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Future of Fashion in the Metaverse - takeaways from our SXSW2022 panel

SXSW22 is over, and as I reflect on the conference, it was a great week with tons of impressions, insights, and new connections.

Your Majesty was in Austin because we partnered with Lyra Ventures, ALTAVA GROUP, Future Intelligence Group, and LUKSO to host a panel named The Future of Fashion in the Metaverse to discuss the status quo and future direction of this currently hyped and very nascent space.

On the panel were (from the right) Andrew Ku, co-founder, and CEO of ALTAVA GROUP, Cathy Hackl, Chief Metaverse Office at The Future Intelligence Group, and Marjorie Hernandez, CEO and co-founder of LUKSO and The Dematerialised.

The panel was moderated by Your Majesty’s Strategy Director, Viet Hoang.

I was pleased to be front row at the event and took extensive notes during the 60-minute conversation.

In this article, I summarized my key takeaways from the panel and broke them into themes relating to how brands and creators can succeed in The Metaverse and NFT projects.

What are some of the defining characteristics of compelling fashion experiences in the Metaverse?

Going beyond virtual malls and digital catwalks

We’ve seen a few representations of brands opening malls or catwalks “in the Metaverse” that look more or less identical to their physical counterparts. Although it’s a start, these experiences come across as unimaginative as it plays by the constraints of the real world in a realm where anything is possible.

Fashion experiences that are effective in this space will start with the creator’s core vision and create digital experiences that tell their unique story in ways that the physical world can’t mimic.

It’s not enough to just digitize physical assets for a virtual sale.

It’s not enough to just digitize physical assets for a virtual sale

To be effective and meaningful, a digital product sold should have an experience tied to it.

Plans for long-term utility

Successful NFT projects all have in common their ability to create future value for their holders. Whether you plan it in advance or figure it out on the way, effective projects commit to making a roadmap with layers of experience and utility to unlock deeper relationships with their audiences and create more shared values.

A few examples of utility:

  • Access and whitelists to future releases of virtual goods
  • Access to holder-only communities and virtual worlds
  • High-quality assets/working file downloads of the virtual good
  • Ability to redeem virtual for physical goods
  • Discounts on items in the broader product portfolio

High-quality art is key

It might sound like table-stakes, but high-quality artwork is crucial, especially for luxury brands that built their legacies on the highest quality materials in their real goods. There are so many examples of poor art out there, don’t be a part of that.

If you’re going to do it, do it well.

The Metaverse is not here yet, and we have two significant hurdles before we get there

All the panelists agreed that what is currently depicted as the vision of the Metaverse is not here yet.

Companies like LUKSO, The Dematerialised, ALTAVA GROUP, and Future Intelligence Group are each building blocks needed to bring the Metaverse vision to life. However, it is still a long way to go with some significant hurdles before we get there.

Hardware and access are not good enough yet

People’s expectations of the Metaverse are still way higher than what’s possible to do with today’s technology.

We’re still accessing the Metaverse through our computers, phones, and VR headsets. For the Metaverse to truly breakthrough into our daily lives, how we access it must move from our computers and phones to our glasses.

Interoperability remains an unsolved problem

An essential requirement for a true Metaverse is that it must offer interoperability—meaning that it is possible to unify economies, avatars, assets, and systems across worlds.

As of writing, there is no universal standard for virtual goods and how virtual worlds are connected to each other.

To achieve the open - decentralized free moving Metaverse everyone’s hoping for - someone needs to agree to and create the standards required to transfer information between virtual worlds.

Technology is not the problem; it will eventually get there. Like Web2 had layers and frameworks that enabled more accessible building between proprietary platforms, there will ultimately be Web3 layers that allow users to move digital goods between blockchains and virtual worlds.

The crux will be about finding consensus between the creators and the answer to:

If the Metaverse is truly decentralized, who will govern how it will work and what should or shouldn’t be possible?

The question is, as of writing, not answered fully.

What should today’s fashion brands who want to lead the way and stay resonant in the Metaverse think and do?

All panelists work and collaborate with leading fashion brands to embrace technology and move into the new digital economy. They discussed a range of things for brands and marketers to keep in mind as they experiment ahead.

Remember that it is “real” to someone

Don’t assume that because you believe virtual goods and events are unreal, younger generations think the same.

For some of Gen Z and more of Gen Alpha, buying virtual items and going to virtual events (i.e. in Fortnite) is recalled as equally real as going to IRL concerts and events. The panelists recounted their own experiences where their children used allowances to buy V Bucks—the currency used in Fortnite.

Co-creation requires giving up creative control

Co-creation is at the core of Metaverse/NFTs and the creator economy, and it requires the originator to embrace co-creating products, brands, and marketing with their audiences.

It is a challenging mind shift for today’s leading brands, which are used to control everything from product creation to brand and marketing. It will take a lot of courage to relinquish some of that control and truly embrace co-creation with its audiences. It will be interesting to see who can push these ideas through the boardrooms.

Consider digital twins of the real world

It’s only a matter of time before there will be digital twins (virtual 1:1 representations) that mimic the entire real world.

Today’s brands need to start thinking about how they want to be perceived in tomorrow’s mixed reality and if and how they will create shared value for their brand and its co-creators.

What advice do you have for brands currently experimenting with the Metaverse and NFTs or considering joining?

Do not ignore technology—embrace it

You might not like it, but if you want to stay relevant tomorrow, you at least need to understand how the technology works and what it can be used for.

Either staff for it or bring in expert firms that can help you make sense of your situation and turn it into something actionable.

Drop the one-time-transaction mindset

If you’re considering releasing an NFT, please do not think about it as a single product transaction, where you drop one collection, forget about it, and move to the next.

To increase the chances of success, think about each NFT drop or collection as a long-term commitment to your audience. The NFT transaction is at the beginning of that relationship.

Build following your roadmap, continue to surprise, and reward your holders with added utility over time to strengthen your community and increase the value of the assets. NFTs are more like services, in that sense than products.

From a commercial point of view, most of the profits of successful NFT brands have come from activities done after the first mint/sale - in the forms of royalties on secondary sales, asset appreciation, merchandise, events, etc.

This relationship takes sincere long-term thinking, commitment, and resources. Consider if you’re willing to invest in what it takes.

On the same topic, what advice can you give to creators?

Stay wary of the term “exclusive”

The Metaverse’s promise is an open network of interconnected and interoperable virtual worlds where users can move freely—along with their belongings.

So if someone asks you to do exclusive deals/partnerships/etc., think twice about your long-term plan before agreeing to issue your creations on their platform. Review if the terms and conditions specify the ownership of the assets on the platform.

Participate in the building

We’re still early in this journey, and creators have tons of opportunities to help shape and build the future they wish to see come true.

Join a project, make an NFT, try out the Metaverse platforms to see what you can learn, and create to see if it’s something matching your unique work.

If you can’t design or code, you can engage in the communities and provide meaningful feedback to the builders so that the blindspots are seen and the biases get busted.

Find cross-disciplinary collaborators

The Metaverse future needs to be built with cross-disciplinary teams. In its current state, it’s not fast enough, user-friendly enough, easily communicated adequately, or accessible enough.

To achieve the vision, we need artists, engineers, UX designers, visual designers, marketers, and data specialists to work together and make sense of it all.

So partner up with someone or collaborate with people whose skills complement your own.

What advice can you give fashion brands to build Metaverse experiences that don’t bring the baggage of fashion’s problematic past?

Fashion’s negative past is not technology problems but human problems. As we build the future of fashion in the Metaverse, we need to design to solve the human issues before they translate over to the virtual worlds.

Staff up to keep your community safe

Like brands eventually invested in content moderators for the social media boom, Web3 brands need to staff up too, ensuring their audience has a safe experience.

Start by staffing up where you are active, whether it’s Discord moderators, Roblox friends, or Decentraland people.

In a diminishing reality, think anthropology

As our real and virtual reality start to merge, also staff anthropologists to study its effects related to your brand and society.

Then you can identify the negative behaviors that emerge and how can you design and build against those simultaneously as you create reinforcing feedback loops with positive behaviors.

Diminishing reality is a term used to describe the loss of control over one’s reality and the ability to block out digital information at will.

Which Metaverse fashion projects excite you the most at the moment and best provide a glimpse into the future?

Cathy and Marjorie agreed that the Metaverse Fashion Week was an exciting development in the space.

Andrew listed out a series of activities being rolled out by ALTAVA, including:

It was over 70 talks tagged with “Metaverse” during SXSW2022, and (although I’m 100% biased) I think this panel was one of the best ones.

I left SXSW2022 feeling smarter and positive about the future, assured that there are some really intelligent people working on getting us there.

Metaverse aside, I also just thoroughly enjoyed being able to travel for work again after two years of only transporting between the bedroom and the home office.

I’m looking forward to next year’s conference.

Author: Georgios Athanassiadis

New to the Metaverse topic?

In this video interview with Bloomberg, our Strategy Director, Viet Hoang explains what Fashion in The Metaverse means and how it might look in the future.

For more fashion-tech reads