“Even in digital life, we don’t want to look like boring copies.”

We can already highlight a fashion trend that is skyrocketing for 2023: it seems that the metaverse will be an integral part of the strategy of brands and designers worldwide. How does the Belgian market behave in this online world? And why will you (and your children) come into contact with digital clothing more and more often?

One of the most remarkable fashion weeks of the past year did not take place in Paris or Milan, but in what is called the metaverse.

During Metaverse Fashion Week (MFW) in March 2022, 100,000 people participated in an experience where designers and fashion brands presented digital creations, with the aim of connecting the next generation of designers with well-known traditional labels. Dolce & Gabbana, Tommy Hilfiger, Paco Rabanne and Selfridges were notably present. You can sit in the front row of virtual rooms, buy physical and digital clothes and browse through NFT.

Metaverse?

Small reminder. There is still no definitive definition for “metaverse”. Several descriptions and interpretations circulate about the contents of this digital world. Or better yet these worldsbecause at the moment all kinds of digital platforms are establishing an online experience and connection, but they are not (yet) connected to each other.

These are websites like Decentraland, Spatial or Over that bet on games, virtual reality or even augmented reality, where the digital is combined with real life. The Metaverse is a way to connect online, with other players or with brands that are opening locations there.

Read also: NFTs, your digital property tokens, coming soon to Instagram

Information has already been communicated for the second edition of MFW, from March 28 to 31, 2023. “Last year, we highlighted one of the strongest sectors for the metaverse: digital fashion,” explains Giovanna Graziosi Casimiro, Director of MFW . “Because we all don’t want to look like a single, boring copy of the same avatar in our digital lives. Just like in the real world, we all want to individualize and nurture our personal aesthetic. »

Although it may still seem a lot like the introduction of a new episode of black-mirror, all this is not as American or as far-fetched as one might think. The Belgian fashion sector has also moved forward in this digital (fashion) world, aiming to conquer new ways to build customer loyalty and explore new opportunities for the future of brands.

Advertising 2.0

JBC was the first Belgian brand to enter the metaverse. In April 2022, the company opened a virtual store in the wildly popular game Fortnite, where players can complete a series of missions and earn tokens to continue their in-game adventures. In October, JBC launched a new collection with Flemish pop star Camille on Roblox, another very popular game.

This way, we can directly reach our new fans who no longer work with a newsletter.

Katrien Vangrunderbeeck, JBC

“This game is very popular with our younger customers,” says JBC spokeswoman Katrien Vangrunderbeeck. “We can discover the collection exclusively there, before it physically arrives in stores and also attend a virtual concert of Camille. With the tokens you earn by having fun in the game, you can then “buy” clothes for your avatar. »

The brand has very consciously chosen not to make it a revenue model now, insists Katrien Vangrunderbeeck. “It should be accessible to everyone. This way, we can reach our new fans directly, which is not possible by sending a newsletter to parents. You could say it’s an alternative form of advertising, yes, but it’s first and foremost a way to change our customers’ experience. »

“We are internally reviewing JBC’s future deployments in the metaverse, but we cannot talk more about them at this time. It is certain that we will continue to invest in this total experience in the future. »

High fashion

Experience. This word continues to appear in all articles on the metaverse. Through new platforms, fashion brands want their potential customers to discover them in a different way. “The importance of engaging with your customer will become more and more important,” says subject matter expert Ann Claes, who in addition to her role at Flanders DC also founded digital fashion agency Mutani. She wants to help a new generation of designers to find a place in the (digital) world of fashion.

“Our ability to focus is constantly diminishing,” says Ann Claes. “The more time someone spends with your brand or story, the stronger the connection will be. Instead of wanting to impose yourself through advertising, this is a way to create a real experience and added value. Nobody wants to receive traditional spam anymore, so brands will have to invest in building an authentic connection with their customers. Gamification of fashion, for example, has great potential. »

Our ability to focus keeps getting shorter. The more time someone spends with your brand or story, the stronger the connection will be.

Ann Claes, Mutani

With Mutanin, Ann Claes and her partner Shayli Harrison also want to give Belgian fashion designers a boost. In December, they presented a preview of their Antwerp Cyber-Six project in Miami, where they digitized an outfit for six students from the Antwerp Fashion Academy. “Since we will present the full collection at the end of January during haute couture week, I don’t want to talk too much about it in detail,” she explains, “but the idea is that we can use these objects and these. outfits in different ways in the metaverse to buy NFT, on different platforms. »

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This digital collection includes Shayli Harrison, Flora Miranda, Max Rittler, Nadav Perlman and Stefan Kartchev. The most striking name in these Antwerp Cyber-Six is ​​probably that of Brandon Wen, the new director of the Antwerp Fashion Academy since September. “Brandon will also see if he can incorporate his experience into training,” says Ann Claes.

Read also: Meeting | Brandon Wen, iconoclastic American designer, successor to Walter Van Beirendonck at the Antwerp Academy

“The fact that this opens up possibilities was also proven by another project of Stefan’s, where he expanded his first physical collection by selling a digital collection. It shows what is possible, not only financially, but also creatively. More and more designers are letting themselves be inspired by digital worlds in their work. »

Lifetime warranty

While JBC has yet to tie a business plan to its presence in the metaverse, new Belgian brand Les Vilains has taken the plunge. In September, it launched for the first time on Spatial figital fashion, where customers receive an NFT with the purchase of a physical t-shirt from the collection. “Les Vilains was born out of frustration and a dream,” notes its founder Stephane Willems. “Millions of clothes end up in landfills in several countries every year, we think this can change.” »

“We release a collection every quarter, each time designed by a Belgian graphic designer, which is mostly digital. Parts are only made when we have enough orders, we don’t have stock. That way, we can be very conscious of waste within our brand. We consider these NFTs as a ticket to the digital world where your avatars can sport our creations, but also as a virtual service book for a lifetime warranty. When you own this NFT, we promise to always repair our clothes or make a new piece. »

Even for Stephane Willems, experience is a defining word. “We have a showroom in Spatial where people can discover our brand and where our new collections will be presented. People are buying more and more online, this gives them an additional experience in this group. »

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Join the store

Therefore, if the first Belgian players are establishing themselves in small steps in the metaverse, at the moment there is no big increase. There is nothing illogical, according to Ann Claes: “Even on a global scale, the number of companies present in the metaverse is still limited, but growing. I think this rise will continue. It often takes a long time to build something good. In Belgium, we find ourselves with a specific fashion landscape where the big operators follow trends instead of creating them. They won’t be at the forefront right away, but I think the most creative designers and young talents will be. »

We can no longer prevent this development

Stéphane Willems, The Villains

For many companies, the metaverse still needs to prove itself first, believes JBC’s Katrien Vangrunderbeeck. “When we look at the installation of online stores, Belgium has also caught this train relatively late. For many brands, the metaverse is still only a channel for promotion, not sales. It always takes pioneers to take the first steps. Limburg’s modesty means we certainly won’t qualify as such, but we have played this pioneering role several times in the past. »

“I think the revolution is coming,” also says Stéphane Willems of Les Vilains. “Metaverse will not replace stores, after all, people remain social beings who want to exist offline. But a beautiful amalgamation of the two? It’s already happening and we can’t stop it. »

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