For fashion, ‘look, touch and feel’ is everything. So it may seem counterintuitive that the world’s biggest brands will soon be able to create outfits and accessories that will partially or completely exist in a virtual space. But even though it may sound like science fiction, fashion brands are betting big on the metaverse.
Morgan Stanley predicts that virtual fashion could represent a US$50 billion opportunity by 2030, adding up to 25% to total industry revenue. For context, this is about 10 times the value of Sri Lanka’s record export earnings from garment exports for 2021.
And it’s not just speculation that drives growth. Brands like Dolce and Gabbana have already made US$5.7 million from the sale of just nine non-fungible token (NFT) pieces, while Valentine’s Day 2022 brought the first-ever Metaverse Fashion Week show on the popular Second Life online game.
While enthusiasm for virtual fashion is at an all-time high, details about how the metaverse actually works and its implications for regions like South Asia and countries like Sri Lanka, where clothes represent more of 40% of national exports, remain unclear. .
Discover the value
behind the hype
A simple way to understand the metaverse would be as a future iteration of the internet, consisting of persistent, shared and linked 3D virtual spaces across a fully digital universe. Those who are immersed in such universes will communicate, pass and have fun through their virtual avatars.
So far, there are two possible paths for fashion brands to profit from the metaverse. The most direct option: producing virtual clothing for digital avatars – the first sales of NFT fashion were aimed at this market. In some cases items only exist in the metaverse, in others the item will have an In Real Life (IRL) counterpart, in addition to existing virtually.
The second: advertising designs through the metaverse equivalent of a point of sale. Through fashion shows like Decentraland’s Virtual Fashion Week, dozens of top global brands and thousands of visitors were able to virtually attend fashion shows and live music sessions at after-parties. branding and buying and wearing digital clothes directly from catwalk avatars. Some of the fashion items will even include a physical copy of the item in the sale of their NFT fashion pieces.
While the metaverse is still in its infancy, Joint Apparel Association Forum (JAAF) Secretary General Yohan Lawrence believes it could have the potential to shape the next decade of fashion in a way that is just as disruptive as which we have already seen with the rise of e-commerce and omnichannel retail to date.
“Where enterprise resource planning systems, digital payments and Web 2.0 have played a central role in the success of fashion brands over the past decade, Web 3, 5G and the Internet of objects, virtual and augmented reality, and of course NFTs and blockchain technology could lead to entirely new business models in fashion. Build on the progress we’ve made so far, while aligning for what’s to come?”
Weaving parallel skills
From humble beginnings as cut-and-sew or made-to-order products in the early 1980s, Sri Lankan garments have gradually moved into production in high-value, high-complexity niches of the global supply chain of clothes. Leading this ongoing transition are local multinationals such as MAS, Brandix, Norlanka and Hirdaramani.
“Science and technology have been instrumental in enabling faster production of more complex products such as our ‘Second Skin’ range of underwear and sports leisure, and more recently in women’s technology and recovery wear. “, says the Director of Technology Commercialization of MAS. Gihan Philippe. “A considerable amount of research and development has gone into creating these products. However, with our more recent investments in digitization, we are expanding our ability to design and prototype new lines entirely virtually. Designing fashion for the metaverse could be a logical extension of those abilities.
He noted that while many of these 3D visualization technologies have been available for some time, especially post-pandemic, both brands and manufacturers are more open to virtual collaborative design. Meanwhile, the technology itself is improving exponentially.
“There have been significant advances in materials scanning, imaging and simulation. This means we are able to capture much more detail on how different fabrics would look and how they would drape over a person. Along with platform enhancements that enable virtual collaboration, we are able to generate authentic digital twins for our designs and make changes on the fly.
Star Garments (Operations Director), Jeevith Senaratne explains, “Instead of frequent physical photoshoots, we can simply scan a model and combine those scans with garment designs to showcase them entirely virtually. We are also able to leverage social media to test consumer responses to particular designs and modify production lines based on their response. This eliminates a lot of cost and reduces the time it takes to go from design to production, which is extremely valuable. All of these capabilities take on new meaning in the context of the significant investments made by brands in the metaverse.
Virtual design was also a game-changer for Hirdaramani. Through investments in the latest 3D-Fit software systems including: CLO, Browzwear and Tuka Tech, the company has been able to significantly reduce costs and improve delivery times.
CEO/Director of Hirdaramani Industries Sri Lanka, Theodore Gunasekara says, “We have significantly increased our 3D sampling capabilities and capabilities, especially after the pandemic. Today we are able to simulate complex effects such as washing and lasering on denim. This allowed us to convert the majority of our prototype samples, pre-production samples and adjusted samples to digital. Given the severe limitations faced globally during the pandemic, these systems have helped us to shorten development times and keep production lines running despite logistical bottlenecks. They also help us advance our sustainability goals as they further reduce resource consumption. »
Filling the gaps virtually and IRL
Similar advanced capabilities have been established at Brandix. A global wearable innovation company with end-to-end capabilities in the design, technology incubation, and digital and vertical manufacturing of “smart wearables”, it has been at the heart of Brandix’s efforts to enable rapid prototyping to to proof of concept.
Among its many innovations likely to cross paths with the Metaverse are its advanced designs for motion sensing and haptic actuator integration. Powered by Artificial Intelligence, the Sensemove line is able to intelligently measure the frame of an individual’s physique, to help guide athletes’ technique.
“As the metaverse begins to grow, we believe that technologies like this have the potential to integrate with these virtual worlds, to create new applications in sport and fitness,” says the non-executive director. of Brandix Hasib Omar, “When we particularly think about how quickly we have seen e-commerce and social media become a central part of our daily lives, we see immense potential for highly specialized garments that fuse fashion with technology.
Another emerging player in Sri Lanka that could offer a glimpse of the shape of things to come for Sri Lankan clothing is Norlanka. Although engaged in the same lines of business, from design to delivery, the company has one crucial difference from larger, more established companies on the island: its asset-light business model. Although the company has a few manufacturing facilities, most of its capacity is purchased from its SME partners in the apparel industry. Using similar visualization systems, the company flexibly orchestrates production in Sri Lanka’s dynamic SME garment manufacturing sector.
Norlanka ventured into the 3D space in 2019 and is currently developing fully digital products with some of its customers. With a dedicated research and development team, the company continuously explores new opportunities to increase efficiency, while adding value for its customers and partners, thereby improving sustainability across the industry.
“One of the next big projects we’re working on is digital sampling,” says Norlanka Chief Innovation Officer Buddhi Paranamana. “In an asset-light model like ours, we need to be able to clearly present every facet of a given line to our partners and buyers. Our expertise in advanced digital design and sampling means we can easily scale to producing pure digital or hybrid designs for the Metaverse, which can also be manufactured at commercial scale for IRL retail. These digital designs can also be used as NFTs in the ever-expanding creative spaces of the Metaverse.
However, as revolutionary as this new technological paradigm might be for the fashion industry over the next decade, today’s most visible metaverse games are still made by high-profile brands. By releasing limited designs and leveraging their brand strength and novelty of NFT support, these brands are capturing the most initial value. For clothing manufacturers to participate in this action, they will first have to create their own brands and designers.