By Maeve O’Sullivan, Fashion Editor
With every world altering event, the fashion industry adapts accordingly. Following World War I, women’s fashion swapped out long skirts for trousers suitable for the workplace. The Great Depression and crashing of the stock market in 1929 gave way for conservative trends. World War II meant resources were at a standstill, so fashion was bare and printless. Feminist movements brought forward the mini skirt as a symbol for women’s rights and freedom; increased concerns for the climate has shaped the industry with sustainability and minimalism. Today, with the extended reliance on the digital in a world of social distancing, fashion has once again taken note and responded in suit.
Virtual fashion was nothing but a quiet whisper until 2021. With the growth of social media, the gaming culture and a global pandemic, the forward-thinking fashion movement is gaining speed. In Amsterdam, Amber Jae Slooten, Co-Founder and Creative Director of The Fabricant, has been speaking online about the increased interest in digital fashion. The fashion designer is an up-and-coming name, and is someone setting the trends that big fashion houses like Gucci and brands such as Montcler are following. In 2016, Slooten released a virtual fashion show, (long before Covid was a thing), with a digitality manufactured backdrop, model and clothing. Setting up her own company, The Fabricant becomes ‘’the world’s first digital fashion house’’ according to Slooten. The company specialise in photo-real 3D fashion design and animation. Their world operates at the intersection of fashion and technology, creating digital couture and fashion experiences that are always digital, never physical. The company creates bespoke clothing items that can drape and naturally move as if worn by a model IRL. In 2019, The Fabricant made history by auctioning the first ever virtual dress for $9,500.
For Slooten, their aim is to ‘’create a new fashion narrative for the 21st century because we really believe that we need to look at ourselves in the mirror and see if our vanity really needs to harm the planet this way.’’ The belief is that there is already enough clothing in the world, with the fashion industry being the second largest polluter. The UN claims that the fashion industry is ‘’responsible for between 8 to 10% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions and it estimates that, by 2050, fashion could be responsible for a quarter of all carbon emissions”.
Fiona O’Malley, the Director of Communications at World Vision Ireland said that ‘’the fast fashion industry emits 1.2 billion tons of CO2 equivalent per year”.
With a background in fashion and the traditional process of draw, cut and sew, the Dutch designer began to reflect on the effects of material waste. ‘’The physicality made me sick, because of all the materials that we were wasting. I felt like a huge responsibility for the future of the industry, which is why I started questioning physicality altogether”.
‘’When I graduated, there were absolutely no jobs in that area, and it made me realise that I needed to create it.’’ The Fabricant tackles climate change by embracing sustainability, wasting nothing but date and exploits nothing by imagination.
Is fashion one of the last creative industries to embrace technology? The Fabricant seems to think so. For many of us, technology is a way of living and we have many years’ experience with digital gaming. From the early years of Stardoll and Club Penguin, to Sims and Fortnight, character customisation is something we have continuously bought into without physical return. How is digital clothing to be any different? In 2016, Snapchat released Bitmojis and collaboration with brands such as Calvin Klein, Alexander McQueen and Adidas which allowed you to dress aviators. Why is virtually dressing yourself any different? Big names such as Moschino were one of the first to join the virtual fashion initiative. The brand joined forces with Sims to create a capsule collection. Consumers were able to purchase the item which included a $1,295 backpack.
Following the outbreak of Covid, the traditional fashion week and runway shows were put on hold. Designers had to extend their natural creativity even further. Congolese fashion label ‘Hanifa’ broke the internet in 2020 with their virtual ‘Pink Label’ collection, which featured a 3D model floating on a virtual runway, displaying the collection as if in person.
More recently, Gucci has created virtual runners with augmented reality. The shoes can be purchased for $12.99 on the Gucci App and used on partner apps Roblox or VRChat. Creative Director for Gucci, Alessandra Michele brought forward the shoes in chunky, neon green and pink, sure to catch the eye of the idle social media scroller. For hypebeasts, the shoes have created quite a stir.
With the growing interest in virtual clothing, one may wonder where the bloggers or ‘influencers’ stand in the conversation. The content creatives had no break in career despite the pandemic, churning out fashion content despite the lack of social events. Outfits bought, pictured and disordered or hopefully resold. The introduction of digital fashion may present itself as an answer to the expanding wardrobes. For centuries, fashion was the language of socialising, and with socialising taking place more and more online, be it because of a pandemic or not, fashion is following suit and adapting to fit the (3D) mould.