Metaverse: The Breakthrough Of Sustainable Fashion, Or Is It A New Form Of Greenwashing?

The fashion industry has long been criticized by environmentalists for its water pollution and carbon footprintIn 2021, the arrival of the metaverse allows the fashion industry to find a new savior. In the past two years, the digital fashion practice has been carried out vigorously, various mainstream brands and celebrities keep joining the ambitious team, and with that comes a small minority of skepticism about its greenwashing intentions.

Instagram Post: A model wears a mermaid tail virtual couture by New York fashion brand Bad Bitch TONGTONG. Credit: Bad Bitch TONGTONG. Source: Instagram.

It’s easy to see digital fashion in many places these days. We can pay real money for a virtual garment on a picture, and techs will soon add it to your personal photo; we try on some real goods through AR technology; or NFTs (Non-Fungible Token)——Some people are responsible for creating NFT virtual fashion, and you can buy the ownership of it, although you can’t really touch it.

With the rapid development of the Internet, digital fashion presents more and more rich forms and is sought after by people. A recent example is MVFW: as the first Metaverse Fashion Week, MVFW attracted more than 100,000 players to participate online.

In MVFW, players are allowed to control online characters on the virtual platform Decentraland, They go shopping in the Selfridges digital flagship, sit on the show floor and watch models (they may not be human) showcasing wares made of surreal fabrics; wearable glasses will take you anywhere on the map.

Instagram Post: A digital avatar is showing virtual fashion. Credit: CLO3D garment designer Mustafa Korkut. Source: Instagram.

Advocates of digital fashion claim that the metaverse is a revolution in the fashion industry. Not only does it offer new possibilities to extend immersive virtual fashion beyond the physical, metaverse also has the potential to alleviate the pollution problems of the traditional fashion industry.

Digital fashion —— I mean virtual clothing and NFT here, does reset and extend the traditional fashion industry to some extent. You can build a brand new identity narratives with virtual appearances, and this will not limited by material, size or gender.

As a fashion lover, I bought an astonishing 150 garments last year. And most of them lose their value after I upload photos to social media platforms. Fun fact: one in ten Brits agrees with me on this. From this perspective, digital fashion does have some environmental implications—it cuts down on unnecessary purchases, and ultimately, unnecessary production. If we only buy clothing to satisfy our desire for online socialization, digital fashion will meet our needs perfectly.

Instagram Post: Defy the Oddz is a young artist and activist dedicated to promoting eco-friendly ideas through digital fashion.Credit: Defy the Oddz.Source: Instagram.

Now the question is, is digital fashion verified as an environmentally friendly commodity? In fact, the pollution problem from digital fashion may be even worse, and it may even develop into a new disaster, light artist Joanie Lemercier documents the consequences of her once published work, “It turns out my release of 6 CryptoArt works consumed in 10 seconds more electricity than the entire studio over the past 2 years.”

What many people don’t know is that behind digital fashion, the entire cryptocurrency system runs on fossil fuels. In an article, climate and culture journalist Whitney Bauck revealed blockchain systems “rely on technology that processes large amounts of data, which in turn needs powerful computers that ultimately rely on electricity from fossil fuels. According to one estimate, creating an average NFT is equivalent to driving 500 miles in a typical American gasoline-powered car.”

On the other side, The commercial value brought by digital fashion to brands is enormous. Morgan Stanley estimates that in luxury goods alone, Metaverse games and NFTs could account for 10% of the market by 2030, marking a €50bn revenue opportunity and a 25% increase in industry profits.

Everything is now much easier to understand, although business is essentially an economic activity, people have never been more willing to pay attention to what business are doing in CSR. Now that manifesto looks more like a clever distraction.Yes, companies are trying to amplify brand narratives and connect with consumers in the digital age through greenwashing and rationalise this commercial activity.

Whether it is digital clothing or NFT, the essence of digital fashion is a content payment behavior. The former pays for an image or model, while the latter pays for the copyright of digital goods. However, paying for images can be prohibitively expensive, as designers need to be trained in programming languages and various software programs to make digital clothing fit exactly the body in your photo.

The NFTs are different, everyone can intercept, download, copy or imitate these NFT commodities. In the past, taking clothes from other people’s wardrobes would be considered stealing, and now you can put your finger in the photo to wear the latest couture from GUCCI. This is allowed, even potentially encouraged. In fact, the more attention any piece of NFT commodities gets, the more expensive it will be on the secondary market.

You can see this – the focus of the NFT fashion transaction is not the digital fashion itself. ArtPrize’s former art director Kevin Buist noted in a blog post that NFT “it’s not a new method for making or even distributing images”, the essence of NFTs is the pursuit of scarcity, which determines whether digital fashion is cheaper and more accessible to everyone is not cared by brands, on the contrary, they are using financial tools to make them more and more expensive and unavailable.

When fashion goes digital, who will be responsible for these emissions? Will the brands do it? At that time, they will be making a lot of money with the huge digital fashion industry, and we have harvested a riddled earth.

Effective enough or not, the real clothing industry is being regulated by relevant authorities, but the cryptocurrency system is decentralized and anarchic, if the small minority who hold the rules of the game insist that it is Eco-friendly, trendy, harmless, should consumers be suspicious? It’s too early to draw conclusions.

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