In the era of the year 2000 and in the early days of the internet, there was a magical chat server called “The Palace”. Here, computer programmer Jim Bumgardner created a virtual space where young internet users could chat anonymously while using a custom avatar to represent their online presence. At first, the avatars were scary-looking 3-D tennis ball faces. Legend has it that a colleague gave Bumgardner the idea of raising the fire with customization. “[Avatar customization] It scared me initially, because I feared it would fill the place with shitty artwork, and in a way it did, ”Bumgardner recalled in an interview with The Outline.
Among all the art of shit, a culturally defining moment was forming. In the depths of The Palace, doll-style figures wore baggy pants with skateboards, later becoming known as Dollz, the next evolution of the online avatar. In the beginning, the Dollz were divided into three pieces (head, torso and legs) where it was possible to drag and drop the items of clothing onto their bodies to customize the look they had. This quickly turned into a way for you to stand out on the internet for self-expression and creativity. Once the need was there, independent artists began to focus on creating bespoke Dollz “Art” and selling to Dollz lovers. The D2A, or direct-to-avatar, market has formed.
Fast forward 20 years, after the technological explosion of Silicon Valley, after an isolation quarantine and the metaverse has now become the new obsession of the world. Bitmoji, profile pictures, and avatars still help us express ourselves as we spend more and more time online, and as a result, the D2A economy is thriving as fashion brands have begun to cash in. Direct-to-avatar fashion collections are now approaching in the same way as exaggerated product declines, also forming an underground (and profitable) resale market, as well as a growing community of digital fashion creators.
The line by designer Stefan Cooke for Simsfor example, gives players the option to purchase 23 of the brand’s men’s clothing to dress them up Sims character for $ 4.99. Huge events such as the acquisition of Balenciaga’s fashion Fortnite or Ralph Lauren opening a Polo store in Roblox have become increasingly common. When Gucci released its Dionysus bag as a game accessory for Roblox (which cost about $ 6 in Robux), the digital-only item was resold for $ 4,115 (350,000 Robux) – more than the actual physical bag price.
Roblox is perhaps the largest contributor to the D2A market. As of November 2021, the online gaming platform boasts 50 million active daily users who log in to connect, create and express themselves through interactive gaming experiences. For fashion brands, Roblox is also a portal to Gen Z.
“Self-expression is a huge part of any shared experience, both in real life and in the metaverse,” says Christina Wootton, vice president of global brand partnerships at Roblox. “The Roblox community, over half of which are over 13, is very busy, spending billions of hours on the platform every month, and digital fashion plays a hugely important role in the creative expression of our community.” According to Wootton, in 2021 alone the Roblox community created 25 million virtual items and over 5.8 billion virtual items (both free and paid) were acquired on the platform.
“One in five of our daily active users updated their avatar on any given day,” adds Wootton. “And we’ve seen over 165 billion avatar updates performed in total.” The metaverse type serves as an experiment for brands looking to test new product ideas, innovate or launch fashion lines in a sustainable and low-risk way. They can also play on current trends or offer high fashion and limited edition pieces, all opening up new revenue streams.
So far, digital stylists seem abundant in the metaverse. (So much so that the British Fashion Council has created an entirely new category that highlights metaverse design for its annual Fashion Awards ceremony.) Additionally, since Roblox is a user-generated content platform, brands now have access to a talent pool of millions of creators. Self-taught clothing designer Blizzei was DM posted on Twitter to help give a twist to the iconic Tommy Hilfiger jeans for the brand’s collaboration with Roblox. She is one of the few UGC creators who have worked on the project, as well as showing that there is an opportunity for independent artists to work with some of the biggest names in fashion with fewer barriers to entry.
“The most exciting thing about the D2A economy is the release of physical production restrictions,” he says Reggie James, co-founder and CEO of eterna, a tech house that builds a growing collection of digital 3D spaces designed for Generation Z to discover unique content and each other in real time. “The economics around producing a genuinely new design can become a real obstacle to nuanced work. That same economy hinders all young people who may not have the money available to produce something for their community or a business they are thinking about. “
Since we’re talking about digital art in the metaverse, another very lively and celebrity-backed term might also come to mind: NFT or non-fungible tokens. Although NFTs have a hazy future, they solve the problem of digital stylists being attributed for their art.
Back in the early days of Dollz, there was a group of independent artists who turned away from the popular site to prevent their projects from being shared without credit. “As with any subculture, there were several subgroups and factions on the Internet, but the Dollz Palace was primarily a place for ‘Twinkie’ Dollz, short for popular, mainstream, basic-b * tch, preppy off-the-rack style. jock Barbie and Ken vibrates ”, artist and designer Bhoka says NYLON. “While other smaller websites were hosted by independent artists who would show off their custom Dollz ‘Art’ under stricter conditions.”
Independent artists would code their own sites or “bases” – the base layer of the doll without clothing. “You could save [bases] or share them according to strict guidelines on giving adequate credit. It was the artisan side of the scene, ”Bhoka recalls. “Dollz Palace often got into trouble for ‘stealing’ property and other general clique drama from both sides. Lots of internal struggles over copyright, credit, ownership, originality and above all what constituted “art” versus “begotten” Dollz.
By having an image or graphic asset like NFT, you can own your avatar or at least give the artist proper credit. Twitter is adding an option to set an NFT as a profile picture, and Meta plans to open an NFT marketplace that allows users to sell or buy original artwork.
“When we run open source where design comes from in the first place and create more intuitive tools for that production, you create an explosion of young designers who want to build a new culture,” says James. “From the launch of their D2A stores to the possibility of presenting speculative projects while maintaining the rights to their work in a completely new way. Not to say that Diet Prada will be out of work, but the goal is certainly a fairer working practice “.
The future of avatar fashion hinges on speculation, but James predicts that we will see new D2A brands enter the physical world with new rules for personal shopping experiences.
“Clothing is one of our OG technologies, it has been necessary since we left Eden. It is our first and daily extension of our identity, a dressing up of ourselves, ”she says. “We have already seen some integrated works by some fashion houses: Balenciaga and Fortnite, Off-White made pieces for Bitmoji within Snap, Balmain made an NFT sneaker that gave you access to their fashion week show. Where it goes from here is simply More. ”