Is 2022 Fashion’s year of the Metaverse? The earliest use of “Metaverse” is accredited to science fiction writer Neal Stephenson in his 1992 novel Snow Crash. We have edged towards his vision ever since, with perhaps the rise of videogaming as the driving force. So, as much in life, it’s not entirely a new idea. But with Facebook’s recent announcement, the World’s most populist tech titan has gone “all-in” and the Metaverse has been thrust to the fore.For the world of fashion, built largely upon the suspension of disbelief, the Metaverse offers intrigue, creativity, and a digital community for all. But whilst we can probably agree on a future state where humans interact digitally through a three-dimensional virtual space, should we care about it in 2022? Much of my working life has touched the Metaverse. In the 1990s, I pioneered the first adverts to appear inside videogames; perhaps the earliest form of digital advertising. The intrigue was in how to merge our real world with its digital twin. Avirex leather flying jackets equipped your F1 fighter pilot. Adidas Predator boots helped your footballer score. The list went on…. We called it interactive advertising and looked to build immersive brand experiences…even in a 1990’s Metaverse. About a decade ago Nick Robertson, ASOS’ founder, invited me to scout its digital future. The power of fashion was, I believed, its universal appeal. I was immediately hooked. So, as we enter 2022, should fashion jump on the Metaverse train? Well, it is certainly in the station. Here is a brief selection of some near-term Metaverse opportunities that fashion can use to delight and serve:
- Gamification – E-commerce has a way to go in its potential to deliver a truly digital experience for the shopper. Gamification is a superpower that can help us to get there. It is about how we might use the techniques found within videogames to deliver repeatable and addictive behaviour. Just think for a moment of one such technique – the success of eBay’s countdown clock and how it leveraged scarcity to drive up bids. The Metaverse will rely heavily upon gamification techniques, and it will force fashion retailers to move away from today’s task focused catalogues and towards a future of human focused design.
- NFT – A non-fungible token, or NFT for short, is any type of digital content that is also attached to a digital ledger otherwise known as a blockchain. In essence, NFT’s will add to the unique and personalised experience of the Metaverse. Uniqueness is already a powerful driver for luxury fashion, but through NFT’s even fast fashion (eg BoohooMan) can explore the power of one. The Metaverse promises to make each of us feel special and NFT’s will be one of the ways it goes about this. To learn why NFTs (non-fungible tokens) are being adopted by fashion retail, read Why it’s game on for ‘phygital’ NFT.
- Blockchain – A blockchain is essentially a ledger. It is a way of storing vast amounts of transactional information that cannot be cheated, because it exists simultaneously across a network of computers. Initially, we imagined the use of a blockchain to create forms of digital money (eg cryptos), and more recently we used this technology to decentralise the world of finance. But in a Metaverse future, its use is even more thrilling. Instantly and securely, we will be able to track unlimited events of both products and shoppers. It is truly game changing!
- Avatars and Digital Twins – These are virtual representations of people and objects. Social media allowed us to explore our digital personas and it remains a contentious issue as to whether we should use our real names. But the social media we know today might just be our proof of concept. Companies like DressX are already exploring the potential for fashion here, but the recent announcement by Nike that it has purchased RTFKT Studios, a brand that makes virtual sneakers, moves the conversation to an entirely new level. The Metaverse will become the most social network of all, and we will want our digital selves to look the part. But we will also reveal data around our personal style and fit that enables fashion retail to strike a new deal with its customer, thereby reducing wasteful returns.
- Mirrorworlds – Whether augmented or virtual, every physical thing can exist in our digital mirrorworlds. Whilst the aim is to create a seamless interaction between human and computer, the way brands and retailers will use their creativity to represent their individual mirrorworlds is intriguing. Will it be lifelike or pure fantasy? Will we walk through it or not? There are still many questions to be answered. But in the end, we might see this as a blank canvass for fashion to develop the new skill of interactive storytelling.
- Filters – It is already clear that we will access the Metaverse through a variety of filters. The earliest examples started with computer screens and text. Jump forward a generation or two and mobile natives moved to imagery, with Instagram crowned as champion. Today’s mobile devices point to new filters such as voice technology and the internet of things.
- MMORPG – A massively multiplayer online role-playing game, better known as MMORPG is the slightly clunky acronym we first used to describe the Metaverse. This took the form of smash hit games like World of Warcraft. With their huge global communities, they allowed the individual player to explore their game world, whilst simultaneously interacting with others. The rise of e-commerce developed our understanding that a Metaverse future will blend an ability to play but also to shop. In 2003 Second Life led the charge. More recently, Roblox demonstrated another glimpse of our Metaverse future as we create shared digital experiences that bring people together through play.
- Magic – Fundamentally, videogames are powered by technology, but it is their use of tricks that immerse us within their worlds. The Metaverse, too, will leverage this magic and this will become fashion’s new weapon. To some degree, we are already seeing this through the increasing sophistication of virtual fashion shows, especially in our pandemic restricted world.
- RFID – Retailers such as adidas, Decathlon and Levis are already leading the charge in their use of radio frequency identification, or RFID, to solve important operational issues such as stock accuracy and availability. But tomorrow’s smart tags will go much further, building a bridge between fashion’s physical and Metaverse worlds. Retail’s winners will learn to play at its intersection.
Fashion’s use of the Metaverse will certainly be game-like. This also seems to be shared by Satya Nadella, Microsoft’s chair and chief executive, who, following the recent news on Microsoft’s enormous acquisition of the gaming giant, Activision, said that gaming “will play a key role in the development of metaverse platforms. It now looks like there are ($)60 billion reasons why fashion should follow the Drapers guide. 😊