3 Reasons Fashion Brands Should Be Interested in the Metaverse

Avatars within a conference setting in the metaverse

If you followed New York Fashion Week in September 2022, you likely noticed some big trends brewing around cryptocurrencies and NFTs (non-fungible tokens), virtual and augmented reality (VR and AR), and the metaverse and Web3. 

In fact, this past year we saw the advent of the world’s first Metaverse Fashion Week (MVFW), a wholly virtual event featuring more than 60 luxury and digital brands. Plenty of heavyweights were there in force, including prominent brands like Tommy Hilfiger, Estée Lauder, Dolce & Gabbana, and Forever 21. MVFW 2022 was put on by Decentraland, a crypto-driven platform that hosts a browser-based 3D virtual world where users buy “land” as NFTs. Anyone with a computer and fast internet connection could attend and purchase digital fashion items — also sold as NFTs and many with physical counterparts — requiring only an Ethereum wallet to transact. 

MVFW is only one example of metaverse-based commerce, but here's the thing: Even though the metaverse market has grown exponentially in recent years — some experts predict a market value in excess of $1.5 trillion by decade’s end — most retailers are still trying to grasp just how to utilize this technology in the most practical (and profitable) way. 

How are Retailers Already Using This Technology?


Right now, plenty of fashion brands and retailers are already augmenting the physical shopping experience by allowing shoppers to virtually try on, customize, and purchase real-world merchandise from the comfort of their homes using AR and VR devices. 

Others are leaning into the metaverse to create communities built around their brand that cater to demographically specific interests and aesthetics, while also creating new revenue streams from the sale of virtual garb. Take the example of Vans World, a virtual skate park from the iconic surf and skate brand built on the Roblox gaming platform and its proprietary digital currency. The experience is fun, complex, and highly gamified — as well as tremendously lucrative: Players spent the equivalent of $652 million on digital goods in the first quarter of 2021 alone!

You can already see why so many leading brands looking to remain relevant and grow in an increasingly digitized marketplace are already planning their investments in this space now, but let’s take a closer look at what the metaverse means for the fashion industry in particular.

What are 3 Reasons Why Fashion Pros Should Invest in the Metaverse? What Can They Expect to Gain? 


1. A new way to attract younger shoppers to your brand. 

When it comes to cutting-edge technology, stalwart American fashion icon Ralph Lauren might not be the first name that comes to mind. But recently, the brand partnered with the aforementioned Roblox platform to create a one-of-a-kind, winter-themed VR experience called The Winter Escape. Visitors can enjoy fun social activities and browse for exclusive virtual Ralph Lauren styles that are available to purchase and with which to adorn their avatars. 

But why would anyone pay for clothing you can’t wear “IRL” (In real life)? Many Gen Z consumers spend most of their time in digital environments, take special care with their online image, and are accustomed to spending money on virtual merchandise. Brand affiliations absolutely cross the IRL boundary, which presents an opportunity for businesses to win over a new audience by giving younger consumers tactile visibility into long-standing fashion brands.

Virtual environments also enable new, more collaborative ways to engage with an audience. Nike recently debuted a new digital community and experience cheekily titled .SWOOSH. The brand positions this as an “inclusive digital community and experience and a home for Nike virtual creations.” The unique aspect of this concept is to empower Nike fans and customers to join in co-creating new virtual items such as athletic shoes and jerseys, finally allowing consumers to be — at least to some extent — partners in the future of the brand.

2. A less complex and expensive way to launch events and pop-ups.

Going back to MVFW, newly rebranded Hugo (neé Hugo Boss) was an early adopter, partnering with a “Web3 Commerce Layer,” vendor to allow visitors to purchase physical garments represented virtually in the brand’s “zone” during the event. Again, crypto technology was the key, enabling any physical item to be “tokenized” as a redeemable NFT available for sale to anyone with an Ethereum wallet, transforming virtual shopping into tangible reality.

Then, there’s the aforementioned Ralph Lauren, which recently partnered with Obsess — a retail-focused “interactive experiential e-commerce platform” — to create an immersive 3D experience called 888 Madison Avenue that puts shoppers in a welcoming, luxurious, and fun to navigate retail store environment. Other brands leveraging the Obsess platform include Lululemon, Coach, Christian Dior, NARS, and Salvatore Ferragamo.

3. A new way to debut concepts and designs and get real-time feedback from your audience (while helping the environment along the way).

In terms of footwear, marrying the virtual to the physical is being realized by another fast-emerging technology: 3D printing. In fact, this technology is already used by every major athletic footwear brand for rapid prototyping of midsoles — the part of the shoe between the upper and the outsole and the most impactful on the wearer’s comfort and stability — to optimize product design and development. 

However, as materials technology has advanced, 3D printed midsoles can now be produced with the same quality and durability as injection molding, the method typically employed for this part of the manufacturing process. This finally makes truly custom footwear possible, with shoes that can be printed to a buyer’s exact specifications and based on their precise measurements. Beyond that, this technology also allows for:

  • More innovative and intricate designs
  • Custom, purpose-made materials
  • Faster time to market with feedback-driven precision
  • Easier low batch production to enable cost-cutting on-demand manufacturing

Footwear is far from the only fashion category exploring the possibilities of digital prototyping, and for good reason. The fashion industry as it exists now is, in many ways, untenable. Beyond employment and supply chain issues, the fashion industry is one of the world’s most wasteful, with McKinsey predicting that, if nothing changes, by 2030 fashion would be responsible for 2.7 billion metric tons of carbon emissions a year. This is being addressed now by physical means through upcycling, deadstock fabrics, and recycled textiles, but some visionaries think more can be done through the digital realm.

Leslie Holden, co-founder of the Digital Fashion Group, recently posited that “…a digital approach is a pragmatic answer to the industry’s sustainability issues.” One idea is essentially an extended version of MVFW, where brands create digital showrooms and shop fronts for customers to browse and buy highly realistic renders of garments. Only purchased items are put into production, thus eliminating guesswork by the brand as well as wasted stock that ends up moving down market and eventually into landfills. 

This might also create a closer bond between the final product and its creator, keeping designers and product managers involved and accountable across a larger part of the supply chain.

— Robin Barret Wilson, Industry Executive Advisor, Fashion, SAP

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