Discover more from Fashion Strategy Weekly
Is Barbie the Future of the Fashion Metaverse?
FSW explores how value-based storytelling, content strategy, and infrastructure building are key for fashion and luxury immersive experiences.
The fashion metaverse needs focused storytelling, guided user experiences, and content strategy.
Fashion and luxury brands win when they use storytelling to evolve their metaverse strategy.
Front-end fashion and luxury metaverse stories need back-end infrastructure, systems, and platforms.
“Will Barbie reinvigorate the fashion metaverse?”
This was a question posted at a LinkedIn Live event in which one of our publishers, Jessica Quillin, participated earlier today.
This question raises a real consideration about the current state of fashion and luxury metaverse, blockchain technologies, and Web3 and what is happening to build its future.
Do we really need a Barbie-themed fashion metaverse? How can fashion and luxury brands leverage brand storytelling and content strategy to prepare themselves for a more immersive, digitally-driven future and the next generation of design, branding, marketing, and commerce?
One main lesson from fashion’s ongoing investment in innovative technology like XR, the metaverse, NFTs, and even Web3, is emerging: The future of fashion and luxury immersive experiences and Web3 must be not just about building utility through a focus on features and functionality; but also, it must involve a core focus on value, context, and user needs through the right combination of frontend storytelling and backend infrastructure.
Does fashion need a Barbie metaverse?
As innovation strategist Sasha Wallinger nicely explored in a recent post, Barbie was the original avatar. She was a fashion-loving fashion doll, the vehicle through which little girls for generations imagined and expressed versions and dreams of themselves. (Here are some practical marketing strategies brands can learn from Barbiemania.) Greta Gerwig’s Hollywood blockbuster “Barbie” movie is highly immersive, featuring an imaginary, metaverse-like woman-centric world that operates on very non-real-world, gravity-defying rules and norms. It’s easy to say that a fashion brand should make a Barbie metaverse. But why? How would it make money? Who would the Barbie metaverse be for, how should it be built, what can people do there, and why should they go?
Thinking about the “why” of a Barbie metaverse reveals that there are key questions about storytelling, content strategy, and infrastructure building that brands need to be able to answer before they determine the next stage of their Web3 and metaverse strategies. Deliberations about how a Barbie metaverse might work can teach us lessons on how the fashion industry more generally can strategize its next steps into the metaverse.
The fashion metaverse needs focused storytelling, guided user experiences, and content strategy
Until recently, with a few exceptions, most fashion and luxury metaverse activations of the past year have lacked a strong sense of story and a general attention to the basics of intuitive user experience. For example, earlier this year we spent time in the fashion metaverse at Metaverse Fashion Week, which we wrote up as a guest post for The Interline. Among our takeaways were that few people showed up (attendance was down 75% from the previous year’s edition) and those who did were not too thrilled. Evidently, a poor experience at the first Metaverse Fashion Week poisoned the well.
Strategists, brands, and the media (ourselves included) keep throwing around “storytelling” and “utility” as long-term solutions to enhance brand-consumer engagement in immersive environments. Yet, it’s not always clear exactly what we mean by these terms nor how they will operate in practice.
As fashion and luxury brands invest in longer-term strategies for the metaverse, storytelling is proving a critical element to make experiences truly immersive, to communicate brand messaging and values, and to guide and encourage users to explore, discover, and purchase. Without it, as we saw at the Metaverse Fashion Week, users stop caring. But storytelling needs to be conceptualized and implemented in a balanced way that is authentic to the brand and makes things easier and more intuitive for users.
Fashion and luxury brands win when they use storytelling to evolve their metaverse strategy
Digital fashion house The Fabricant, for which storytelling is a core part of its brand DNA, is a perfect example of a brand using storytelling to evolve its metaverse strategy. Given the current bear market for NFTs and digital fashion, the brand announced this week that it is pivoting its business model to more brand-focused storytelling solutions. This is a marked shift away from its previous consumer-focused approach with its co-creation platform, The Fabricant Studio, which allowed people to create, mint, and sell their own fashion NFTs. CEO and co-founder Kerry Murphy told Vogue Business that brands are ready for and “understand the need for digital fashion.”
Storytelling for fashion and luxury innovation is also critical as a unifying principle to make content and innovation efforts consistent, authentic, and relatable, especially at scale. Micael Barilaro, Gucci VP of Metaverse Ventures, recently told Vogue Business that “storytelling is what keeps everything together” when it comes to innovation and their investment in NFTs. Barilo explained that initiatives like the Gucci Grail project were “characterised by a gamified, narrative approach … [as] a way to build a new audience through an approach to luxury that is more ‘approachable’.” This all forms part of the recent announcement of the long-term partnership between Gucci and Yuga Labs.
Finding the right stories for the right people matters for the fashion metaverse
Brand and product storytelling—whether traditional marketing, immersive metaverses, phygital twins, or loyalty programs with product drops—only works if brands are telling the right stories to the right people in the right way. The world of social media and the explosion in user-generated content, including social shopping and the onset of the creator as brand, shows that consumers want more authentic, personalized narratives. But they want a say in what stories they hear and when.
We’ve written a lot on the shifting brand-consumer relationship and the future of content co-creation. It is a powerful concept but one that is currently fuzzy in terms of monetization, particularly from a brand perspective. Matthew Drinkwater, head of the Fashion Innovation Agency at the London College of Fashion, recently noted that content co-creation is “challenging in terms of technology and mindset…. We haven’t seen a single brand who is actually really willing to distribute the wealth equally within the ecosystem.”
While content co-creation may be a while off, one of the most powerful uses of storytelling in the context of the metaverse is the use of digital fashion as an impetus toward inclusivity, diversity, and creative expression. Many innovators see open, democratized, and less-is-more storytelling as critical to harness younger generations into a shared digital future and to allow them to feel accepted and express their true selves. Or, as Louise Laing, founder of PhygitalTwin, told us, “gaming and the metaverse are necessary to democratize the opportunity to be creative and reduce waste.”
According to Laing, “the journey to the future is not one foot in front of the other in a straight line; it pauses and retraces before reaching its destination. And those that make the journey are driven by more than the hype of the moment—[the] motivation … is sustainability and inclusiveness.”
At PhygitalTwin, Laing and her team recently held a “Sustainable Fashion Competition” in which 11-year-olds used 3D customization tools to create their own hoodie with a prize of getting their design printed, seeing a model wear it down a runway, and then selling it on the brand’s e-commerce site and in Roblox. The winner of the competition, George Champ, is a neurologically diverse boy who struggles to write and draw. As Laing noted, “using 3D design tools and gaming, George now has an opportunity to monetize from being a designer, which would never have been possible.”
Front-end fashion and luxury metaverse stories need back-end infrastructure, systems, and platforms
All of these fashion metaverse storytelling scenarios rely heavily on a sinuous relationship between content and tech. In the realm of fashion and luxury innovation, it’s not sexy to talk about content management and metadata or practical aspects of platform infrastructure (i.e. web-based vs mobile or desktop app), interoperability, content latency, and digital asset management.
From immersive experiences to NFTs and digital fashion, behind all of this new technology is an almost infinite amount of content, data, and computing infrastructure that needs to be built, managed, and strategized. And this should not be done in a vacuum with only IT professionals and developers. Developing the next generation of the fashion and luxury digital ecosystem needs to be done in coordination with brands, digital fashion creators, and strategists to produce platforms, systems, and software that meet both brand and consumer needs and preferences.
Nico Fara, Founder and CEO, Chief Metaverse Officer, told us, “The technology for building immersive experiences is still very new. The iterations we are seeing indicate rapid growth. [At Chief Metaverse Officer, our] vision for a no-code platform where any brand can build their own experience (like Wix does for websites) will help create a bridge from the Creator Economy to the Experience Economy. There are many factors involved in driving mass adoption and I believe we will get there by continuing the build and iteration.”
In spite of all the brands continuing to experiment and invest in the metaverse, no one knows what the future will hold. There remains a legitimate question about how we improve metaverse and Web3 adoption. Is it all about “significant experiences,” user education, platform interoperability, or something else?
According to Nitin Kumar, Founder, zblocks, “The metaverse is a fourth-generation computing platform to run modern applications. The first generation of apps ran on PCs, second generation on the www, the third one on mobiles. Once people take a computing platform view of it, rapid adoption and innovation will occur beyond just gaming.”
What the future of the fashion and luxury metaverse looks like, what stories it will tell, what foundation it needs, and how we encourage people to go and come back, is a story that is still being written. Innovation-focused fashion and luxury creatives and builders are writing the future of fashion and luxury innovation as they go.
Maybe a Barbie metaverse is exactly what the fashion and luxury industry needs.
Thanks for reading FSW. Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support our work.