The startup Syky, a digital fashion e-commerce platform, unveiled its first cohort of digital fashion designers on June 27. Digital clothing is becoming increasingly prominent on platforms like Roblox and Fortnite, as well as in AR, and the market forecast for the sector is promising. The category’s impact on fashion as a whole could prove significant, to say the least.
Syky announced the close of a $10.5 million Series A funding round in January, led by entrepreneur Alexis Ohanian’s investment firm Seven Seven Six. The round was also funded by Brevan Howard Digital, Leadout Capital, First Light Capital Group and Polygon Ventures.
Syky’s year-long mentorship program has earned support from top voices in the industry, including British Fashion Council CEO Caroline Rush. Industry executives serving as program mentors include Calvin Klein CMO Jonathan Bottomley, Syky founder Alice Delahunt and Red DAO co-founder Megan Kaspar. The first 10 digital designers chosen for this Syky “Collective” include Stephy Fung and Pet Liger, who had previously sold small collections of their designs through partnerships.
Syky aims to do for digital fashion designers what programs like the BFC’s NewGen have done for physical designers like Simone Rocha, Jonathan Anderson and Christopher Raeburn, in terms of its role in getting their businesses off the ground. For the Syky Collective, the BFC is opening up its NewGen program for the first time, giving the Collective members access to a wealth of mentorship, management tools and educational opportunities. The NewGen program provides grants and mentorships to traditional emerging designers.
“You can’t just be a designer [today]; you have to be a CEO, a CMO and a CFO,” said Syky’s Delahunt. Delahunt was previously chief digital & content officer at Ralph Lauren and global director of digital and social at Burberry. “You have to have legal advice and established legal entities. And so we offer all of the above.”
The Collective designers will have access to experts who can assist with establishing legal entities, setting strong marketing strategies and building on the blockchain.
“It’s expensive to start a physical fashion house,” said Delahunt. “That’s why so many amazing creative directors and designers end up in big houses. Many of the small houses also end up within big conglomerates like LVMH, Kering or PVH because of the heavy cost of goods, supply chain [management] and physical spaces. It’s really expensive.”
Both young and established brands especially feel that financial crunch during down market conditions. Seventeen-year-old brand and previous NewGen recipient Christopher Kane filed for administration in June.
Routes for experienced digital fashion designers include being absorbed into big brands. On Thursday, Ralph Lauren posted a job for a senior digital creative designer for Polo Women’s, with a salary range of $80,000-$171,000. Creating “high-quality digital experiences” is listed as a responsibility. While brands are looking for digital designers, few digital designers are actively creating their own brands. Selling individual digital fashion items is typically done through partnerships with creative or gaming studios. An exception includes independent Roblox fashion designer Samuel Jordan.
“Digital worlds like Roblox and Fortnite are emerging. The right tools like Blender are now free, and people and their avatars are wearing more digital fashion,” said Delahunt. Blender is a digital fashion design tool available online.
According to Allied Market Research, the global digital clothing industry is estimated to reach 4.8 billion dollars by 2031, a significant step up from the 498.7 million dollars it generated in 2021.
Among other support, Syky is focused on giving the designers access to a community. Syky’s 987-member token community that launched in January through a sale of NFTs gets access to editors, CEOs, creators and other executives for educational opportunities. The Collective will be granted the same access. The executives were not paid to be part of the program, but they were gifted the NFTs.
“Digital fashion designers represent an entirely new breed, coming from diverse backgrounds including gaming, graphic design, 3D design and even tech,” said Anne-Liese Prem, brand strategist and web3 educator. “Identifying the most talented among them and what they can do for fashion is nearly impossible for an outsider. Syky possesses the expertise to not only spot these talents but also to connect them with the right networks, enabling them to develop and advance the field of digital fashion as a whole through their work.”
The fact that Syky allows Collective designers to put their work on-chain allows them to receive dividends in perpetuity when their items are first sold and then traded.
“On-chain activities give fashion designers the ability to establish a capital base early on,” said Delahunt. “This can help them grow and scale their businesses without needing to become a creative director of an established house or join one of the bigger spaces just to survive. Syky takes a 5% allocation of the designers’ respective companies.”
The intention is that designers will be able to use the advice they get during the program to build out their own brand, if that’s their chosen pathway. However, it remains to be seen whether the Syky Collective will be enough to bring digital designers to the forefront of fashion design.