Technological innovations are revolutionary in certain ways, and this is especially true with the fashion industry. The sewing machine, for example, totally changed the norms of garment production of the 19th century. In 1935, Dupont Chemicals patented nylon, proving to be a hit when introduced to the public years later. In the 90s, the rise of online shopping platforms transformed the retail experience. But none of these seemed to be quite as revolutionary as the introduction of VR (virtual reality) into fashion.
VR is the use of computer simulation that enables an individual to interact with virtual, three-dimensional visual environments. While most people commonly link VR to video games, this medium can be used in many other ways. In fashion, in particular, there is a plethora of applications for it. From virtual fashion shows to virtual stores, experimenting with this channel seems to be very much in vogue.
As with any other technological innovation, the emergence of VR has unveiled many uncertainties. Using such a device is certainly very exciting, but we must consider the negative consequences it could have along with the positives.
Virtual Reality And Sustainability
Because it offers so many options, VR tech could help the fashion industry become more sustainable. More specifically, it could help reduce garment production’s environmental impact. Companies usually need to go through thousands of samples, using plenty of materials just to create a few hundred garments. Such use of resources is far from aligned with sustainable development principles.
VR offers a simple solution to this by allowing for digital creation. When creating samples through virtual simulation and designing tools, brands can reduce their negative impact on the environment significantly. That’s not to say that digital production doesn’t pollute, but its negative effects might be a lot less significant, with physical production reserved for garments meant to be purchased.
Some brands have taken this concept a step further, creating exclusively digital pieces. The Fabricant famously produced “Iridescence,” which was the first digital haute couture dress. The company expects NFTs (non-fungible tokens) and other types of digital garments to become the future of fashion. They could be used as “skins” on VR video game platforms for dressing up one’s digital persona. For example, one could outfit their avatar in a pair of Gucci’s $12 virtual sneakers or in something from Tommy Hilfiger’s Fall 2020 Animal Crossing collection.
Furthermore, in the realm of sustainability, virtual reality fashion shows might have less of an environmental impact than regular shows. People usually fly out hectically from all over the world for fashion weeks, and airplanes are not exactly environmentally friendly. Hence, bringing fashion shows into people’s homes might be a good alternative.
With all of that being said, it seems that a lot of digital garments like “Iridescence” come in the form of NFTs. They are one-of-a-kind digital collectibles that hold a unique code and are stored in a unique blockchain. Blockchain tech requires quite a lot of energy, so it generates an exorbitant amount of greenhouse gases. Thus, it’s safe to say that NFTs are far from carbon neutrality.
By providing so many possibilities to the fashion world, VR could unintentionally become the great equalizer of fashion. For example, digital fashion gives widespread access to designer brands, and online fashion shows give the public a peek and provide access to it in ways never seen before.
Hence, virtual reality might become the perfect solution to the elitist nature of the fashion industry. This fits in nicely with the wave of inclusion that is currently rippling through mainstream political discourse in many western countries.
Living In A Virtual World
There’s no denying that the rise of the digital brings with it a myriad of benefits. But there are clear disadvantages to spending most of our lives looking at a screen.
The introduction of virtual reality into fashion means that more people will be spending more time on their phones and computers. If designs, runway shows, and e-commerce are accessible through VR, a huge amount of the population will eventually be compelled to participate. What would the consequences be?
Unsurprisingly, the use of VR technology could lead to developing myopia or nearsightedness and an atrophied eye-brain connection. More generally, though, spending a long time staring at a screen can lead to sleep problems, addiction, or mental health issues.
With this in mind, it’s possible that the democratizing effect of virtual reality may not be beneficial after all.
As we previously mentioned, using VR to design and develop samples can bring many advantages to fashion companies. It could allow them to spend far less on physical resources and employees, hence permitting them to maximize profits.
Moreover, VR and AR (augmented reality) could allow brands to upgrade e-commerce experiences. It would enable them to add online shopping’s missing piece to the mix: the chance to try on clothes. This could boost a brand’s profits by increasing the likelihood of purchases.
Nonetheless, the fact that VR might increase a company’s profit doesn’t mean that it would benefit employees.
The Inevitability Of Unemployment
The truth is, despite all the benefits, the fashion industry’s transition into VR will likely result in thousands of people losing their jobs: virtual artists would replace garment manufacturers, brick-and-mortar store employees would be fired for web developers, digital counterparts would replace real models, and physical event planners would no longer be needed.