain, helping to onboard the next group of digital fashion users.

Karinna Nobbs, co-founder of Web3 fashion company The Dematerialised, told CoinDesk metaverse fashion is pulling in early adopters of fashion and technology, once two separate worlds that are merging together through the prominence of Web3.

“It’s those creative economies, those areas because they're the most open to experimentation,” Nobbs told CoinDesk.

While many use cases are emerging for digital fashion, including digitally native wearables, AR filters and the growing impact of artificial intelligence on NFTs, the key to onboarding more users begins with introducing digital components to physical goods to help bridge the gap between Web2 and Web3, Nobbs said.

“For people coming into the space for the first time, buying a physical fashion piece that just happens to have a digital counterpart will bring lots more people into the space because they can get their head around it a lot easier,” said Nobbs.

A screenshot from inside Metaverse Fashion Week. (Cameron Thompson/CoinDesk)
A screenshot from inside Metaverse Fashion Week. (Cameron Thompson/CoinDesk)

The push to ‘strut’ outside Web3

While metaverse fashion is taking different forms in its early days of adoption, there are key barriers to entry that prohibit the space from gaining traction outside Web3-native creators and communities.

Megan Kaspar, founding member of digital fashion house Red DAO and managing director of Web3 venture capital firm FirstLight, told CoinDesk that as a pioneer in the space, the greatest struggle in attempting to expand markets for digital fashion has been making the technology accessible to onboard traditional consumers to blockchain technology.

“You have this big bubble of Web3-native crypto users, but it's a bubble, sometimes an echo chamber, and I'm encouraging the community to corral all the Web2 influencers, creators and consumers,” said Kaspar, “That's where the adoption is gonna occur, and it can only occur when those people know how to use a wallet.”

Kapsar said that once wallet adoption increases among target groups that help define fashion and culture trends, the demand for digital fashion will sharply increase. She said that while brands in the space such as Nike-owned digital fashion house RTFKT and NFT influencer Gmoney’s fashion brand 9dcc have been successful at tapping into their native Web3 audiences, recent initiatives from Amazon to establish an NFT marketplace and digital fashion house UNXD’s announcement of their partnership with luxury brand Valentino will help propel a greater adoption of NFTs and digital fashion.

“These initiatives will help expand the reach beyond just the echo chamber that we're living in,” said Kaspar.

This year’s Metaverse Fashion Week is set to take place in the depths of a chilling crypto winter across the Web3 space, but innovation in digital fashion throughout the past year will be on display during the virtual event.

New York Fashion Week’ Nolcha Shows in September showcased early product designs from metaverse fashion brand Chain Guardians. Utilizing NFC chips to help bring consumers from the physical to the digital world at their fingertips, future adoption of digital wearables is well-underway, as brands in the space work on bridging the technological gaps in order to best build their audiences.


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Cam Thompson

Cam Thompson was a news reporter at CoinDesk.