“Even in the 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 all over the world. How does the Belgian market behave in this online world? And why do you (and your children) come into contact with digital clothes more and more often?

One of the most remarkable fashion weeks of the last 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 traditional brands that are well established. Dolce & Gabbana, Tommy Hilfiger, Paco Rabanne and Selfridges were particularly present. You could sit in the front row of virtual rooms, buy physical and digital clothes and browse NFTs.

The Metaverse?

Little reminder. There is not yet a definitive definition of the “metaverse”. There are numerous descriptions and interpretations circulating about the contents of this digital world. Or rather these worldsbecause all kinds of digital platforms currently implement an online experience and connection, but they are not (yet) connected to each other.

These are websites such as Decentraland, Spatial or Over, which 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 open locations there.

Also read: NFTs, your digital property stamps, coming soon to Instagram

The information for the second edition of MFW, from 28 to 31 March 2023, has already been communicated. “Last year we highlighted one of the strongest sectors of the metaverse: digital fashion,” explains Giovanna Graziosi Casimiro, director of MFW. “Because we don’t all 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 look like the introduction of a new episode of black mirror, all this is not as American or as distant as one might think. The Belgian fashion sector has also moved forward in this digital (fashion) world with the aim of conquering new ways of building customer loyalty and exploring new opportunities for the brands of the future.

Advertising 2.0

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

In this way, we can directly reach our younger fans, who no longer work with a newsletter.

Katrien Vangrunderbeeck, JBC

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

The brand has very consciously chosen not to make it an income model right now, insists Katrien Vangrunderbeeck. “It must be accessible to everyone. That way we can directly reach our younger fans, which doesn’t work by sending a newsletter to parents. You could say it’s an alternative form of advertising, yes, but it’s primarily a way to change our customers’ experience. »

“We are internally reviewing upcoming JBC implementations in the metaverse, but cannot talk much more about them at this time. What is certain is that in the future we will continue to invest in this overall experience.”

Haute couture

Experience. This word keeps popping up in every article about 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 is becoming increasingly important,” says subject matter expert Ann Claes, who, in addition to her role at Flanders DC, also founded the digital fashion agency Mutani. She wants to help a new generation of designers find a place in the world of (digital) fashion.

“Our ability to concentrate continues to decrease,” says Ann Claes. “The more time someone spends on your brand or your story, the stronger the connection becomes. Instead of wanting to impose yourself through advertising, this is a way to create a real experience and added value. No one wants to receive traditional spam anymore, so brands will have to invest in building an authentic connection with their customers. The gamification of fashion, for example, has enormous potential.”

Our ability to concentrate keeps getting shorter. The more time someone spends on your brand or story, the stronger the connection becomes.

Ann Claes, Mutani

With Mutani, Ann Claes and her partner Shayli Harrison will also give a boost to Belgian fashion designers. 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 entire collection at the end of January during haute couture week, I will not talk too much about it in detail”, she explains, “but the idea is that we can use these objects and these outfits on different ways in the metaverse to buy NFTs, 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, new director of the Antwerp Fashion Academy since September. “Brandon will also see if he can incorporate his own experience into the training,” says Ann Claes.

Also read: Dating | Brandon Wen, iconoclastic American designer, successor to Walter Van Beirendonck at the Antwerp Academy

“That this opens up possibilities was also demonstrated by another project by Stefan, 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 being 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 this step. In September, it launched its first at Spatial phygital mode, where customers receive an NFT when purchasing 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 huge landfills every year in some countries, we think that can change. »

“We publish a collection every quarter, each time designed by a Belgian graphic artist, which is primarily digital. Parts are only made when we have enough orders, we don’t have stock. In this way, we can be very aware of waste within our brand. We consider these NFTs as a ticket to the digital world where your avatars can play our creations, but also as a virtual service book with lifetime warranty. When you own this NFT, we promise that you will always have our clothes repaired, or make a new piece. »

For Stephane Willems, too, experience is a decisive word. “We have a showroom in Spatial where people can discover our brand and where our new collections will be presented. People buy more and more online, it gives them an extra experience in this set. »

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Merge with the store

If the first Belgian players therefore establish themselves in small steps in the metaverse, there is currently no big wave. Nothing illogical there, according to Ann Claes: “Even on a global level, the number of companies present in the metaverse is still limited, but growing. I think this start will continue. It often takes a long time to build something good. In Belgium we find ourselves with a specific model landscape where the major operators follow trends rather than create them. They won’t be on the front lines right away, but I think the most creative designers and young talents will. »

We can no longer prevent this development

Stéphane Willems, The villains

For many companies, the metaverse still has to prove itself first, believes Katrien Vangrunderbeeck from JBC. “When we observe the installation of webshops, Belgium also took 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 that we will certainly not qualify as such, but we have already played this pioneering role several times in the past. »

“I think the revolution is coming”, says Stéphane Willems from Les Vilains as well. “The metaverse is not going to replace shops, at the end of the day people remain social beings who want to exist offline. But a nice fusion of the two? It’s already happening and we can’t stop it. »

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