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How fashion is welcoming Web3

At Wishu, we strongly believe that the story of the 2020s is Web3. It’s arriving faster than the breakthrough technologies before it. The clearest example of this use of new tech in the fashion space is, of course, digital fashion. The first years of the pandemic forced innovation in these spaces, fast-tracking an evolution. From here forward, we will see fashion live out its post-evolution path.

This year we have seen the legitimisation of digital fashion by means of brand investment and activity. LVMH has negotiated with competitors to form a luxury-friendly blockchain consortium. The British Fashion Council created a new award for metaverse design; and the Council of Fashion Designers of America has embarked on an educational series. Farfetch re-launched its business accelerator with a Web3 focus; while Kering introduced an internal programme to upskill its global employees. Gucci, Off-White, Farfetch and Tag Heuer now accept cryptocurrencies. 

2022 got off to a bold start, with the Web3 community energised by the recent news that sports giant Nike had acquired the fledgling startup Rtfkt, suggesting the powerful pull of Web3 expertise, says Cathy Hackl, co-founder and chief metaverse officer of consultancy Journey.

Craig Palmer, CEO of NFT curator and marketplace Makersplace spoke to Vogue Business about the mirroring of the Web1 to Web2 transition in 2005 “This feels like the internet meltdown of Web1, and some of the best companies that we recognise came out of that”. 

Studies and trend predictors are claiming that 2027 will be the year of the boom so we still have a way to go before NFTs and digital goods are as commonplace and culturally relevant as smartphones and Instagram strategies. 

2022 has blurred the line between the real and the digital therefore making clearer the role of digital fashion. Prada’s Timecapsule drops now start with a digital piece and continue with physical goods and experiences. Even that system is short-lived, as augmented reality offers varying views of a shared reality. Timex’s new physical watches come with a twinning AR wearable. Rtfkt’s physical black hoodie comes with digital wings. 

Alice Delahunt has in fact left Ralph Lauren as chief digital officer to foster the next generation of design talent, she doesn’t call it digital fashion. To her, it’s just fashion.

Delahunt is one of the most prominent fashion executives to leave a senior role at a legacy brand to tap into fashion’s metaverse and Web3 opportunity. In the next phase of the internet, startups are often the most influential, with power shifting from the big name brands to smaller entities with outsized influence. Similar to how fashion editors left cushy roles to join the likes of Instagram, Pinterest and Snapchat with the rise of Web2, fashion execs are betting that future success lies in the next phase of the internet. 

In a legal dispute with artist Mason Rothschild, Hermès argued that digital images inspired by its Birkin bags are “digital knock-offs, or digital versions, of physical Birkin handbags” and that they are “digital commodities”. However, the high-cost, rare image communicates social status in the same way the bag does, as they are both tricky to acquire and can cost tens of thousands of dollars. That wasn’t the only conflict. StockX and Nike were at odds over the question of NFTs tied to sneakers. StockX argued that its Vault NFTs, which depict sneakers, are not “virtual products” or digital sneakers, but rather a means of identifying a product, akin to images on e-commerce sites.

Because digital objects aren’t limited to the laws of physics, digital designers have divorced form from function, often pushing the limits on norms of aesthetics and igniting cultural clashes on value and taste. They also face new questions: do avatars age? Does clothing decay over time? Do models need to walk? The future answering of these questions present several morals and considerations.

It is important that we acknowledge the challenges in introducing a web2 to  web3 transition for brands. Brands want to evolve and stay relevant without alienating loyal customers or eschewing entrenched tenets, in the same way that the aesthetic transition from signature stilettos to sneakers and streetwear on the runway was jolting.

To cope, luxury competitors have proactively partnered, perhaps with the knowledge the rising tides raise all ships. LVMH’s Aura Blockchain Consortium members now include Prada Group, Richemont and OTB Group. Farfetch, meanwhile, has received an investment from Richemont, and its technology will now be used to power its marketplace rival Net-a-Porter. Gucci has housed its Web3 experiments under a separate business unit called Gucci Vault — whose new audience will perhaps expect the unexpected; already, Gucci has started promoting items from other brands, and created (relatively simplified-looking) goods in Roblox and The Sandbox.

At the end of the day, there are also “still a ton of rough edges to sand off” before the average, non-technical person can participate, Palmer, of Makersplace, says.

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