The online world becomes a laboratory of real products

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New York (AFP) – The online platforms that are the forerunners of the metaverse vision of the Internet’s future are already serving as breakout rooms to develop products for actual sale.

From sneakers sketched in the virtual world but produced in the real world, to designers who preview clothes on avatars before making them, the barrier between the digital and the tangible is thinning.

“In real life, making any product is extremely expensive,” said French fashion designer Julien Fournie, who runs his own eponymous fashion house.

Online is “an open place to test things virtually and recreate an extremely precise connection with the real-life experience,” he added.

The clamor over virtual goods comes amid feverish predictions that the metaverse – a virtual reality version of the internet – will eventually replace today’s web.

In recent months, a growing number of brands have attempted to establish a presence on popular platforms from Roblox to Fortnite for fear of missing out on a major technological and societal change.

The way users interact with products online – what they flock to and what they ignore – provides businesses with a relatively low-risk, low-cost opportunity to develop products.

This is part of an underlying trend of harnessing data collected online “to develop better collections, to make better predictions,” said Achim Berg, partner at McKinsey & Company consulting.

The coronavirus pandemic has helped to reduce the distance between the virtual and the real by pushing many designers to create in three dimensions, for lack of being able to meet physically, added the consultant.

Opportunity for young designers

At the end of February 2021, studio RTFKT, in collaboration with Seattle artist FEWOCiOUS, launched a limited edition of 621 pairs of virtual sneakers via their NFT – digital items that can be bought and sold using blockchain technology.

One aspect of the deal was to match every digital pair sold that day with tangible shoes, which each buyer could pick up six weeks later.

“We believe that the emotional connection to physical objects is still important and can increase attachment” to digital products, Benoit Pagotto, one of the founders of RTFKT, which was acquired by giant Nike in December.

The Aglet application, which mixes virtual sneakers and augmented reality, has created its Telga shoes, like the heavyweights Adidas or Reebok.

Now he plans to make real sneakers, said company CEO Ryan David Mullins, who noted that the first batch of 500 has already been sold before production even begins.

“Once you can quantify the demand within these platforms, it’s much easier to integrate the channel into the physical world to manufacture them,” he added.

Aglet noted that the company is starting to work with younger designers, for whom the cost of entry to create their own physical brand can be a bit too high.

“But starting to design it virtually is much easier,” he said.

Another variation of the online growth is the high-end fashion platform Farfetch, which in August launched a formula that allows people to pre-order digital-only Balenciaga, Off-White or Dolce & Gabbana items.

The site collaborated with the DressX studio, which designs virtual clothes, to achieve the most convincing look possible.

The pieces are then manufactured in the workshop only according to pre-orders, a configuration that especially appeals to high-end brands rather than the behemoths of ready-to-wear.

This way of working can also help avoid overproduction and unsold products, which have become a concern for the environmental costs associated with them.

However, not all are convinced by the vision of making digital tangible.

“Digital coins can be worn, collected and traded in the metaverse, so there is no need for physical counterparts,” said The Manufacturer, a virtual fashion house.

Dutch society still views the permeability between the two worlds as a good thing when people choose to “bring the aesthetics of the virtual world into their physical life”.

“Ultimately, it’s about desirability,” said Berg, the consultant. “If it’s desirable in this (virtual) space, why shouldn’t it be in another space? ”

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