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Digital Fashion & Sustainability: How NFTs and VR can solve fashions sustainability problem

The advance in Virtual Reality (VR) technology combined with Non-Fungible Tokens (NFTs) has the potential to unlock the real-world sustainability benefit of digital fashion.


Digital fashion & sustainability is a key emerging conversation in the fashion industry, with Non-Fungible Tokens (NFTs) combined virtual reality (VR) offering the potential to revolutionise the way we manufacture and ‘wear’ clothing.

Key Messages

  1. Sustainability in Fashion
  2. Digital Fashion NFTs
  3. Virtual Reality (VR)
  4. Digital Fashion & Sustainability Solution: NFTs + VR
  5. Case Study: RTFKT
  6. Digital Fashion & Sustainability: Challenges

Sustainability in Fashion

Fashion has a major sustainability problem. We buy too much stuff, too often, and the stuff we buy doesn’t last long enough. There is no industry where this is more prevalent than in fashion.

Fast fashion, driven by evolving trends, has made the clothes we wear disposable. Cheap manufacturing and cheap materials unlock low prices, but the low-price tag means consumers buy without any real consideration, resulting in these products becoming disposable.

Whilst the sustainability movement in fashion has gained momentum through the rise of an eco-conscious, youth consumer, the overall impact is questionable. Schemes including recommerce, rental, and zero-inventory have an impact, however these are often limited to niche and often wealthy consumers, especially during times of economic hardship.

We need a radical shift in how we buy clothes.

Digital Fashion & Sustainability: NFTs

Digital fashion offers a potential future solution to the way people buy and wear clothes in the real world, not just the metaverse.

One of the buzz words of the past few years is Non-Fungible Token (NFT). For most people, this phrase will conjure the image of overpriced cartoons and scams, however, the underlying blockchain technology and associated digital ownership is something that will revolutionise many industries in the coming years.

The fashion industry has historically been an early adopter of innovation and emerging trends, and its embrace of NFT technology is no exception.

This cutting-edge technology enables artists and designers to create unique digital assets while empowering consumers to own, trade, and showcase their virtual fashion pieces. The fusion of NFTs and fashion marks a bold step towards a future where digital and physical realities seamlessly intertwine.

Many people however reject the potential of digital fashion, with the general public having little current interest in buying clothes for their digital profiles. Whilst the future will likely involve more time spent in virtual “metaverses”, digital fashion is unlikely to have a significant sustainability impact with this alone.

Virtual Reality is potentially the key to unlocking this sustainability benefit.

Virtual Reality (VR)

Currently this intertwining of digital and physical is limited, with fashion NFTs isolated to digital worlds. This will change with the impending mainstream adoption of VR.

VR has been an emerging technology for years although the progress has been largely limited to amusement arcades and diehard gamers. The biggest blocker has been ease of access.

The access issue is a short-term problem. In the same way that prior to the iPhone, it was impossible to envisage that level of technology in a phone, the same will happen with VR. Oversized headsets and helmets will soon be replaced with glasses and contact lenses, subtle application into our everyday items allowing VR technology to be injected in our everyday lives.

All the technology heavy weights have been working on their VR solutions for years, with Apple and Google both close to releasing mainstream products

Once this happens, VR will have a major role in supplementing the real-world, rather than being solely a tool for digital ‘metaverses’.

Digital Fashion & Sustainability Solution: NFTs + VR

How can digital collectables be combined with VR solve this real-world problem?

Bringing these two cutting-edge technologies together is a progressive concept and needs a degree of open mindfulness. Whilst the concept might seem something out of sci-fi movie, the reality is this is not far from being achievable.

Social Media

We are already in a place where social media filters allow people to ‘wear’ digital collectables.

A range of companies like XR Couture and DressX create hyper-realistic 3D digital wearables which can be worn on digital avatars, with social media filters allowing these to be applied to real-world video and images.

This is also evolving into ‘digital try-on’, with eCommerce brands activating the ability to virtually try-on clothes and shoes using the same technology.

XR Couture Snapchat Filter. Source

Future Real-World Application

Now apply the same concept to real life. Through VR, a VR device can apply a filter to a persons vision, allowing them to see an altered state of what a person is actually wearing.

Virtual Reality showing digital NFT being applied to a real-life t-shirt

Instead of owning multiple pieces of clothing, a person owns a handful of sustainably made clothing items which have been manufactured for longevity, and then at the touch of a button the design can be altered through VR. Affectively you are applying different filters to adjust how people see your clothing.

Brands produce digital clothing, with digital ownership controlled utilising NFT technology. Without the need for physical production, digital fashion items can be produced comparatively quickly. This allows brands to produce extensive digital catalogues, without the usual limitations, and large environmental footprints, of traditional fashion.

Conversely, the same brands focus on producing a small line of physical products, with a heavy focus on sustainability, longevity and a circular end of life strategy.

alphaCOMMERCE Digital to Physical Fashion through NFTs and VR
alphaCOMMERCE Digital to Physical Fashion through NFTs and VR

Case Study: RTFKT

RTFKT (pronounced “artifact”) is a creative studio and brand, acquired by Nike in 2021, which focuses on designing and creating digital and physical products. They have made a name for themselves by leveraging cutting-edge technology, such as augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR), and blockchain-based non-fungible tokens (NFTs) to create unique, limited-edition items and experiences.

RTFKT were one of the first to produce a range of Snapchat filters to allow NFT holders to ‘wear’ their exclusive sneakers on social media

RTFKT-Snapchat-Filter-Examples. Source: RTFKT Snapchat

RTFKT co-founder Benoit Pagotto shared the video below back in 2020 giving everyone an insight into the RTFKT vision for the future. The video shows sneaker designs being altered at the touch of a button which, whilst clearly a mock-up, demonstrates the concept and potential for NFTs to act as a design layer for application into real-world items.

Source: Benoit Pagotto LinkedIn

Digital Fashion & Sustainability: Challenges

Now this is clearly a progressive idea, and so it is very easy to highlight some major issues:

  • Adoption- You would need significant adoption of VR technology to make this concept a reality. The digital t-shirt designs are viewed in real-life by other people, through their own VR glasses/lenses and hence you would need a wide adoption.
  • Interoperability- You would also need some form of common integration layer, both from the blockchain technology, but more importantly with VR devices. The concept relies on my VR device being able to identify your chosen NFT- the complexity and challenges with this is huge

With adoption, you only have to look to the iPhone as an example of how this can be overcome. With 1.4 million iPhone units sold within just 74 days of its 2007 launch, its rapid market share expansion meant that by the end of 2009, a mere three years after its introduction, Apple’s iPhone had secured 14.4% share of the smartphone market.

Similar mainstream adoption of VR technology, combined with the inevitable progress in technology to allow integration, would be the catalyst to allow for digital fashion to become part of the real-world and a potential solution to fashions sustainability problem.

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