Did someone say ‘pics and it still didn’t happen’?instagram / tribute_brand

This week, Business of Fashion announced that Gucci would be collaborating with app Wanna to launch a pair of trainers that will set you back just $12. The catch? They aren’t real. Wanna Kicks is an AR service in which you can ‘try on’ designer shoes through your phone camera. As outrageously late-stage-capitalism-crazy as it sounds, this is far from revolutionary.

Gucci's $12 trainers (only $8.99 through the app though - bargain!)instagram / bof

The COVID-19 crisis has prompted many houses to turn to digitalisation, with runways rendered virtual throughout innumerable pandemic-time fashion weeks. More controversially, we are now seeing the growth of brands built entirely on the internet. For example, self-proclaimed ‘Digital Fashion House’ The Fabricant has collaborated with Puma to create a 3D ‘narrative’ for customers, in line with its tagline ‘Always Digital, Never Physical’. Meanwhile, ‘contactless’ cyber fashion brand Tribute allows customers to buy limited stock of virtual outfits from anywhere between 39 and 700 dollars, which can be edited onto Instagram photos. Did someone say ‘pics and it still didn’t happen’?

The Fabricant's project seeks to "upload humans to the next level of existence"instagram / the_fab_ric_ant

The rise of virtual fashion as a commodity speaks interestingly to the current place of the industry and its customers. No longer satisfied with hours spent window shopping on Net-a-Porter.com, we must now pay for the right to look at pixels; as if lusting after designer wear wasn’t enough, now there’s a fine for our inability to actually own it. Or rather, stuck in our homes with too much time and not enough sense, virtual shopping has somehow become a sufficient replacement.

“Paying for virtual fashion is is an investment into the industry, rather than into individualism”

It is simultaneously vomit-inducingly shallow in all its shameless plugging of consumerism based upon the purchase of – and I stress – nothing, and slightly impressive in its rejection of materialism. I can’t deny that – in good lighting – digital wear does look a little like an encouragement to invest in fashion as a concept, as an art form, rather than for one’s own gain. It is an investment into the industry, rather than into individualism (with the added benefit of a quirky Instagram post, lest we forget).

Now, a new means of virtual consumerism is on the rise: the NFT, or non-fungible token. It’s as techy and confusing as it sounds, but long story short, NFTs are a new form of cryptocurrency that allow customers to own digital culture (from music to art to clothes) without the risk of duplication or pirating. As the Wall Street Journal puts it: “Owning an NFT does not mean you own the copyright to a given asset, but it does grant you bragging rights”. In the world of digital fashion, this surely has the power to enhance desirability (see: Tribute ‘selling out’ of its stock) even further.

Rtfkt has made $3.1 million dollars from NFT sales of its virtual shoesinstagram / rtfktstudios

Big names like Gucci are yet to tap into the use of these tokens, but judging by the success of digital shoe brand Rtfkt (which has existed for just a year and made the equivalent of $3.1 million in the sale of 621 NFT ‘pairs’), it’s not long until they’ll be after a hand in the game. If nothing else, the attention around NFTs is valuable enough as promotion for the brand outside of the digital realm, though it also expands the possibilities of cyber fashion. Gucci’s virtual shoes are only a step away from Rtfkt’s business model, and major fashion houses have the capacity to take these digital commodities further. NFTs could work as access passes to online content, as prepaid ‘try on’ tools (opening scene of ‘Clueless’ style), or simply as a means of revamping claims of exclusivity through a second – virtual – layer of VIP.


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For in this simulated palimpsest, we can watch the pitfalls of an industry in crisis play out before us in real time. If these can be identified, critiqued, and changed, then perhaps this technology is a powerful tool after all. Yet already, Rtfkt’s ‘shoes’ have been reselling through the NFT market for around double their original price. This digitalisation of planned scarcity – a long held tactic – takes the manipulation of consumers further, for in the NFT market, sellers receive a cut of the resell profit. As the market expands, this trend can only skyrocket, and as it does, all the things which validate virtual fashion (increased self-consciousness, accessibility, sustainability, and craft) will fade away, with purchase dominating once more.

And so, while there is something to be said for spending to promote and preserve the value of sustainable (and/or) high fashion, as opposed to dropping twice as much on a pair of jeans from ASOS that’ll last you 3 months at most, the place of money at the centre of all this is more than a little uncomfortable, as if fashion is owed something after messing us – and the planet -–around for more or less the entirety of its history. Needless to say, I’d sooner spend my $12 (or £8.64) at a charity shop than on a pair of shoes that only exist within my phone screen. Besides, there is nothing ethical or interesting about a fashion industry that is all business, and no clothes.