You’re wearing it but you’re not wearing it in the new world of digital fashion.
The Forumist meets pioneers The Fabricant to talk about bringing digital techniques to design and what it means to the industry’s ethical future
In recent years, the digitalisation of the music, film, art and fashion industries has been nothing short of extraordinary. Many creative professionals working within them have found new and innovative ways to work using modern technology, with the aim of challenging the traditional approaches and creating new forms of imagery and visuals. In other words, to Initialize. As for fashion itself, it is one of the latest creative industries to embrace technology and this is a change in which the team behind digital fashion designers The Fabricant are leading the way.
Based in Amsterdam, The Fabricant consists of a group of creative technologists – pioneers, even – who use their skills and expertise in the digital to transform the way people view and choose clothing. The team uses tools from the film visual-effects industry, such as motion capture, 3D animation software and body scanning, to produce hyper-real digital fashion experiences. So it may not come as a surprise that the founder, Kerry Murphy, has a background in film and visual effects. He describes The Fabricant as “a digital fashion house, leading the fashion industry towards a new sector of digital only clothing. We operate at the intersection of fashion and technology, making clothes that are always digital, never physical.” So what does that mean exactly? “We aim to show the world that clothing does not need to be physical to exist,” he explains. “The digital-only sector will explore new creative directions beyond the physical world by eliminating environmental impact. We are currently helping leading brands and retailers to explore this sector and the unlimited possibilities it offers.”
The promise of such limitless opportunities seems to be a natural outcome of this way of working in the digital realm – it gives designers such as The Fabricant’s team the chance to appear to go beyond the bounds of normal perception in the creation of seemingly impossible macro shots, camera movements and lighting scenarios. They have worked with brands such as Soorty, a sustainable denim brand that supplies global retailers including Tommy Hilfiger and C&A, as well as the multi-brand fashion house I.T Hong Kong in ways that have proved to be original and extremely clever. Amber Slooten, The Fabricant’s creative director, describes their process as ethical, one which “wastes nothing but data”. Such sustainability is the direct result of working within the digital realm. “When clothing is always digital and never physical, pollution and waste reduction are non-topics. There is no need for samples, high retail stock levels or size ranges. Digital fashion uses nothing but the imagination,” she continues. “The fashion industry is one of the most polluting [creative industries]. We see the opportunity to use technology to make it
more sustainable by expanding the creative options in new ways.”
The Fabricant has also collaborated with i-D to make a video demonstrating how digital fashion how the digitalisation of clothes is a positive for the industry and could potentially shape its future. The video consists of three social media influencers, who each talk about the exciting advantages of digitalising fashion, for example how it can be a solution to how fast-paced fashion impacts upon the environment. It is also a way to be more inclusive, especially in terms of size. One of the influencers and a plus-size model, Enam Asiama, says that “[Digital fashion] can definitely be a positive way of accessing fashion. Anything that discusses inclusivity of plus-sized bodies is going to be something that is internet breaking.” She adds, enthusiastically, “You wake up in the morning, take a selfie and do all the extra bits later!” As for Ashley, another model, she claims that, “What’s cool about digital clothing is that when you’re wearing it, [the team behind it] can manipulate it, so that way it actually fits your body”. For these women, Instagram is almost a virtual runway, and by using technological advances, a digital fashion house like The Fabricant can create clothes that don’t have to physically exist to be worn. “For us, the digital-only sector returns to the heart of what fashion was always meant to be, to allow us to fully express our identities and individualities,” Slooten says.
But it doesn’t stop there. The Fabricant sees many more positives in the digitalisation of fashion, such as having the flexibility to imagine, prototype and adjust the designs in any scenario at any time, setting the brands they work with apart from the over-used film and photo-shooting techniques and creating fashion stories entirely free from these constraints. In the same way that technology has been used in film, architecture and the music industry, The Fabricant believes that digitalisation will replace fashion’s old crafts with more efficient ones opening up new possibilities, and that the industry needs to move forward. “We believe fashion is in a state of flux,” Murphy explains. “Fashion has left itself in a precarious position by using linear processes that fail to allow consumers to collaborate, that have a notoriously toxic environmental impact and that fail to capitalise on so-called ‘phygital’ connections. This means the industry is putting itself in a risky position by becoming irrelevant to the new generation of consumers.” Murphy sees that changing consumer demands translate into different expectations. “These same consumers are living digital lives, expressing themselves in multi-media virtual realities. They expect to be able to express themselves with no limits through fashion in a sustainable and democratic way. Brands will be able to answer their needs and increase their relevancy by embracing digital fashion.”
The Fabricant is a pioneer in its vision of a future where fashion transcends the physical body. Its work is inventing a new terrain between fashion and animation that has never been explored before. By presenting a valuable alternative to existing photo and film content, and by combining these digital products in a clever way, clients can be better informed and brands promoted more effectively, all of which leads to higher conversions, fewer returns and better service on all channels.
But what about those of us who aren’t influencers? And those of us who maybe have a hard time grasping the idea of digital-only fashion? “Owners of LPs and CDs could have said the same thing about the music industry,” Slooten reminds us. “Yet most of the music sales worldwide are now done through digital-music streaming. We need clothes to protect ourselves and we need fashion to express our identities. When most of our identities are built in digital and social channels, why would we need physical items to express ourselves?” At this level, it almost becomes a philosophical debate.
As for its future projects, The Fabricant adds: “We are creating a new sector of digital-only fashion by connecting leading brands, creators and users. Right now, we can use all the input from our community to make a bigger impact”. It seems like an ambitious, hopefully achievable goal. There is no doubt that the work being done by The Fabricant is helping pave the way for an entirely innovative approach to fashion, from its visualisation to its end user. Fashion’s current unsustainable practices and their place in the climate change debate demand more than ever that there should be ways in which the industry can move forward in a more ethical, positive and environmentally friendly way. Digitalisation is a step in the right direction and just might be the solution.
Words by Roxanne Nielsen
Stills from digital animations by The Fabricant. Opposite, Johanna Jaskowska in ‘Iridescence’ by The Fabricant, photograph by Julien Boudet