Interviews

“Change makes sense when it's not forced”

Morten Grubak, the Global ECD of Innovation at Virtue on the future of digital fashion and co-creation.

Nicola Kemp

Editorial Director

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Morten Grubak, the Global ECD of Innovation at Virtue, the creative agency powered by VICE provides a rare voice amidst the cacophony of thought leadership articles on the future of the metaverse. For not only is he talking about a tangible shift which is already taking place (the rise of digital fashion), but he is doing so without resorting to hyperbole. Such hyperbole risks meaning marketing leaders get bored of a trend before it even gets off the ground. 

“Change makes sense when it's not forced,” explains Grubak, pointing to the digitalisation of the last couple of years. “It is a difficult adjustment for some and people are getting tired,” Yet there is no question that when it comes to digital fashion and getting to grips with the future of digital identity as a whole, it is worth making the adjustment.

For geriatric Millennials (such as the author of this article) the concept of a ‘digital wardrobe’ might perhaps be shorthand for the high-low dressing of remote working. A party on top and leggings below the zoom fold. Yet, the future of digital clothing is not only not about what you wear on zoom, it is fashion’s new frontier. 

Grubak points to the work that Virtue has undertaken with clothing brand Carlings, which wanted to open up its brand online. Looking through the lens of how much their audience cared about the environment creating the world's first digital clothing brand was the clear answer to the brief.

Virtual identities

The rise of digital fashion raises interesting questions and opportunities for a future of an industry in which ‘fast fashion’ has become a dirty word.

Arguably consumers have been inhabiting entirely imagined digital personas long before industry experts began waxing lyrical about the metaverse. Consider for example that omnipresent ‘great life you aren’t living on social media’ where performative living and the desire not to be pictured in the same outfit twice has driven both brand value and landfill.

“In many ways, Instagram is a digital fashion experience,” explains Grubak. “Fashion can be playful in the digital space and there are more tools we can create.” He points to the fact that technology can challenge our mindsets. “If you are open to change, it makes more sense,” he adds. 

According to research from Virtue, 82% of respondents have already purchased a virtual good, with 1 in 3 already purchasing digital fashion. While 94% of global respondents foresee digital fashion becoming mainstream. 

Notably, almost half of respondents (46%) expect over half of their wardrobes to be digital 5 years from now. While 59% say that sustainability is likely to influence their desire to

purchase a piece of digital fashion. 

Equitable experiences

The future of digital fashion is fundamentally tied up with the future of identity and status; how we express ourselves across multiple platforms. 

As Nicola Formichetti, Creative Director to Lady Gaga, and part of Virtue’s global research panel explains: “There’s something empowering about dressing up digitally. You could be whoever you want to be.”

“Identity is the number one driver,” explains Grubak “It is a great place to be playful with your identity.” He points to the example of being into KPop music or being a goth. “Doing it in the Metaverse is a playground; it is an amazing space to challenge yourself.” 

It is also a fundamentally equitable experience. “On Fortnite we are equal. It's about the loot, the house and that's the strength.”

It is clear that this is just the beginning of a fundamental shift. As Amber Slooten, Co-founder of The Fabricant, explains: “How far can you take your identity? This is something we need to figure out and digital fashion will probably become the vehicle for this exploration.”

There’s something empowering about dressing up digitally. You could be whoever you want to be

Nicola Formichetti, Creative Director to Lady Gaga

Contributing to cultural progress

According to Grubak, a growing number of brands are ready to challenge themselves and agencies are getting a lot of briefs for digital solutions. He explains: “It is all about really reinventing what you are doing. It's not like just putting a TV show on YouTube, you can completely reimagine what concerts can become.”

Pointing to the example of Travis Scott’s 8 minute concert in Fortnite, he notes that when digital experiences are so easy to leave they have to be really engaging. It’s an engagement which extends far beyond real-life design functionality; in Fortnite, your clothes can have infinite powers, while in real life they still shrink in the wash.

“Digital fashion is not in the future, it is something people are buying now. We need to shift our mindset on digital. There are a lot of people predicting the future but we have produced facts,” he adds.

From Gucci’s first foray into Roblox to the growth of co-creation in digital fashion, there is no question that the market is growing. From the benefits of being more sustainable to the infinite opportunities for customisation, brands have the opportunity to be playful and engage.

“Fashion has always been about challenging the status quo,” says Grubak. He predicts we will see a different type of brand emerging. “The whole idea of the metaverse is decentralised. But when we talk about style it is often about history and craft. There is a huge space for digital natives to make an impact.” 

For while the generic talk about the future of the metaverse may well be cheap, the future of digital fashion is vibrant. 

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