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An Introduction To Fashiontech

Industry Research On The Intersection of Fashion and Technology.

Original Illustration for RC3 by Fabricio Orellano.

2021 is gone and, hell, what a year this was. The whole planet was struggling due to the pandemic, while a harsh halt was imposed on several key industries forcing them to alter the current deep-rooted modus operandi.

Interactions, services, and products got rapidly digitalized both at a personal as well as a professional level. Economies fell, job instability rose, yet the broader cryptocurrency realm, and, in particular, the NFT scene got greatly side-benefited from these circumstances.

Indeed, 2021 was the year of NFTs, as significantly more new users hopped in, both artists/creators, brands, and collectors, while the overall sales volume exploded compared to 2020. According to DappRadar, more than $100 million was spent on NFTs in 2020, while this number rose to $22 billion in 2021. In fact, more than 80% of this increase took place just in the second semester of 2021.

As we are roaming the first quarter of 2022, NFTs are set to be widely established as a new, trusted digital format of value exchange. This format is the technological foundation that facilitates the digital peer-to-peer exchange of assets, products, and services accompanied by the more generic perks of blockchain technology: the disruption of third-party intermediaries, the impenetrable data transparency, and the undeniable asset ownership — just to name a few.

Interested to read more about NFTs? Check this ultimate NFT guide. 🤓

At the same time, the decentralized nature of NFTs allows for more diverse self-expression that offers individuals equal chances of promoting their craft in a peer-to-peer, inclusive, and dynamic digital environment.

Art was the first traditional industry to pick up on this pioneering digital format — and the underlying justification is twofold.

On the one hand, the pandemic paralyzed some industries more than others, with Art being one of the biggest losers.

On the other hand, the traditional art scene has been broken for a long time. Artists have always been treated as captives of unshakable global brands/labels that are monopolizing markets, exploiting copyrights, and essentially maintaining a model that’s treating artists as income-generating instruments.

As a consequence, the digital nature of NFTs organically transcended digital art into the first art genre that positioned itself as a standalone NFT sub-industry. This NFT-driven transcendence has already had a significant impact in several ways, especially, after traditional brands hopped onto the NFT train, familiarizing as well as mobilizing thousands of users with this new technology:

Art became more accessible for creators & collectors.

The distribution and promotion of art became also more accessible.

Third-party intermediaries got interrupted— decentralized interactions have the potential to become the new status quo.

New art formats emerged.

In turn, this wave of significantly increased NFT adoption quickly propagated to other art-adjacent industries as well, such as music and fashion. The focus of the present article is the convergence of blockchain and NFTs with the fashion industry.

Let’s dive into it.

Fashion x NFTs. But, Why?

The abstract concept of “art” carries an inherent degree of subjectivity into it, and so, pinpointing its defining features can greatly vary among individuals, communities, and cultures.

If you ask me, fashion can be understood as art in the form of self-expression through various garment formats.

Therefore, in the same way, art is making for a perfect match with NFTs, the artistic expression by means of wearables is no different at all.

Along the lines of the aforementioned analysis, the fashion industry got equally depleted by the pandemic and the rapid shift towards the digital realm rather refreshed than hindered the particular scene.

Fashion-in-tech Origins

Non-fungible tokens (NFTs) have been increasingly attracting the attention of traditionally major industries, with fashion being no exception.

If at this point you’re still wondering what do we mean by “NFTs”, this speed-run will help.

Nevertheless, NFTs are just a small part of a broader image. One that lays its foundations on blockchain technology. A novel data structure that’s decentralized, immutable, and transparent is the fundamentally defining feature of this technology — and it can, undoubtedly, come in handy in several ways.

The first interactions between the blockchain and the fashion industry were in the direction of blockchain-based supply chains for tracking and authentication of goods aiming at battling counterfeit products.

Back in 2019, NewBalance had announced a partnership with Cardano in an effort to enable product authentication using the blockchain, while Nike secured a patent for CRYPTOKICKS allowing the matching of physical footwear with digital NFTs for authentication purposes. In addition, the patent expanded on the possibility of shoe offspring; holding more than one cryptokicks allows for “breeding” them to create unique offspring.

CryptoKicks by NIKE.

In the same year, luxury brand giant LVMH was preparing to launch its own network — AURA Blockchain Consortium — with the goal of creating a global ecosystem for high-luxury brands, where tracking and authentication of high-priced goods are secured by means of blockchain technology.

Two years later, following the digital art-driven NFT frenzy, the point of focus is shifting towards more sophisticated blockchain use-cases, such as digital collectibles, NFTs, and VR wearables.

Emerging Trends

The pandemic-imposed digitalization has had a profound impact on several industries, fashion included. Sure, the blockchain is digital at its core, yet digital =/ blockchain per se.

For example, take the recent emergence of the “digital-first” model in fashion production. Internal pre-production processes are increasingly relying on digital designs and virtual collection previews, significantly reducing associated time/costs for the brands, while at the same time facilitating experimentation and creativity.

Offering AR try-on capabilities to wearables is another example of how the digitalization of processes can uplift fashion. In fact, several fashion brands and studios have been exploring how augmented reality can elevate the customer experience, as people will be able to digitally try on a piece of clothing before actually purchasing it.

When the blockchain and NFTs get added to the digitalization + fashion equation, the resulting synergy can yield new business models as well as novel use-cases both for fashion brands and creators:

Setting up a store in the metaverse

The metaverse— quite a popular term itself nowadays — can be thought of as the “place” where the physical coexists with the digital. Lately, the trend of big traditional companies exploring/migrating to this space is getting quite noticeable. Sportswear apparel giants Adidas and Nike have both already opted for establishing a virtual presence in the metaverse.

In December 2021, Nike announced the acquisition of virtual sneakers and collectibles brand RTFKT, while Adidas partnered with Bored Ape Yacht Club (BAYC), a popular digital collectibles project, equipping one of the Apes with the brand’s iconic tracksuit. Although these are quite recent moves, it appears they are carving a new path for those companies in the realm of virtual realities.

Adidas’ “Indigo Herz” Bored Ape.

Digital NFT wearables

This term is referring to digital-only fashion tailored to and distributed in exclusively virtual settings. Ranging from collectibles and avatar wearables (skins) to high-fashion designs in virtual runway shows.

In the second semester of 2021, Karl Lagerfeld partnered with the LUKSO network to release figurines of himself as digital collectibles marking the late designer’s birthday anniversary. Balenciaga collaborated with Fortnite to release in-game digital wearables for players’ avatars, while Burberry joined forces with Mythical Games’ Blankos Block Party and released limited-edition in-game NFT Collection “Sharky B” on the EOSIO blockchain. Lastly, Louis Vuitton dropped a digital collection comprising 30 NFTs, 10 of which were designed by Beeple, that were available as digital collectibles in a private game.

Karl Lagerfeld’s “Ikonik-Carl” digital collectible NFT collection.

Phygital NFT wearables

Digital wearables that come with a physical twin (or vice versa). 🤯

In this case, there’s a merging of the physical with the digital realm in a way that the buyer would receive both a wearable in real life AND a digital wearable suitable for social media/AR/VR use.

Understandably, phygitals came later than digital wearables since the physical component requires some extra costs, energy, and time. Nevertheless, some traditional haute couture brands have already explored the phygital path paving their way towards the non-fungible revolution.

For example, French luxury fashion house, Balmain, partnered with Barbie in a joint initiative that involved physical ready-to-wear pieces, accessories, and 3 single-edition NFTs of physical collectible dolls dressed up in Balmain garments.

This last fall, Dolce & Gabbana also released their first phygital NFT collection — namely, Collezione Genesi — comprising 9 single-edition NFTs; 4 digital-only pieces, and 5 physical ones, all pertaining to male and female high fashion as well as luxury jewelry.

Balmain’s genderless ready-to-wear fashion pieces.

Physical NFT Wearables

Wait, what? Yes, an NFT can be a real-world asset, while at the same time carrying the default NFT properties. After all, the NFT is a mere format that can be used for ownership registration and product authentication — not a digital image of a mammal per se.

This path seems to be the least explored so far as most endeavors are strongly linked to the digital realm. A physical NFT wearable would essentially be a physical piece of clothing that can be acquired upon the purchase of the respective NFT.

As ironical as it may sound, physical NFTs involve digital technologies (smart contracts) to enable the commerce of real-world assets in a peer-to-peer manner. 😹

In this case, the NFT would purely act as the ownership contract/access key to the particular garment. In other words, the NFT is the bridge between the physical asset and the distributed ledger technology that is used to verify/authenticate the asset.

So far, this bridge is usually manifested in the form of scannable QR codes, NFC chips, and RFID tags that are usually embedded on the physical assets and once scanned redirect to the NFT contract.

KONG has been doing an amazing job supplying the crypto community with its pioneering SiLo chips. That is, smart contract-coupled silicon-locked NFC chips that can be utilized to verify the authenticity of a physical NFT, airdrop tokens/assets via the physical NFT, and so on — SiLo use-cases are only limited by one’s imagination.

KONG has provided the technology and platform to bridge the gap between physical and digital environments. Several use cases developed by members of the Kong Land DAO include digital identification, physical cryptocurrency, clothing, vinyl records, and sculptures; all of which are backed by the blockchain to verify the authenticity of the physical item and allow real-world and virtual interaction.” — Dr. Datamosh, KONG Citizen

At RareCandy3D, we have been putting most of our focus and energy on exploring and releasing unique limited-edition physical NFTs that pertain to different asset categories and can pave the way for new innovative use-cases. From 12" vinyl and hand-crafted fashion wearables to custom-made concept furniture and limited-ed underground literature, just to name a few. Initiatives such as KONG’s provide the hardware foundations for visions such as ours to be pursued and realized. ❤

Next-gen Fashion

Sure, for big established brands digital fashion is certainly a lucrative business as they don’t even have to produce the actual pieces of clothing, while at the same time using their reputation they are still able to sell digital wearables for immense prices.

Although such behavior is neither surprising nor unexpected, this is not what decentralization is (or should be) about.

The true impact of decentralization in the fashion industry is that digital formats (such as NFTs) and digital collective environments (such as the metaverse) facilitate an unprecedented opportunity for creators to monetize their self-expression, as well as for people who are looking to buy something very unique/100% fitting their style at affordable prices in a peer-to-peer way.

Besides the aforementioned efforts by already established high fashion brands, the interplay between fashion and NFTs is providing the space and freedom for individual creators and autonomous initiatives to reinvent and bring out their conception of next-gen fashion — and with some exceptional efforts.

MetaFactory — A “digital factory” for phygital fashion & apparel created and managed by community-owned brands. Inspired by gaming, streetwear, NFT art, and crypto-economics, MF is putting the emphasis on the product itself and the artist(s) behind it, while doing all that’s possible to handle the curation and flow of the marketplace as well as bolster community support.

In other words, MF is offering the canvas on which a decentralized brand economy can organically manifest itself. When asked to posit their view on the interplay between fashion and tech, MF stated that:

“For MetaFactory, there are two fundamental intersections between fashion and technology. One is the element of style and self-expression. We believe in the continued evolution of digital experiences and that fashion plays into how we choose to express our identities within these platforms. Gotta look fly in the metaverse.

The second is leveraging tech for improving logistics and coordination. One aspect of this hits on improving best practices across production and fulfillment with an emphasis on efficiency and sustainability. The other core tenet is all about rethinking value capture/distribution to create and sustain positive sum feedback loops. Similar to the “lifespan” of a currency circulating within a community, utilizing intuitive tokenomics and tooling allows us to distribute funds to virtually anyone who contributes to our digiphysical culture factory.”

Capture of the internal lining of the limited-edition “Metagear” jacket; MetaFactory.

Auroboros — A digital high-fashion house oriented towards the fusion of science and technology with fashion, be it both physical couture or digital-only ready-to-wear creations.

“Auroboros envisions a utopian future fashion landscape, where its ways of designing, producing and consuming fashion to a system which is not only more exciting and immersive but conscious of our planet. We see ourselves as leading the way in embracing technological change, producing a purely digital ready-to-wear collection to design without limits with zero material waste.” commented the team when asked about their conception of the future of fashion.

Digital bodysuit worn by the world’s first artist robot, part of Auroboros’ Biomimicry digital collection.

Institute of Digital Fashion (IoDF) — Having collaborated with major industry players such as The British Fashion Council, NIKE, Balenciaga, and the V&A, the Institute of Digital Fashion is developing a more inclusive digitization of the fashion industry.

Pushing tech use towards a more democratic and sustainable future, IoDF is offering a platform where marginalized voices can be heard and represented fairly, thus, acting as an “emblem for change in today’s broken system”, as the team puts it itself.

“The IoDF creates digital solutions, digital strategies, digital humans, digital clothes & digital environments.” — IoDF.

Digital garment designed & created by IoDF.

The Fabricant — A decentralized digital-only fashion house building the wardrobe of the metaverse. The project has created its own platform on the Flow network where users can co-create and collaborate on digital wearables with a curated group of creators, brands, and designers as well as trade their assets on the native platform.

Balex — Hailing from Oslo, Norway, this multidisciplinary artist has been actively shaping the new era of footwear. His unique digital creations involve future-oriented designs with cyberpunk touches of collectible footwear that undeniably raise the standards of digital sneakers.

026 CYBER GHONG by BALEX SNEAKERS, available on Rarible.

The digital fashion sub-industry of digital footwear is definitely at its embryonic stage, however, it’s holding an immense potential that’s yet to be explored. In the words of Balex himself:

Footwear and footwear design is no longer limited by the physical world. As we move into a more and more digital world — digital sneakers will hold the same, if not more value than physical sneakers. After all, digital SNEAKERs last forever.

Kiril Mintsev — An aspiring Russian fashion designer who’s experimenting with every new shift of trends, mostly self-expressing through unique hand-made creations as well as digital collectible wearables. Back in 2019, his hand-crafted masks were used by Grimes on her “Violence” video clip.

At the time of writing this, Mintsev’s first physical single-edition NFT wearable is cooking and will be released soon under the RC3 stamp. The set has been hand-crafted with rope being the main garment and includes a headpiece, choker, breastplate, and belt. Here’s a sneak pic of the upcoming release 🤫

Backstage image of the headpiece and choker from Mintsev’s physical NFT fashion set.

We had the chance to ask Kiril a few questions and get his personal take on the future of fashion in conjunction with digital technologies.

I like the idea that thanks to the blockchain, copyrights of artists, designers, musicians are well protected, and, moreover, creators can generate some profit from that. I’m sure that this is just the beginning. Technology is the basis on which entirely new industries will grow as the Web3 era opens up limitless opportunities for artists. After all, everything that designers displayed in clothes by means of metaphors, textures or fabrics can now become a reality. Now you don’t need to make a print in the shape of flames, you can simply add the fire element digitally. You can create filters and sell AR prints via NFTs as well. I am very seized with thoughts about the world that opens up to us. — Kiril Mintsev

What To Expect In 2022

Powered by digital technologies, such as the blockchain and NFTs, the fashion industry is swiftly expanding into the metaverse, following the path that the art and music industries have also recently begun carving.

Nevertheless, fashion is an industry that’s also no exception to the trend of monopolies. It is dominated by industry giants who dictate the rules of the game and decide for the future of the industry by intermediating processes and services. As aforementioned, it seems that most (if not all) corporate elites and established corporations/brands see NFTs as a mere commodity — just another format that can generate income. Of course, in theory, there can be some corporations that use their power wisely towards a more decentralized reality, yet this doesn’t seem very likely to happen.

The fundamental goal here is the preservation of innovation, inclusivity, sustainability, and self-expression by decentralized means. And, this is something that you can only see happening from lesser-known and emerging brands/creators. These initiatives put at the forefront of their business models the importance of our virtual identities & personalities as reflections of our human tendency to envision a more interconnected future.

Thankfully, the decentralized nature of the NFT scene is allowing for all kinds of attempts to spur and offer their version of what next-gen fashion means. The future is what we make out of it, so the more innovation and creativity is
being put out by creators/artists, the more decentralized, democratic, and respectful the future will be.

“Fashiontech”, “fashion-in-tech”, “IRLxURL” or however you want to call it, fashion is a thing that will be dominating NFTs in 2022.

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Catch you in the metaverse! <R

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South Greece-based blockchain historian, writer, and researcher. Currently working on Blockchain x Political Philosophy.

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