The fashion industry and the digital world have been becoming more and more intertwined in recent years. Now, we find ourselves at the threshold of a new digital era that will change the industry completely.
The Internet singlehandedly changed all of our lives, through interconnectivity and the democratization of access to information. Then, smartphones arrived on the scene, and staying connected became even easier. Now we don’t need a computer to access the Internet; we can access the digital world with a single click on our phone. The digital revolution of the last 30 years has undoubtably affected all industries. Technology has made our lives easier.
E-commerce sites have become one of the most attractive platforms for the fashion market. Last year online sales grew exponentially in comparison with those of 2019—44% to be exact. In Latin America, e-commerce platforms grew by 36.7% in 2020. All this growth is happening despite the fact that most luxury brands experienced drops in sales due to the pandemic. Fashion and consumption have been moving, slowly and steadily, from the real world to the virtual one.
More and more companies are creating virtual spaces that offer digital experiences that blur the limits of reality and VR. For example, in 2019 Obsess created an e-commerce platform that, instead of presenting products the conventional way, does so in virtual spaces that recreate physical boutiques. This start-up, founded in 2017, has collaborated with brands like Tommy Hilfiger, Farfetch, and Levi’s to create digital spaces and experiences that immerse the consumer in a non-existent universe.
As I mentioned in my column for The Walk a few weeks ago, the pandemic has accelerated the way in which brands approach and use technological tools, such as social networks or e-commerce sites, to speak to consumers, buyers, and editors. A clear example of this revolution is the way runway shows have been done over the last year. Brands like Chanel, Prada, and Ferragamo had to take their new collections to the digital world. They created fashion films on YouTube and Instagram and gave us experiences that managed to capture the greatness of their physical shows.
How could we possibly forget the Spring 21 Balmain show, at which LG screens in the front row transmitted guests like Jennifer Lopez, Anna Wintour, Derek Blasberg, Milla Jovovich, and Cara Delevingne? Saint Laurent did its shows through films, transforming the catwalk into fantasylands in impressive locations like the desert and an icy landscape (SS 21 and FW 21, respectively). Balenciaga presented its Fall 21 collection using a video game entitled Afterworld: The Age of Tomorrow. And, these are only a few examples of how the line between physical reality and virtual reality is becoming more and more imperceptible. Tech is helping bring people from around the world together in this new digital era.
Thanks to advances in technology, the door is now open for even more new realities that will change the way we experience fashion. Brands like Gucci and Nike have augmented reality features for consumers. Companies like Google and Facebook have been implementing this thinking for years, letting the line between the virtual world and the real world slowly disappear. Just think of the world like The Sims. We’re getting closer and closer to this reality, and the fashion industry is playing an important role.
We still have a long way to go before we’re in situations like those in Tron or The Matrix. Many factors that continue to present barriers—for example, wealth disparity and gaps in access to technology. Then, there’s the fact that many still yearn for that human connection not found in the digital world. But, if we look at video games like Minecraft or Fortnite, we’ll see that digital worlds already exist. It is only a matter of time before all this is extrapolated to other industries and becomes part of our daily lives.
Currently, the best way to stay up on the trends is through the use of social networks like TikTok and Instagram. Then, of course, there are the gatekeepers of the fashion world: magazines. We are living in a moment of change with regard to how we consume, moving from physical stores to e-commerce sites. We stand before a digital era that promises to revolutionize everything we know, not only in fashion but life itself.