Two industry professionals talked at SXSW about the future of fashion in the metaverse: Cathy Hacki of the Futures Intelligence Group and Marjorie Hernandez, founder of LUKSO, an Ethereum-based blockchain for the design and fashion industry.
Shortly after her SXSW appearance, Hacki was the chair of the first-ever Metaverse Fashion Week, held Mar 23-27. Design includes not just clothes but accessories, such as watches. As an example of what took place, Jacob & Co launched “Astronomia Metaverso,” a nonfungible token (NFT) collection that includes eight watches, one watch for each planet of the Solar System. The watches from the five closest planets to the sun (Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter) have been produced as one-of-a kind physical watches (which include an NFT of the watch), while the three most distant planets (Saturn, Uranus, Neptune) have splintered into multiple digital-only variants.
“The designer who is dressing my avatar for Fashion Week is legally blind,” said Hacki, “but she believes in accessibility of design both in the physical world as well as the virtual world. So I’m very excited about wearing her dress. In another initiative, not so much on the tech side, I do believe in empowering community. I’m going to be doing one of the Hackathons at one of the big universities; hopefully I’ll be doing a scholarship for a couple of women and minority folks to enter the metaverse.” If you are not familiar with virtual fashion, it is already all the rage amongst youngsters. Hacki said “my children spend more time dressing their avatars than themselves,” an admission I found quite sad since most people already dress like slobs.
“We are also involved in the Metaverse Fashion Week,” said Hernandez. “The brands we have been working with the last couple of months and years will be part of that as well. We like to have a mixture between traditional brands and upcoming brands. That’s always a different experience: in terms of digital brands they understand 100% the vision of the future and need very little support, but the physical brands require strategic work in understanding how to translate the ethos of a brand into a new and free environment.”
“One of our missions,” explained Hernandez, “is to basically empower of creators. We are primarily most excited about the brands that don’t exist yet. They’re going to emerge through technology – we have the ability to empower creators.”
The session at SXSW was mediated by Viet Hoang, Director of Brand & Experience Strategy at the design and technology firm Your Majesty. He said that traditional companies in fashion “have always had the upper hand at defining what’s cool and what’s not cool. But, with the advance of metaverse, we’re starting to see a shift where the tools of creation, the direct access to community and the ability to monetise that access has started to broaden into the hands of creators and eventually consumers.” He asked Hacki how she would characterise the cultural power dynamic between brands, consumers and creators? And what is your advice for brands given that dynamic if they want to continue to take the lead in culture?
Hacki replied that “With a lot of the brands I work with, some are having to change the way they perceive what is happening in some of the gaming virtual spaces. Very often I’ll hear an executive say ‘well, that’s not real’ and what I reply is ‘just because it happens in a virtual space doesn’t make it less real: this is real culture that is being created, these are real relationships.’ For most of us our first concert was in a stadium. For my son, during the pandemic, it was Roblox. It’s real to him. For him, it was a real memory, a real moment. So the big thing for me is helping the brands understand that even though it happens in a virtual space doesn’t make it less real. Virtual items that you own are real to the owners. That’s a shift in mindset.
“Another big thing: it’s been hard for brands to understand that when you go into these spaces you have to collaborate, you have to sometimes co-create. Giving up that control can be very hard for them, but some of the best collaborations are because the brand used an endemic content creator. One of things we’re doing with my company is working with those endemic creators as consultants and allowing them to tell us ‘yea this looks great but I don’t think this is authentic.’ The shift is very well explained by Shelly Palmer. He says in Web 3.0 the creators are going to be able to share in the value of their creations.”
Hernandez made an important point about how things stand in 2022. “We are at a very interesting point in time because what we are talking about hasn’t happened yet. We are talking about things that are about to happen. It’s a collective effort to build this reality that we know is going to happen. It is very real, as you were saying Cathy. As a creator and as a brand there is no way to ignore technology. Something we have said for years now is there will come a time when every company regardless of your product will be a technology company. The future is being a polymath.”
To extend our understanding of virtual fashion, I interviewed someone actively working in the fashion industry. Gianni Gibson, manager of the Nashville store of H Bar C, gave me his views during an interview at SXSW, where he was co-managing the H Bar C booth in the exhibit hall.
“The fact that the tech and the retail combining is a kind of merger this year because of all the talk here of the metaverse and fashion. So it’s a beautiful hand in hand and as the years go on it will become more intertwined. It’s really cool to see this [the retail outlet] still being so successful and having an online presence like brand-new into it.”
The merger of fashion and the metaverse is something Gibson wants to get into. “It’s been dancing and weaving around for so long and now we’re seeing the beautiful blend of that all come together. We’re still in the early stages of that; I say early stages but people have been working behind the curtain for decades to get ready for it. I think it’s a natural thing that will happen as we’ve been hearing through our stores people wanting to have their metaverse skins look good, they want have all these things like Nike and Adidas and all these awesome brands create spaces inside where people can do that and afford to get these things. If you love H Bar C you can go and get a print shirt, if you have a cool event to attend in the metaverse. You’ll really stand out if you walk out in that.”
Gibson said he and one of his haberdashers have “started planting the seeds getting into NFT stuff. Not rushing it because we want to do it right. What we’ve been hearing is a lot of people get into it fast and get out. From what I can gather the tech world wants to see longevity so that is what we would like to do. You only get one first release so you want to make sure it’s a great success!” Since H Bar C began in 1897, it already has a very long history in the real world, so we will all look forward to its first presence in the metaverse.