The Dematerialised’s Founder Karinna Nobbs talks about how there is a clear market for digital-only garments that can be switched, traded and owned just like a collectable item
Blockchain – The future of fashion is digital
Karinna Nobbs, co-founder of The Dematerialised along with Marjorie Hernandez, a blockchain-backed marketplace for digital fashion has seen the way that the industry has responded to the changes in recent years. «We launched it in March 2020. What can you actually do with a digital garment file once you have it? The blockchain part is the bit that gives authenticity. Also, we’re all stakeholders – so whether you’re an end consumer, whether you’re a creator yourself or whether you’re a brand, it is a win-win situation. We are both avid fashion consumers as well and we were frustrated by the way that e-commerce is still about traditional fashion. We still buy, in some cases, 1000 dollars items just the same way we would buy a 10 dollars book. We had an idea in mind that we wanted to create a marketplace of accessibility towards digital fashion». Digital fashion is paving the way for a fairer future of the fashion business – creating better pay structures, with blockchain facilitating a percentage going to the creators of a digital garment, creating a burgeoning new field for a cohort of fashion design students and showing a way for digital fashion to build on the value of existing collections that have become legendary in fashion history. «Our goal was to launch a closed beta program, which we did in December to a small group of people: the fashion community, the gaming community and the crypto heads. Each of them has different use cases and motivations for being involved. We launched with just one own-branded product on our site. On February 24th, 2021 we released another non-fashion product – a monolith and it was sold out in 35 minutes. In the next month, we’ve got projects which are coming up. The next goal is that in September, we will launch an open beta with our curated mix, starting with around 20-30 brands and 100 pieces, and then at the beginning of next year we will open up so that the marketplace will be there for any creator, or individual». This democratic idea is one that fashion should look at embracing – fashion items like designer shoes have been replaced for Zoom tops, loungewear and digital fantasies over the course of the pandemic as users and consumers looked to outfit their digital personas as well as their physical ones online through items, collectables and filters.
The Dematerialised – a blockchain marketplace
On the marketplace creators can sell their pieces and have them authenticated through a blockchain system backed by Lukso, tracking them along the way. Games like Drest and other creators like Auroboros have shown that there is a clear market for digital-only garments that can be switched, traded and owned just like a collectable item. Many people still think that digital fashion is a field in its inception, an imitation of the real thing that can only be seen as ‘real’ fashion pieces through their cut cloth. High-end, realistic digital garments like the Fabricant’s digital-only ‘Iridescence’ dress sold as a tradeable, traceable piece of art for $9500 and created a furor online for its quality. The art world has also moved into blockchain with artists selling their pieces. Grimes, singer, artist and wife to Elon Musk made $6 million in twenty minutes by selling her work online and it would not be a long shot to apply the cryptocurrency boom to sell collectable fashion pieces as well as less traditional items to a group of fans already working and buying in the digital space. The world of blockchain and digital NFT’s (non-fungible tokens) is not one of exclusion – prices can vary between one dollar and one million dollars. «As a concept, we’re trying to deconstruct and educate people to see that actually, digital fashion is an alternative form to experience fashion and it’s democratized, it’s decentralized. Emerging research points to the notion that it is also less impactful on the environment. There is still a grey area over that when you add in cryptocurrency and if you add complicated or advanced artificial intelligence as a way of either serving the digital fashion or placing the digital fashion on you». Through Blockchain items are tracked across their lifecycle and don’t run into the risk of being out-sourced to third-party contractors like with physical fashion. Creating an items unique signature means that every garment is authenticated and stored. The possibility of trying on a digital garment as opposed to a physical one also has benefits in the sustainability race – trying on a realistic digital garment at home could reduce the number of returns that plague the industry. As the fashion world expands with new brands, consumers are unsure of what sizes work best for them. Digital garments would decrease the high amount of returns that come from ‘bracketing’, where shoppers get an item in two sizes for a better idea of fit. According to the IMRG Returns Review for 2020, in the fashion sector, against an average returns rate of 25% (which can be as high as 45%), menswear generates 21% returns, while womenswear generates 34% of returns.
The impact of the digital space on sustainability
With the fashion industry still not able or willing to address the need for immediate change and restructuring to the supply chain, digital fashion offers many solutions to how retailers, brands and shareholders can include digital garments in fashion by swapping out their physical counterparts that are used in displays for digital items that are high in realism. «If a company has invested in creating digital assets for a fashion show, why not potentially sell them as a new revenue stream? At the very least, don’t just use them for that fashion show, make sure to use them as a holographic window display, or another marketing plan. From a digital fashion perspective, how we can use digital fashion assets to change the cycle of traditional physical fashion? Using those digital assets that are in a fashion show and then put them on your e-commerce so that you can move towards a zero-inventory model, so you only produce what is actually in demand». Zero-inventory models could be a way for fashion brands to get rid of excess environmental impact. With the advent of digital, some wonder why this move hasn’t come sooner. With the development of technology allowing for realistic fabric creation and high-definition graphics, a zero-inventory model fronted by digital fashion seems like a logical way to show products to the clientele while actually delivering on the climate change promise, a goal that many brands are still falling behind on. Cryptocurrency and blockchain can seem confusing and at times, alienating to people who want fashion to remain a discipline that prioritizes craftwork and artistry in the physical form. What those people don’t realize is that the time and effort to build a digital garment can sometimes exceed that of a physical one, making it just as labour-intensive as it’s physical counterpart.
Blockchain in digital fashion
The NFT aspect of it maintains its quality, a key marker for traceability. «When you add on the crypto element, there’s a couple of different things brands can do. Few brands – I can count less than five – accept cryptocurrency as a payment via e-commerce. That is something that the industry needs to look into. There’s hype and noise around the concept of NFT’s at the moment and trying to give a digital identity to a digital piece. It’s also possible to do that to a physical piece as well. There’s a number of different major luxury players, who are looking at each of those options as well as a way to limit counterfeiting. Watchmakers like Franck Muller and Hublot have started selling some of their watch pieces using Bitcoin as a way of catering to exclusive customers. Musicians and artists have also started to use cryptocurrencies as a way of keeping fans loyal, offering them unique releases only accessible to those who have their currency. In Japan, this system works the same way with physical items – fans of popular girl groups buy CD’s in the hundreds to get points that aggregate for one-off rewards like concert seats or access to their idols at idol cafes. Could this work the same way with fashion items that can accrue in value over time? «the blockchain mechanism for digital fashion allows creators to take a cut. This is going to be the same for music, for art – every time you sell that piece, the original creator gets a royalty fee». The fashion design industry has shrunk in recent times and the pandemic has only exacerbated the way that design students were suddenly left without jobs or futures, prompting a world-wide drive by magazines and platforms to promote their work.
The future of the retail business model
Digital fashion could be a way for a younger generation to create new items, showcase their work and build-up businesses that are not dependent on existing fashion structures. Recently, the UK University of Creative Arts in Farnham has launched a one-of-a-kind MA in Digital Fashion, aimed at training the next generation of digital fashion creators. The other aspect of appeal for digital marketplaces comes from the digital archives of key brands within the industry. In the last ten years, the growth of the ‘fashion museum exhibition’ has shown that there is a key market for archive collection and garments from legendary designers from the fashion world. Archivists from brands like Alexander McQueen are working closely with digital creators looking to promote and showcase the attention to detail in heritage brands. For now, the future of The Dematerialised fashion marketplace seems to be going from strength to strength. The Dematerialised is launching in their open beta in September, opening their marketplace to all types of NFT products. While selling NFT’s may not be a new proposition, the idea behind The Dematerialised focuses on authentication first, making every creator a valued part of the process. Without the innovations behind blockchain and its applications in fashion, a future for digital retail may not have been possible. As the pandemic has resulted in the shift online, digital can bring in a quicker retail model that focuses on giving creativity its dues while also being fully traceable.IMAGE GALLERY
is a blockchain backed marketplace for non-fungible tokens like digital garments that was set up by Karinna Nobbs and Marjorie Hernandez in March 2020.
The first official pre-launch drop is an exclusive collaboration with digital fashion pioneers RTFKT x THE FABRICANT and launches on April 16th 2021