There was much movement across fashion and the metaverse in 2022. That included the first Metaverse Fashion Week, the launch of phygital events and garments, the explosion of fashion on Roblox, and the realized importance of virtual communities for brands.
With Facebook adopting the Meta name in late 2021, the term “metaverse” started to lose meaning. In its place, web3 has increasingly been used to define digital experiences and interactions across a number of platforms.
“The curiosity around web3 is there, but poor user experience and overuse of jargon is still a barrier to entry for many people,” said Charli Cohen, founder of digital fashion brand RSTLSS. “2023 will be about moving away from the tech itself as the focus, and instead simply implementing it in the background to seamlessly improve people’s experiences and their connectivity with brands and creators.”
Although brands were initially keen to integrate metaverse- and crypto-native terminology into their day-to-day, many were met with resistance from their core customers and have since made changes to educate and increase accessibility to their virtual activations. For example, in December, Nike announced a city-hopping tour to educate customers about its web3 site dotSWOOSH, set to roll out in the next few months.
At the beginning of the 2022, virtual world platform Decentraland was the place to be, hosting dozens of digital real estate launches by beauty and fashion brands. On March 22, the platform hosted Metaverse Fashion Week, the first-ever fashion to bring together digital-only brands, like DressX, DMAT and Auroboros, traditional fashion brands, like DKNY, Tommy Hilfiger and Paco Rabanne, and retailers like Selfridges.
Although the event received over 100,000 visitors, its lower resolution and lack of gamification elements hurt its success. As such, its founders are updating the format for the 2023 edition.
“In 2022, Decentraland and Sandbox were digital hubs for digital and phygital events in web3,” said Marjorie Hernandez, co-founder of blockchain Lukso and digital fashion marketplace The Dematerialised. “Communities and brands have been looking for places to evolve, build and interact together in both the physical and digital dimensions.”
Since Metaverse Fashion Week, many retailers and brands have embraced gaming platform Roblox (over 58.8 million users worldwide), which has proven an easier way to engage Gen Z and get into digital worlds. After Gucci’s buzzy Gucci Garden activation in 2021, Roblox has attracted brands including Nike (29 million visitors) and Tommy Hilfiger (28 million visitors), which now have their own brand worlds on the platform. Although the game does not support blockchain or NFTs like Decentraland and Sandbox, it has become brands’ go-to place for building mini gaming environments, with the support of creator studios that have spent years designing on Roblox. 2022’s brand activations on Roblox largely focused on obbys, or obstacle courses, as well as digital shopping environments.
Mishi McDuff, founder of the House of Blueberry content studio, has worked with brands like Jonathan Simkhai and Natori to create digital collections. She said gamers are not necessarily buying into products or brands in web3; instead, they’re buying into a community. “Some brands make the mistake of simply trying to push their products into a new metaverse environment, without taking the time to understand the players and cater to what they want,” she said. “Any successful metaverse strategy must take into account the unique attributes of each gaming community.”
According to Winnie Burke, head of fashion and beauty partnerships on Roblox, “As brands are realizing that Roblox is a place where people are building meaningful connections and expressing themselves within an immersive social setting, their interest in investing in ongoing community engagement on Roblox is growing. Brands are building persistent virtual spaces on Roblox, like Gucci Town, Tommy Play and Alo Sanctuary, to meet Gen-Z consumers where they are in the metaverse.”
Many digital environments established by fashion brands in 2022 were temporary. For example, Ralph Lauren launched a winter-specific activation on Roblox to feel out the platform. But virtual shopping environments also grew in popularity. As brands focus on communities, perpetual spaces that they build and expand are set to become the default this year.
Community building and engagement have also led to the growth of platforms like Discord, where web3 natives are engaging with traditional and digital-only brands including Gucci (over 50,000 Discord members), RTFKT (over 240,000 members) and Adidas (over 55,000 members). In February, NFT project MetaBirkins collaborator Jesse Lee said, “If I have 20,000 people in Discord, I can reach 20,000 people with a single post. That doesn’t happen on Instagram, right? If you build a real community, you have direct access.”
The importance of direct communication between brands and their communities via platforms including Discord and Twitter was heightened in 2022. For Nike-owned digital goods company RTFKT, Twitter feedback allowed for a quick response to complications around its IRL sneaker drop and NFT launch in December.
Daria Shapovalova and Natalia Modenova, founders of digital fashion platform DressX, said the industry needs more simplicity for web3 tools and entrances. “Projects with utility will stay relevant. Now, good user experience is key,” said Shapovalova. “The bear market in 2022 cleaned up scam projects and pump-and-dump projects. There is potential now for M&A in the space, with digital fashion continuing to develop faster than web3.”
2022 was also the year for new technologies like augmented and virtual reality to be put to the test by brands as customers came back to stores; bringing virtual and IRL worlds together became a focus. For its part, Snap came out with solutions for full-look AR try-on via mobile and also in-store digital mirrors, allowing more people to become familiar with the technology. Full retail integration is still far off, but more brands are set to bring AR to stores this year as they build on phygital experiences.
“We will see much more integration of physical and digital,” said Cohen. “Physical garments enabled with AR lenses, NFC chips and digital twins will become much more commonplace. Physical shows, exhibitions and retail will also start to implement more digital layers, like geolocated virtual experiences and collectibles.” Fashion Week and Art Basel have become key locations for these phygital experiences, with more expected to be introduced in 2023.
Many digital-first fashion brands like 9dcc, MHRS 8-bit and RTFKT came out with phygital collections last year, some of which include NFC chips that tie digital NFT goods to physical pieces for authentication. For traditional brand products, RFID tags have become a popular security and authentication technology that allows a product to be tied to the blockchain.
“We will see better uses of the web3 technology, moving beyond profile pics (PFPs) toward uses around digitizing contracts and processes,” said Grant Flannery, vp of planning at creative agency Huge. “In 2023, we will see more PFPs, staking, coins and metaverse development, but I expect we will have to wait for 2024 for a fully playable metaverse that allows us to live up to Ready Player One expectations.”