The downturn in the non-fungible token market has helped clear the slate of speculators, leaving those truly engaged with digital fashions to lead conversation and commerce in the space.
“It used to be the kiss of death if you didn’t sell out,” Dani Loftus, chief executive officer and founder of digital fashion platform Draup, told WWD’s Tech Symposium, lamenting that most purchases during the heady days of NFTs were made by people “looking to make money off them in the future.”
Now that the market has cooled off, “if you’re in the space and you are collecting, it is because you are committed to the culture, or you see a utility in the good itself,” she said.
When Draup launched earlier this year with a 648-item collection, Loftus was happily surprised that the most expensive styles, retailing for around $2,000, sold better than the cheapest items.
In future, she plans to focus on “smaller batches,” single product-category drops, and more limited-edition timings “to start warming up the market.”
For Charli Cohen, CEO and founder of next-gen wearables firm Rstlss, the downturn accentuated that clients of digital fashions expect to have an open conversation with businesses and they’re not afraid to speak up when they don’t like something.
“With this last drop that we did, when we initially announced the price, we had a lot of pushback on that from the community because of the bear market,” she said. “So we got everybody’s feedback and opinions and came back with a staggered pricing system based on what the community had previously collected, and came to a middle ground that most people were happy with.
“It’s quite expected within the Web3 space that it should be collaborative,” she stressed.
Loftus and Cohen were in conversation with Ian Rogers, chief experience officer at Ledger, who probed what pieces might be missing from the Web3 ecosystem in order to “bring this kind of digital fashion to a more mainstream customer.”
Rogers characterized Loftus and Cohen as “pioneers” in the space.
Cohen started her career in physical fashion at age 15, and progressive work on AR and VR experiences for her customers led her into gradually working more with the gaming industry, and ultimately, launching Rstlss last year “to make it really easy for artists, creators and brands to start engaging with this digital space, to easily be able to create and sell digital wearables that can be taken into games, into avatar-based social spaces, and they still have physical garments attached to them as well.”
Rsltss recently did a collaboration with generative AI artist Claire Silver called “Pixelgeist,” offering customers one of six different silhouettes with Silver’s artworks applied as textures and patterns.
Loftus worked in the emerging tech space for years, most recently as an innovation consultant, before she started the platform This Outfit Does Not Exist, and eventually Draup.
“As somebody who has always been so interested and passionate about fashion, it was so obvious to me that we have these virtual identities. We also have this insanely present sustainability imperative in the fashion industry. And we would obviously shift toward a world where digital clothes were an obvious solution,” she explained.
Loftus likened Draup to a “digitally native Dover Street Market” — an infrastructure where collectors can find the best of digital fashion, wear it in AR, wear it in games, and also display it in a virtual wardrobe.
She also introduced a house brand known as Pronounced Drop that operates under the idea that “code is couture.”
“We’re trying to integrate craft into the creation of digital clothing, and to storytell, and demonstrate that just because we are using technologies, which seem like they’re automated and scalable, that doesn’t mean there is not heavy craft, talent and skill involved in the creation of this clothing in the way you would find in a traditional couturier,” Loftus argued.
Rogers likened digital fashion houses to luxury brands. Being new, they may lack heritage, but not content.
“If you’re starting a new brand, you’re creating a new story,” he explained. “So yes, you guys are both new brands, creating new stories, collaborating with known artists, and ultimately creating digital worlds.”
The stumbling point for many people remains the use case, Rogers lamented.
Cohen and Loftus countered that the end consumer can upload digital fashions as an AR filter for social channels, wear them in games, or for digital gatherings on any number of platforms.
“If you’re coming in and buying as an investor, because you’re hoping there’ll be secondary resale value, then the more utility and interoperability that item has, the more valuable it is to potentially the next buyer that you’re going to sell it on to,” Cohen said. “We really set it up so you, as the person minting and buying, can choose what’s most valuable to you.”
“Clothing creates context, in the way that you wouldn’t go to a Lakers game necessarily in your full haute couture dress and expect it to be truly appreciated,” Loftus commented. “You as the consumer have control over the way that you wear it and the way that you engage with it.”
Rogers encouraged people to experiment with digital fashion in order to understand the ecosystem, and that it’s not so different from physical clothing.
“Fashion is in the business of identity. It has the function of expressing who you are; it has the function of expressing who you are affiliated with. And it also has the function of expressing your status within that group affiliation,” Loftus explained. “It’s something that is here now. We buy our clothes on e-commerce sites to be worn on social media. So anybody who thinks they haven’t engaged with a digital identity yet, and maybe because they’re not a gamer, for example, is probably completely and utterly wrong.”
Cohen agreed, saying, “Fashion has never been just about clothes, it’s about how we’re channeling culture and representing ourselves… If you’ve ever used a filter on Instagram, you’ve engaged in digital fashion in some way.”