Meet the brands making digital-only clothing as an alternative to fast fashion | Sunday Observer

Meet the brands making digital-only clothing as an alternative to fast fashion

2 May, 2021

#FashionCrisis is a series that kicks off Teen Vogue’s commitment to educating our readers about sustainability and fashion. We chat with experts, influencers, designers, beauty and fashion brands about what it really means to be sustainable in 2020. In this story, Laura Pitcher chats with two fashion brands who are making digital-only clothing as an alternative to fast fashion and over consumption.

In an era where’ fit pics’ rule our Instagram feeds, it’s not uncommon for an outfit to be viewed as ‘postable’ only once. Take Fashion Nova, for example. Instagram’s most popular brand has mastered the art of mass-producing popular styles for the purpose of photographing and discarding them.

This is just part of our current fast fashion conundrum. We’re consuming and discarding more outfits than ever before, and it’s coming at a cost to our planet. If the fashion industry continues its projected growth, it could be responsible for a quarter of the earth’s climate budget by 2050.

There are multiple proposed sustainable ‘solutions. Most include creating pieces from biodegradable materials, turning to thrifted clothing, or simply buying less (or boycotting fashion altogether). Less discussed is the potential for digital-only clothing to fulfil our newfound need for ‘fit pics’ without the environmental side-effects.

This is a not-so-foreign concept considering that there are already mega-famous digital supermodels and CGI influencers or the fact that we’re all using Instagram’s AR filters.

Progress is already being made to tap into potential technology to improve the fashion industry, including virtual trial rooms and analytics that can help improve retail productivity (and therefore reduce waste), but digital-only clothing brings up another discussion entirely.

Instead of using technology to sell a physical garment, AI clothing makes an argument for the not-physically-wearable outfit. Much like a filter, one-off garments have the potential to exist only online, voiding the clothing life cycle altogether.

The concept is already in practice. In 2018, Scandinavian retailer Carlings released its first digital clothing collection, consisting of 19 genderless, sizeless pieces. ‘Wearers’ would send in their image to be ‘digitally tailored’ through photo manipulation. The demand was so high, pieces sold out within a week. Each piece cost between €10 and €30.

Because of the overwhelming response, Carlings decided to experiment with merging the physical and digital world to give garments a ‘digital afterlife,’ dropping the first augmented reality t-shirt at the end of last year. With a graphic logo that acts as a tracking point for a smartphone, wearers could choose between four designs using Spark AR technology on their phones.

Nathalie Nguyen and Dominic Lopez, founders of the virtual and physical clothing brand Happy99, have a different idea of what digital-only clothing should be. Since posting their first digital shoe, in 2018, they’re not interested in editing Instagram photos for customers. Instead, they look to AI clothing as something to help build brand identity and ultimately open up a dialogue about what it means to consume.

Nguyen and Lopez post-digital designs in the hope of building a loyal fan base whose members are happy to appreciate the products without their own image being part of the experience.

They have, so far, been successful, attracting fans from all walks of life, including Angus Cloud from Euphoria.

Those who have had the opportunity to ‘wear’ digital-only clothing, like Swedish stylist, designer, and Youtuber Lisa Anckarman, who modelled the first Carlings collection, have had a digital experience shared by few people.

“My followers loved it right away. Of course, it took a while to process the whole concept, but looking back on the feedback, my comments were filled with excitement and curiosity,” Anckarman tells Teen Vogue.

While buying a design for a single photo may seem indulgent to some, reducing textile waste makes it worth exploring further. With digital-only clothing already gaining interest among influencers, it’s not hard to imagine a future where one-off outfits (or experimental and haute couture pieces) don’t have to be physically made. This makes digital clothing perhaps the most creative solution to fashion’s environmental footprint yet.

There’s no denying that those who venture into the digital clothing space are creating innovative work in relatively unexplored territory, but the current flaw with AI as a sustainable solution is that it has yet to prove in a scalable way that it can replace fast fashion sales.

As more designers and brands explore the area, it’s only a matter of time before we have that answer. In the meantime, we should all be less afraid to post that outfit twice, for the sake of the planet.