Fashion’s digital transformation is accelerating. Over the past year, brands have experimented with radical technologies and engaged with new platforms – whether it’s gaming, 3D fashion or virtual models – in an attempt to connect with next-gen fashion lovers.
In this report, global shopping platform Lyst digs into fashion’s newest frontiers. We analyzed how the digital shifts in the industry are affecting consumer behavior by combining search metrics from over 100 million annual shoppers, Google data, social media tracking and press coverage generated over the past 12 months.
As part of our project to understand how digital is reshaping the fashion space, we partnered with digital fashion house The Fabricant – an industry leader in the new sector of 3D virtual fashion that is disrupting the existing fashion system. The Fabricant’s “Iridescence” dress was auctioned in May 2019, where it made global headlines as the first digital couture garment on blockchain, selling for $9,500.
In the sections ahead, Lyst & The Fabricant explore how gaming opened a whole new world of opportunity for brands. How influence in the age of the digital avatar is changing. While understanding digital fashion buyer personas and discovering what the future holds for fashion tech.
Ultimately, our research shows that consumer attitudes towards virtual fashion experiences are rapidly changing in the current climate.
“Digital fashion is part of a cross-section of disciplines in the digital world, which includes gaming and crypto art. Our digital-only couture creations will never physically exist, waste nothing but data and exploit nothing but imagination.
From a consumer point of view, we are all living digital lives, expressing ourselves in multi-media and virtual realities. When self-expression and the exploration of identity through the medium of fashion exists beyond the physical realm, it allows us to transcend the boundaries and limitations of reality; in the digital environment, we can express our multiple selves and explore new possibilities of who we might be. Digital fashion allows the industry to reduce waste and contributes to a more sustainable fashion future.”
– The Fabricant
In lieu of physical events and runway shows, fashion collections have made their way into the digital world - adapted for video games or social media. “It’s a no-brainer for established luxury houses to start their journey in this arena,” says Michaela Larosse, Head of Content & Strategy at The Fabricant. “The idea of in-game ‘skins’ (digital outfits and identities) is a long-established norm of the gaming world, and digital fashion clearly has a natural home within gaming platforms and apps.”
Our insights reveal that video games offer fashion brands a new way to keep shoppers engaged. Whether it’s Balenciaga’s “Afterworld” or players in Animal Crossing creating their own digital versions of luxury items for their characters, “the themes of expression, exploration and limitless possibility seamlessly bring these moments together” explains Michaela. Digital allows fashion to “return to the heart of what it was always meant to be: a playful way to explore and express identity and individuality.”
Balenciaga’s Afterworld, launched in December 2020, was certainly a highlight when it comes to gaming and digital fashion. The luxury house showcased its Fall/Winter 2021 collection in the form of a bespoke video game and offered a select group of people the opportunity to play using VR headsets. In the 48 hours following the launch of the game, searches for the brand on Lyst jumped 41%. Besides, month-on-month searches spiked 76% (December 2020 compared to November 2020), while social media mentions surpassed 130,000 in December.
Grand Theft Auto, a series of action-adventure games, dressed three of its characters in the Polish streetwear label MISBHV, the first fashion brand to appear officially in the game. On Lyst, searches including ‘misbhv’ jumped 233% in January, in the weeks after the announcement.
In the past months, The Sims has become a playground for fashion brands. Gucci approached players for an in-game recreation of the brand’s Off The Grid collection, the first designer initiative to involve gamers directly. This moment resulted in an increase of 82% in searches for the physical Off The Grid collection on Lyst, days after the release in October. Players of the game in the past have dressed their character in designs by Mugler, Marine Serre and Telfar and the Simstagrammers designed designer outfits for the Met Gala when the IRL event was cancelled in the pandemic.
To promote their new TB Monogram collection, Burberry launched B Surf, a bespoke surfing game that allowed players to dress their avatars up in pieces from the collection and then challenge others to a race. Having launched on their own website, Farfetch and Chinese messaging service WeChat, B Surf generated 32% more searches on Lyst for their monogram collection throughout July. General searches for the brand jumped by 12% comparing June and July. In total, B Surf received 16k mentions across social media, while Google searches skyrocketed.
Fashion lovers got really involved in Animal Crossing: New Horizons over the past 12 months. Marc Jacobs responded by recreating iconic looks and creating bespoke collections for the player’s avatars to be dressed in. In May 2020, after Marc Jacobs published on its social media channels the design codes to download for the game, searches for the brand on Lyst went up 47% compared to the previous month.
We’ve identified the 5 most influential fashion avatars whose style drove the biggest spikes in searches, sales, news coverage and social media mentions over the last 12 months.
3M followers on Instagram
Lil Miquela is now the most powerful virtual influencer working with some of the world’s hottest brands, including Fendi, Off-White and Prada. Following the (virtual) Green Carpet Awards in October, where she wore Off-White, global searches for the brand jumped 68% month-on-month. Meanwhile, her recent cover in the digital magazine Euphoria has sent searches for the Moncler x Rick Owens Tonopah puffer jacket rising (+43%) in December.
215k followers on Instagram
Described as the world’s first digital supermodel by her creator, Shudu has managed to land global campaigns with mega brands such as Balmain, Ellesse and Louboutin. With an increasing social media following and frequent engagement in every post she shares, her fashion influence is becoming stronger: her campaign for Ferragamo in November (working alongside real-life model Misty Bailey) has contributed to a 29% increase in searches for the brand that month.
332k followers on Instagram
Tokyo virtual influencer Imma has over 300,000 followers on Instagram and more than 2.2 million likes on TikTok. With an engaged following base all around the world (1.88%), it’s no surprise that her collection designed in collaboration with Amazon Fashion in January as part of Amazon’s The Drop series – sold out instantly within the 30hrs window of its availability.
79k followers on Instagram
Sporting brands such as Fendi, Louis Vuitton, Burberry, to mention a few, in the 3+ years that she has been on Instagram Ruby has gained more than 79,000 followers. As Ruby’s influence has grown year-on-year, so too has demand for pieces and designers she has been wearing over the past few months. The week after she shared a photo of herself wearing the Adidas x Karlie Kloss Wind RDY parka digitally produced by the Fabricant, searches for the physical collaboration increased 35% on Lyst.
371k followers on Instagram
A “digital haute couture” influencer and a Dior muse, Noonoouri’s influence has soared since her creation in 2018. Over the past 3 months, she has generated over 1.5 thousand social mentions following a number of consecutive partnerships with luxury brands including Mugler, Viktor & Rolf, Dries van Noten, Moncler and Bulgari amongst others. Following her Versace advertorial for Chinese New Year, page views for the brand on Lyst increased 39% week-on-week while a recent partnership with Thebe Magugu in November, when she wore the Kitchentable parka, contributed to a 27% rise in searches for the brand globally.
Gen Zs and young Millennials have grown up in the digital era, blurring reality and fantasy, and developing key characteristics of a digital fashion customer. The Fabricant refers to these customers as “Digi-Sapiens” and, according to Michaela Larosse, “they number around 3.5 billion individuals globally, with more than 55% of the total purchasing power.”
Combining Lyst shopping data with The Fabricant’s customer profiling we’ve dug into the persona of this future fashion shopper, highlighting the four characteristics that influence their purchase decisions.
From in-app shopping and social AR filters to digital fashion, Digi-Sapiens are early adopters of any technology that “upgrades and frees up their existence” explains Michaela. Younger generations evolve in a fluid digital world in which the boundaries between their physical and online lives have converged. When it comes to fashion, they don’t only need physical items to express themselves. “Dressing up their digital self to hang out on digital platforms is real life for them,” says Michaela. In this scenario, “Screenwear becomes the new Streetwear.”
From supporting Black- and Asian-owned brands (searches on Lyst for Rokh and Pyer Moss spiked 178% and 99% respectively in the past 3 months) to the rise of genderless fashion (+78%), there is an expectation to be able to self-express, unlimitedly, through fashion in democratic ways. Digi-Sapiens value diversity and inclusivity. Fashion is a reflection of our surrounding culture: “ideas of fairness, justice and ethics are at the forefront of the minds of new generations, and the nature of digital fashion aligns with these principals,” says Michaela. At the core of The Fabricant’s creative approach is a “questioning of fashion norms, such as gender, body sizes and types, and the linear concepts of masculinity and femininity.” Their collections are gender-neutral and aimed to fit all body types.
Finally, Digi-Sapiens are creative agents who craft their own self-expression and curate their virtual identity through digital clothing. They understand the power and value of community and are willing to work alongside brands on projects that actively contribute to a more positive future. The concept of “collective intelligence” is at the heart of The Fabricant’s approach. “We are co-creators with our audience, their insight and creative abilities will push digital fashion in the direction they want it to go and the visual expressions they would like to see.”
On Lyst, searches including sustainability-related keywords increased 84% since January 2021, reflecting a shift towards eco-conscious fashion. Sustainability can also explain why younger generations are turning to virtual goods. “Due to the non-physicality of digital fashion, there’s no manufacturing, packaging, delivery vehicles or a waste of natural resources,” says Michaela. For example, The Fabricant x PUMA’s “Day Zero” digital campaign helped reduce water consumption by up to 17.4%. Ultimately, “pioneering a digital fashion sector enables the fashion industry to operate in ways that align with the values of consumers,” concludes Michaela.
Covid moved so much fashion shopping online, bringing an ocean of options to the customer. Lyst sees this excess of access as the new battleground. How can anyone navigate the shopping rack when it just exploded with millions of fantastic options? How do designers stand out and find their new fans? Lyst has the world’s largest fashion listing: we help people find exactly what they are looking for as well as helping them discover new loves and inspiring them. Fashion needs to work for you as an individual. We want to make all this access a really personal and empowering experience. That is our superpower. We spend a lot of time on the technology, but at the end of the day it’s about making it work for each fashion lover as an individual and matching them with something that scratches their own fashion itch.
If you haven’t heard these three letters already you soon will: NFT - NFTs (non-fungible tokens) are unique digital assets that exist on blockchain. They can be collected and traded, essentially behaving like a cryptocurrency, but they take the form of an image or artwork. The Fabricant has a history in this space since we created the first-ever piece of digital couture to appear on blockchain back in 2019, with our couture piece ‘Iridescence’. The global creative industries have recently caught up with the conversation and are buzzing about the possibilities.
Fashion’s digital transformation will continue. Lyst has experienced a triple-digit new user increase in 2020, and we expect to see continued growth as consumer willingness to engage and shop online is accelerating. Even though physical shopping is no longer the only option, there are still irreplaceable aspects of it that fashion lovers continue to desire. Fashion brands will win by embracing multichannel strategies, and by offering “phygital” experiences - where the interactions of physical reality and digital are mixed to make for one seamless experience that speaks to next-gen fashion lovers.
The omnipresence of digital as a means of connection and self-expression during the pandemic has forced the evolution of thinking on many ideas, which we hope to accelerate further within the realm of fashion. From The Fabricant’s perspective, we are building our business for a future where physical fashion becomes utilitarian in response to our planetary circumstances and the need to preserve natural resources, but the digital environment is where we will let our fashion imaginations run wild. In a non-physical world where all things are possible, we can boldly express ourselves without limitations or boundaries.
I’m personally really enthusiastic about 3D printing and microfabrication. These couple really well with virtual technologies, using the same scanning technologies, but using them to create custom made and custom fitted items. Imagine having clothes that are made specifically for you and your tastes. These technologies allow things to be made locally with so much less waste and a shipping carbon footprint. It is a whole new way for more ethical and environmental fashion.
In the digital fashion world, the future belongs to creators. We are in charge of our own destiny and can bring our ideas to fruition. Right now we can see that smartphone filters will evolve to become a full-body execution, with motion, where you can instantly see yourself wearing and moving in a digital garment. We also imagine digital fashion will transition seamlessly into the physical world, where others can see your alternative digital fashion identity as you walk down the street, through the means of a digitally connected device. These need lots of development but we love a creative tech challenge.