Metaverse Fashion Raises Ethical Questions: What You Need to Know #412


Sustainability and the metaverse: friend or foe? We investigate how it works, the potential benefits and pitfalls, and why—despite the hype—it isn’t a silver bullet for the current fashion crises.

A brief history of digital fashion

Last month, the fashion world witnessed the first-ever Metaverse Fashion Week. Once again, the conversation around “web3” and “metaverse fashion” has been thrust into the spotlight. But, of course, digital fashion is nothing new, as our Sims days can attest.

[…] In the past few years, augmented and virtual reality opened up new conversations around digital fashion. COVID-19 pushed it further into mainstream lexicon. When the pandemic hit and fashion was forced to take a step back, virtual fashion proponents emphasised that there is more to the technology than flashy marketing ploys and CGI fashion shows. In an almost “sustainable” dreamworld, it seemed to offer clothes without production, pollution, waste, and fashion shows without international flights. Soon, it was all over the media with luxury houses like Dolce & Gabbana unveiling digital collections attached to NFTs (one-of-a-kind digital files), and brands like Adidas announcing that they will enter the metaverse by selling NFTs. […]

The metaverse and sustainability

[…] Proponents of digital fashion would have you believe it could mitigate some of the industry’s impacts. Theoretically, if the metaverse caught on in the mainstream, designers would be able to significantly cut back on production, reproduction, and the waste created in the process by having fully virtual showrooms, launches, and events. While cutting back on resources, you might also hear metaverse boosters talk about the infinite creativity and exploration that the metaverse allows.

While digital designs are not yet big earners compared to physical clothing, and may never be, they have potential to change the fashion industry’s footprint on the planet. For example, physical garments can be authenticated as NFTs and have a digital twin. This means that new fashion creators have the same chance of building a metaverse-native brand as a heritage label, without ever needing to have a physical presence. To create digital fashion, the only tools required are a computer and the right form of design software like Clo3D or MarvelousDesigner.

To put it another way, people could enjoy a virtual fashion week or a version of the garment that they would like to buy to post on social media, without the waste associated with it. It’s an interesting vision for clothes as entertainment—one fraught with opportunities, but also chances to hijack the system.

While many have highlighted these opportunities, few have addressed the physical production processes. Instead, they’ve discussed the metaverse purely from a marketing and product perspective—wanting to capitalise on the value proposition without taking the time to address current overconsumption, unethical marketing practices like greenwashing, and other ethical concerns. […]

The ethical conundrums metaverse fashion raises

All of this raises some ethical concerns. As many “foes” can attest, physical clothing will always be relevant as long as we walk this Earth. So, until our physical consumption and obsession with trend wanes, the metaverse will be just as “unsustainable” as other marketing or social channels for Nike or Adidas to promote their newest products.

In line with this thinking, Eco-Age, a consulting and creative agency specialising in fashion sustainability, has recently launched the Eco-Verse Division. This new division exists to advise clients on how to enter the NFT and metaverse world “ethically,” ensuring they respect both environmental and social standards in the process.

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