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Is the current crisis accelerating digital fashion experiments?

Being groundbreaking in times of uncertainty

What would a store with no products look like? Last year Karinna Nobbs, educator and fashion researcher, proposed an alternate retail future launching HOT:SECOND – the world’s first circular economy retail concept. This digital fashion experience entailed a customer journey outside the ordinary, letting shoppers trade physical goods for digital experiences. Customers would try on and receive digital fashion garments as replacement for their old ones – a thought experiment equalizing the value of virtual products to physical ones. But what does the future of digital fashion experiments look like when the world is facing severe financial challenges? And how do you even convince retailers and brands to take risk and step into the unknown when facing so much external uncertainty? Karinna shares her learnings from playing out digital fashion ideas that seem like they are coming from the future.

Illustration of a store with virtual experiences with digital fashion
Karinna’s circular concept store where the customer trades physical garments for digital experiences

Proving the value of virtual fashion products

What was the most surprising insight you got from letting people walk through this experience? 

It was def how much they didn’t mind that it was a WIP and that it was limited in its capacity, i.e. it was a static image overlaid onto the live camera feed. They really felt and I could see their enjoyment and wonder at getting to try something new and many offered suggestions about how they saw it being part of their fashion purchasing experience in the future. Only a few people working within the industry displayed some frustration at the rudimentary nature of the tech – but even still they commended it overall as a concept as it was a conversation generator and for those working in digital fashion it helped the conversation along a bit!

Now, more than ever consumers will seek fantasy as a way to deal with reality and I really believe digital fashion can contribute to this

Karinna Nobbs

What did people do with the virtual garments they received?

They took pictures of themselves within the experience – my plan was that I was going to email and print out a copy of them in their favorite outfit but from the moment I opened the store I was so busy that the printer was on the desk but I didn’t get a min to set it up as I had 3 events on each day. Most people said in feedback that having that digital and physical memory would have been a desirable addition. So for the next one it will be factored in earlier.

Being a digital frontrunner

In times of financial recession and virus outbreak, how do you pitch innovative ideas to retailers? How do you convince companies to go outside the box at a time of uncertainty?

With passion and conviction alongside data and research to demonstrate what the economic and brand benefits can be of investing in digital fashion right now. Retailers who are brave enough to invest today will make considerably more impact due to being first movers in this space – re the finances there are a lot of innovative ways the digital fashion experience can work and that is what I am mapping out and presenting now to different department stores and cultural institutions as well as privately owned brands. I really believe there is a genuine and sustainable revenue stream which can be attached to digital fashion so I am working on pitch decks and infographics which demonstrate that.

Digital fashion garments from Carlings

What kind of brands and retailers are the best at embracing and nurturing innovation do you think?

Ones with brave leaders who have vision and an appetite for risk – there are not enough of these special humans around!! Smaller brands who are purpose driven and agile like Raeburn or Carlings are able to sign off ideas and get them moving fast which is why I approach them for the first pop up. The ones who really need it are department stores, fast fashion brands and certain heritage luxury brands with falling demand but they struggle due to budget constraints and corporate culture barriers. 

A future for digital fashion

Is societal crisis holding back or paving the way for creativity, innovation, and groundbreaking ideas do you think?

I think it’s both, but I hope and my gut tells me the latter will prevail as if we look historically at time of crises these do tend to form inflection points for newness. But unfortunately right now money does make the world go round and I am already having to pivot my business model to make way for absolute changes in corporate and consumer behaviour. Now, more than ever consumers will seek fantasy as a way to deal with reality and I really believe digital fashion can contribute to this

If you’d take the concept to the next step with more time and resources what would you do?

Ohhhh I love this question it kept me up all night!! Here is just one of my ideas I have always been passionate about both vintage fashion and also about education as I am an academic by trade so looking at the work that Superficial Studios did in NYC digitalising the archive of FIT Museum got me really inspired. I would love to have the ability to try on or even own digital vintage pieces from the past and showcase them as digital art pieces in my home. I feel that this could take learning experiences to a more transformative and personal level – especially for museums and brand archives.

My personal thinking is that it will take some time (at least 5 years) for a significant proportion of the world to move to fully embrace digital fashion/virtual living but there is no doubt that the Corona situation will expedite this as right now on lockdown we are already “living” more digitally than physically.

Karinna Nobbs

Do you think offering virtual fashion experiences will drive fashion consumption in the future or replace it with new digital services?

In the short term it will be the first as when I talked to consumers at the pop up most of them said this experience would be most useful to help them decide whether to buy a physical garment. Even post Corona/Quarantine I believe this will still be the case – perhaps in fewer quantities though. If more brands and retailers and platforms start to offer this experience it will become a new normal, and as dressing your avatar or photoshopping your selfie with a digital garment becomes easier only then will a higher proportion of digital only fashion be sold commercially. My personal thinking is that it will take some time (at least 5 years) for a significant proportion of the world to move to fully embrace digital fashion/virtual living but there is no doubt that the Corona situation will expedite this as right now on lockdown we are already “living” more digitally than physically.

Read more about Karinna on karinnanobbs.com

HOT:SECOND
The Fabricant
Carlings
Christopher Raeburn

Also read about Superficial Studio