Inside Today's Meteor
- Disrupt: Meteor Does a Panel
- Create: Cool AI Art NFTs on the Block
Two weeks ago, amongst the chaos of NFT NYC, I was lucky enough to host a panel of digital fashion pioneers at the launch of Future+, a new platform that brings creatives, technologists and execs together across digital fashion, luxury and retail.
The panelists included (left to right):
- George Yang, Founder of Cult&Rain
- Daria Shapovalova, Co-Founder and CEO of Dress X
- Benjamin Blamoutier, VP Global Brand & Customer Experience at Lacoste
- Kerry Murphy, Founder and CEO of The Fabricant
Three of the companies, Cult&Rain, DressX and The Fabricant are digital first fashion houses. They each have a slightly unique take on the concept.
- Cult&Rain makes limited edition, finely crafted sneakers and hoodies which come as both physical products and their digital twins. Their physical products have chips sewn into them that verify their authenticity and give owners access to future content and experiences.
- DressX sells digital garments that can adorn your avatar in blockchain metaverses like Decentraland and can appear on your IRL body through their augmented reality app.
- The Fabricant collaborates with a diverse group of creators to launch digital fashion collections sold as NFTs. Like DressX, some wearables can be used in metaverses and others as augmented reality filters.
- Lacoste, the only traditional brand amongst the panel, launched an NFT line last year called “Undw3”, pronounced “underwater" that promises to provided unique experiences to holders.
Our panel was officially about the future of phytigal fashion, which is the marrying of physical and digital fashion together. But the topics swerved outside the lines with interesting results.
Who is actually buying this stuff? Are blockchains helping or hurting? Do wearables really help the environment and whats next for AI and fashion?
Let's dig in.
Lightly edited for grammar and continuity.
Who is actually buying digital fashion? Is it gamers who want designer armor like the knights of old? Is it Roblox kids, blockchain aficionados or bored moms drinking chardonnay and buying NFTs?
George Yang, Cult&Rain
"Our customer base are collectors... we are I would say a true phygital brand because we produce matching physical twins with our digital assets and we aim ourselves towards collectors that are fashionistas, sneaker heads for example, people that also like to collect luxury goods. We have people that are gamers because we do have a side of our business which is also metaverse and digital wearable base. We also have a customer base that's crossed between web2 and web3, meaning we have obviously crypto and NFT enthusiasts collectors that want to purchase our NFTS as a future collectible... We are Supreme on steroids."
Daria Shapovalova, Dress X
"From the very beginning we had this vision that we want to sell one billion fashion items... It's not a new thing. It's existed in games for so many years, for decades, and now some of those are powered by blockchain...
There are still games, web2 environments, where people tend to purchase digital items and use them. For example, my son of 10 years old, he's one of our customers. He's purchasing DressX on Roblox. We have a lot of kids paying for our Roblox items and I assume it's moving from kids to adults.
Our DressX platform, it's more millennials. If we talk about Meta platforms where we deliver the items across all of their platforms including Oculus and WhatsApp, it's like more my mom's age...
That's why for us it's really important to find the proper use case for every person. Each of us has physical wardrobes... that means that each person can have a use case where they will wear some of the items in digital reality depending if they're gamers or just people who like my mom uses the camera and that's it all right.
So you've got a little bit of everything. You sell into Roblox. You sell into augmented reality. And you sell into blockchain based metaverses as well. Each of them is a slightly different product for a different audience.
A majority of them can be used inside the DressX app. If it's NFT for example you can unlock it there. We truly believe in the future when all the companies will become inter interoperable. With Roblox opening up the bridges, that will happen in 5-10 years from now and we're all ready for this reality."
Are blockchains really good for digital fashion (NFTs make owning digital goods possible)? Or are they really bad for the industry (blockchains invite swarms of day traders who might scare off real buyers)?
Kerry Murphy, The Fabricant
"You're framing it very black and white. There's a lot of gray zone in between. There's good and bad sides to everything.
Everything that we see around blockchain right now, we've seen it with books, newspapers, radio, TV, internet. Everybody is finding the skepticism. It's happening around AI now as well. AI is the new buzzword and everybody is like, oh my God, AI good, AI bad.
But where does blockchain really play a role in what is the good side of it? And what am I betting on? Why am I building on such a complex technical infrastructure and throwing a lot of resources on building on it? It's simply because we believe in it. We believe that digital asset ownership is a must. You cannot anymore have these web2 platforms games where you buy an item and there's kids literally paying hundreds of dollars on digital assets in games. Now when that game ceases is to exist, all of your assets are gone. Is that fair for me? That's way worse than you what we're actually saying about blockchain right now."
George Yang, Cult&Rain
"We have to use blockchain technology for the good. One of the things that I firmly believe in as the future is authentication and ownership transfer utilizing blockchain technology through NFC chips and merging it with physical products where physical products can then deploy a whole other digital experience for the new fashion wearing customer.
The authentication and owner transferring is really the future of the luxury market. Not only the luxury market, but I do believe that every product in the world will be tied to the blockchain at some point. The technology of the chips will evolve into fibers so you'll be able to sew that into garments. Sew that into chairs because we all want things that are authentic and real.
There's one more aspect that is also game changing when it comes to blockchain tech. Let's take for example Nike and the Tiffany collection. We all knew that was a massive, massive success this past couple months. But on every single secondary trade of this Nike Tiffany collection, Nike and Tiffany did not see one penny of this revenue. Most of the people sold it on StockX on a secondary market, which they paid as a customer.
Because I'm an avid sneaker head, I paid 20 to 25 percent to StockX for them to verify to be the middleman. Now that's all going to change because of blockchain technology. Because with blockchain, it can become peer-to-peer trading and we can use blockchain to verify and authenticate the product this way. We can eliminate the cost that's associated with the customer and I think that tech and that use case will change everything."
Shifting to the topic of collaboration, I asked Lacoste how a traditional brand collaborates in a digital world. I expected Benjamin to boast about collaborations with digital-first designers, but he took it in a different direction, stressing how Lacoste wants to creatively collaborate with consumers.
Benjamin Blamoutier, Lacoste
The question on digital fashion for a brand like Lacoste is not so much as how can we make fashion digital. It's more how we can use digital to create fashion in collaboration with our customers. And this is what we are developing right now at Lacoste and more and more of other brands are doing it.
More and more what we are developing in the industry is to have a more horizontal relation between brands and the customer to generate more creativity, to generate more accuracy, more relevancy...
For a brand like us, blockchain is interesting because it helps us to connect with people and to reward people in creating fashion and this is something really important for us.
Brands like Lacoste, we interact with customers through social media through CRM rewarding – essentially transactions and buying.
With Web3 and with blockchain, the interesting thing is that we can reward transactions but also engagement, creativity, commitment to the brand in experiences. And this is something we are developing more and more is how we can collaborate with other kind of designers, which are our customers.
Another kind of designers are influencers outside of our company. More and more we are looking for new talents because we want a brand more open to new talents, more open to new creativity.
We are trying to explore new playgrounds. This is why digital fashion is interesting for us. Because we are good at creating regular fashion, classic fashion, but with Web3, with digital, we can create new users of fashion, new way to interact with clothing and this is really interesting for us.
We want to open our studio to new new talents. This is why we created some communities on social media, on Discord, where we have creatives, we have people from design schools, we have people who are designers in our community and we are more and more interacting with them to create a part of new connections to create new collaborations and then to onboard these talents in our creativity. This is really interesting because we are exploring things we have that wouldn't be impossible without the blockchain and without this collaboration with new talents.
The digital fashion industry has argued that their product helps the environment, but is it that really true? Are people really buying fewer clothes? Are they walking around naked to business meetings? Do they go to Thanksgiving something nice for the family? Do people really reduce their wardrobe or is digital fashion something incremental that you do in addition to the physical clothing you're going to buy anyway?
Daria Shapovalova, DressX
Inside the app, we have the patent on how we calculate the amount of resources that are being used when one physical item is produced versus one digital item that is produced. How much CO2 is saved and how much water is saved. We will implement this calculator directly in the app and on the website so you can kind of create an understanding that like all this digital wardrobe that you have, how much water did you save in the end. And we compare it to something that people can understand. Like if you could drink this water for 100 years, for example, something tangible.
Do you have evidence or data that your customers are buying fewer physical items of clothing? I get what you're saying that if they chose to not buy a physical pair of jeans but bought digital jeans instead, there's an environmental benefit. But what data do you have to show that behavior is true?
We did a lot of custom customer interviews. We took the batch of people who are using DressX, obviously not all of them, but like 1,000 active users and we asked this question. After you purchase the digital item will you want to purchase a physical item? We gave them different categories, because for example there are digital items that look very metaversy. We asked if you had it in the physical life will you wear it once or twice?
So in the 40% of cases if people purchase digital items they wouldn't go and purchases in physical if it was about something spectacular.
But there is another very interesting statistic. If we're speaking about very simple items like sunglasses or earrings, for example, something you can try on with digital fashion, that actually amplifies sales because it can help you to understand how well it fits your look.
So we should balance here because always in the world there is no black and white. There are different realities that co-exist.
I want to tell you a personal story. For Metaverse Fashion Week I tended to write a story about going into Decentraland picking out some really cool clothes so I would look my most beautiful self. In fact, I tried to purchase a DressX trench coat which was very cool.
Daria: You tried or you purchased?
Oh, I didn't purchase it. That's the story.
Daria: Okay so tell all the bad things.
So I walked into Decentraland. I already had a crypto wallet. I already had a pocket full of Eth. Two hours later I walked out with zero clothing and you made zero money. It was nearly impossible to complete a transaction, get to the cash register and buy something cool so I could look my most beautiful self. I'm not going to pick on you Daria. You don't run Decentraland... But I think it's very hard for people to actually buy any digital good.
Kerry Murphy, The Fabricant
There's a lot of things to unpack in that statement. And again who who are we looking at because there's a lot of people who know how to go through that experience and they're willing to go through the experience and they are metaverse native and they are blockchain native, they're crypto native and they know how to go through it. I understand the pain. I feel for you...
The biggest unlock for blockchain is user experience. You are saying what is the biggest pain point right now. You are willing to pay money but even though you want to you can't.
Now who's at fault here? Well the user experience. So how do we make the user experience essentially better than the so-called Web2 user experience? Because people are not going to care about Web3 until it actually gives something better than Web2.
We have a Web2 platform with a Web3 infrastructure. What is that value proposition of Web3? Well you already mentioned it. It's ownership. It's provenance. It's the secondary markets. It's the new economies that it can create. This is how we're going to start creating value on top of Web2.
If we look at Decentraland as an experience for Web2 user, yes it sucks. But if we look at Decentraland as a Web3 experience for let's say a Web3 person – somebody who has a lot of time on their hands, somebody who's in kind of like the early innovator stage or the early adopter stage, somebody who's looking for new experiences who are willing to go through the pain of getting an understanding of what is this new world about – those are the people that it's targeting right now.
You're probably going to be somewhere when once we have mainstream adoption, once we have the user experience that it's, you know, has a password with the wallet hidden in the background, has a fiat payment system with crypto hidden in the background maybe that's when when you're going to truly care.
One of the things that's really important in fashion is the craftsmanship, is the idea of craftsmanship, the idea that the designer and their creativity can shine through. It's a very human transaction. I've made this thing. I've told my story and now I give it to you to buy. How are you guys thinking about AI in the role of creation?
Benjamin Blamoutier, Lacoste
This is something uh first we are not afraid of. We are traditional brand of 90 years of creation, 90 years of craftsmanship and for us AI is a new way of thinking. For us, AI is like for mathematics. It's OK, there are calculators, but people are still counting and counting faster.
First, AI is a way to create, maybe further, deeper, to create faster, which is really interesting. And to develop a new way of creativity in the whole process.
AI is a way to create new mood boards. Before mood board were really conceptual. No mood boards are really precise so the link between the designer and the fabric is more precise until the sketch. So really interesting.
Also AI is a way to transfer the collection to virtual worlds. We can link the collection, the merchandising, with new backgrounds, with with new scenes, with new ways of showcasing. And this is really interesting for us because we can push the storytelling in virtual world in virtual reality thanks to artificial artificial intelligence.
It's a good a good answer. I appreciate what you're doing but I want to ask it in a slightly different way to Kerry. What AI really does is it democratizes creativity. It makes it easier for people who haven't spent a decade or two learning a craft to do the craft. You've seen that with imagery. How do you guys think about this? If right now it's pretty hard to make the things you make, what about when there's millions of people who can create things as beautifully as you do? How do you stand out? How do you survive as a brand?
Kerry Murphy, The Fabricant
I think it's an easy parallel looking at digital transformation of any creative industry: photography, film, visual effects, architecture and all the stuff that came through that from going from analog into digital tooling and how it sped everything up. How it gave life to new creativity. Now AI just happens to be the digital transformation on steroids, where content creation becomes extremely easy where the stuff that we're doing, the so-called manual labor, it's craftsmanship. We put a lot labor and love into the creation of it. That's an important part of the fashion. And all of a sudden any kid can do it in the world and make way more amazing stuff with a few clicks of a button. Absolutely. But still the craftsmanship will remain. The creativity will remain. It's just about utilizing these tools in smart ways that they can help us make better decisions...
Yes, it will replace a lot of jobs in the fashion industry. I don't know if you've seen this quote, but I've seen it multiple times on Twitter and on LinkedIn. It says it's not that AI will replace jobs, it's the people using AI who will replace others. So it's the people who are smart enough to understand how to use these tools to make better decisions and to make their craft even better than it was before.
I think you're right about that and uh but I want to put this one to you George actually because those are beautifully crafted thousand dollar sneakers with I'm sure a beautifully crafted thousand dollar digital twin, but when millions of people can do that simply and quickly and maybe make something as beautiful how do you stand out?
They won't be able to do it. They won't because my craft, my livelihood has been over 23 years now as a fashion designer where I built my career by going to fashion school, starting with pattern cutting from day one at the Parsons School of Design down the street. I spent over 20 years working for brands such as John Varvados. I helped launch Theory. I was design director for CoSTUME National. I went to Guy Laroche. Cerruti Paris for another six years. I've trained on the runway. I've trained under commercial. I've trained under contemporary and it takes time and it takes a brain to be able to create and hone a perfect physical product by the touch, by the light, by the fit. And so there will be a gap between what AI can do versus the human element of it. And I think that's what people are still not understanding.
We're going to do a speed round. Everyone give me 30 to 45 seconds on what you're most excited about, the biggest vision you've got for the next five years.
For me phygital fashion, phygital marketplaces so that when the physical trades, the house can gain a secondary royalty on the physical trade. I think that's the future and I think that's going to be huge to be able to deploy digital assets from the physical including AR, including digital wearables, will be kind of a phase and Cult&Rain sits here today because we have a physical brand and we have digital brands and we happen to do both and that's the future.
For me, our version of the future is delivering digital wardrobes to every phone in the world and selling one billion digital items and definitely in five years I think we will live in the world of AGI not even AI so that will be a very cool world to live in and we should all now think and adapt so really looking forward to that.
On my side I'm really excited about the potential in the situation where we are. Potential because people are spending five, six, seven hours per day on digital so there is a potential for business wear and a potential for use cases. And the second thing I'm really excited about is that when I see the energy in the city right now around Web3, around digital fashion, around NFTs, we see that the ecosystem is a movement, but we see also that the ecosystem identified the main problem the main issue which is customer journey and user experience which is terrible. Terrible. As a brand for me it's a big problem.
But when we see the energy and when we identify their problems and receive a potential, I'm quite confident that in the next month or even next years we'll find a solution.
Kerry, The Fabricant
Three words: create; trade; wear. Essentially giving the tools for people to create their own digital fashion items, giving the tools for them to create their own digital fashion collections, giving them the ecosystem, the infrastructure to create and monetize these assets and then third of all wearing of the digital only clothing. This is a big one, augmented reality, AI, as you mentioned and of course the so-called metaverse for all the people who care about games So that's a big takeaway.