What Gen Z think about fashion in the metaverse
While some of us are still grappling with what the metaverse actually is, Lucinda Brooke, Strategy Director at The Upside, says that Gen Z has embraced this new frontier and, as far as fashion goes, has decided it definitely isn't a case of the emperor's new clothes.
Imagine this on a t-shirt or tote bag: Milan, New York, Paris, London, Decentraland. Well, you don’t have to imagine it anymore.
Last month (28 to 31 March) was Metaverse Fashion Week. If you’re metaverse-sceptic feel free to roll your eyes behind your giant IRL black Gucci shades, but do keep reading because the metaverse will be a thing. While it's not quite here yet (not in a fully-formed, joined up way, at least), it will be busy, noisy, fun and a chance for people to really express themselves.
[The metaverse] is a massive opportunity for both creativity and profit.
And, because of this, it’s a massive opportunity for both creativity and profit. Especially if you are trying to reach a Gen Z audience. How do we know this? Because they told us so in a huge research study that underpins our new site, bettermetaverse.
Above: Last month's Metaverse Fashion Week showed the potential for fashion to bridge realities and worlds.
A new arena of influence
We conducted a quantitative survey with 1,570 Aglet players to better understand their views of the metaverse and its potential impact on their lives. This also included a number of qualitative research groups. When asked 'which areas of your life do you expect the metaverse to impact?', 40% said shopping/buying. In the past month, 41% had purchased a virtual item/asset.
One respondent said, "people are going to be spending money on digital clothes, not necessarily so much on real-life clothes”, and as we build towards creating this metaverse, now is the time to set our intentions for what we want to create. It’s a new arena where transactions are happening, hype is being created, where trends are being born, and where they are dying. It’s a new arena of influence and taste-making. For trend-setting, transacting and trying out new looks, lives and personas. In fact, it’s a whole new retail space.
It’s a new arena where transactions are happening, hype is being created, where trends are being born, and where they are dying.
Born from the gaming world, where it's common to spend micropayments on new skins and looks for your avatar, shopping in the metaverse is a learned behaviour. It's not uncommon for people to spend a lot of money to make their avatar come across how they want it to. Designing and/or using an avatar was the second highest activity (60%) our respondents had taken part in in the past month.
Digital twinning is a huge growth market. People want to be able to own the same clothes in the metaverse as they do in the physical world. It’s a phenomenon and it's growing because users just don’t see a huge distinction between the two environments. They want to flow between the two. As one respondent put it; “I’m really excited to see where physical and digital come together, more than on the screen or in VR”. We - and our collaborator, Aglet - call this vision 'on life', where metaverses are a layer which interact and intersect with the physical world seamlessly.
Above: "No one judges you straight away on what you look like in the metaverse."
The metaverse = freedom of expression
These new retail spaces are thriving because of the levels of free expression people feel in the metaverse. One of our respondents said; “No one judges you straight away on what you look like in the metaverse. Clothing-wise, [you] can dress fancy [and] no one would care, and wear ridiculous [clothes] and no one would care. In real life, you have to dress to a standard, [adhering to] the social norms of people in [real] life."
The metaverse has become a place where people can experiment with how they dress, look, live and portray themselves.
The metaverse has become a place where people can experiment with how they dress, look, live and portray themselves. To experiment with looks and fashions they may not be able to, or feel comfortable with, in the real world. Connected to this is the freedom to change identity, which is really important for younger audiences. Not just trying out clothes but trying out new identities. Fashion and identity have always been close, but it's even more so in the metaverse.
Another respondent said; “[The metaverse] is the place where I feel like I can express my feelings genuinely.” Add to this the fact that a third of respondents mentioned Freedom/Escapism as one of the main benefits of the metaverse (making it the third highest reason after Communication and Entertainment). This is leading to a creative renaissance where anyone can get in and be a fashion designer - which means brands are going to lose out if they don’t move fast.
Above: In the metaverse people expect to create their own content and products and then customise them.
More than advertising
All of this means the metaverse is very democratising. People can - and expect to - create their own content and products and then customise them in those environments. To create something in the metaverse you need way fewer tools than you do in the real world. The barrier to entry is much lower and anyone and everyone can be a fashion designer in the metaverse.
As with any new community, brands can’t just pile in and expect results.
But, as with any new community, brands can’t just pile in and expect results. They need to work with the audience and the artists who already work and exist there. They need to test with the creators and work in tandem with the metaverse spaces that they choose to participate in. These spaces also create opportunities for new, emerging and more diverse talent to make a name for themselves. Brands should be actively creating a more equitable platform and seeking out designers from marginalised backgrounds and communities, giving them the tools and space to create their own mark on the industry.
Any foray into metaverse fashion should be looked at as much more than just an advertising opportunity. Thinking of it just in those terms is limiting and comes across as inauthentic. People are looking for genuine commitment to building this new space, and that requires brands building metaverse teams that are a combination of commercial, brand, creativity and tech experts to get the position, pricing and participation right, not just a siloed ad department looking to gain a quick buck from NFTs.