Synthetic Content: The Rise of Virtual Clothing

Caitlin Kilpatrick explores whether digital fashion promises to revolutionise the industry or become this season's forgettable trend


Image(s): KeiSei Magazine


At first glance, ‘DressX.com’ looks like a futuristic, designer shopping experience a la Opening Ceremony or Vestiaire Collective. However, on closer inspection, you realise that the garments sold and displayed on their Instagram are all fully digital. Their CEO’s? Named amongst Forbes 30Under30 and described as “the future of fashion”. Inspired by the gaming industry’s avatar skins, young designers are turning to the internet not only for marketing their designs, but for producing and distributing them. After a deep dive into the world of virtual clothing, I found myself wondering: could digital clothing revolutionise the fashion industry? DressX is certainly trying to convince us it can.


Virtual clothing is produced through photoshop, and can be edited to fit anybody, in any photo. They are not garments but digital manipulations and are becoming increasingly popular among the Instagram influencer crowd. On its surface this trend may appear symptomatic of the pandemic; here for a short time to give Instagrammers content until they can travel and shop again.


However, long before the pandemic, designers were marking their territory in the digital fashion world. Scandinavian brand Carlings LTD were among the first to show a fully digital collection in 2019 with the specific aim of revolutionising the industry. Today, they drop collections seasonally with a price range under £40, with 100% of the profits donated to WaterAid, a charity that combats the environmental effects of garment landfills.


This move mirrors other forrays by young artists into the digital space. Think Moschino’s marionette fashion show via zoom, a stand out moment of the first entirely digital New York Fashion Week or Marc Lee’s entirely virtual art galleries using VR. Alternatively, Instagram has seen the rise of animated influencers like @Lilmiquela who has 3 million followers, a Prada brand partnership and is, most notably, not real. She is simulated by a team of Brazilian digital creators who aspired to mock influencer culture with their next-generation cartoon art.


In this way, we can view virtual clothing as the next step in photo filters. In the same way that you can filter your skin without the facialist, virtual designers want you to shop without the stylist. Tribute market their company as a way to experience luxury high fashion in the way we experience most things: online. So, in a world where art is increasingly experienced online, does it even matter if our wardrobes become virtual?


I think it does. Digital fashion offers to address a core number of social issues plaguing the fashion industry. Firstly, it stands up to counter consumption culture. The current Instagram culture is defined by an undertone of throwing away items that have been worn once, and buying from fast fashion corporations to keep up with the latest trends. Digital fashion offers influencers the same gratification of fulfilling an aesthetic and getting likes without the environmental impact. Consumption culture is significantly eroding the environment with almost 85% of textiles being sent to landfills in which they can take two centuries to decompose. We have seen designers try to address their environmental impact, but to significantly make a difference, we must end the manufacturing and transportation of clothes not used for everyday wear.


Secondly, digital clothing finally offers the ability to be fully inclusive of all genders and sizes. The clothes advertised on DressX and Carlings are marketed as genderless and sizeless. Your virtual editor, assigned to you after you purchase the clothing, is there to manipulate the garments to look good on anybody. This type of inclusivity would revolutionise the modelling industry.


Lastly, all of this is possible because our generation’s lives have become increasingly performed in an online space. We all express ourselves in some form via social media. For me, an appreciation of art comes from its challenge to boundaries. Digital fashion and manipulation do exactly that. Often, artwork that challenges our worldview can make us feel uncomfortable and uneasy about the future but they are also usually the art that sticks with us. Designers creating digital clothing are simply using their art form to challenge our perspectives. They’re innovating in ways that may change the world for the better. I can’t help but feel that we should appreciate the revolutionary potential of digital fashion, before we disregard it as the latest fad trend. It’s not for every day, and it may take a little convincing, but it could change the world.