By guest author Maghan McDowell from Vogue Business
Apps and platforms that let people play with fashion are seeing interest pique from consumers stuck at home.
- E-commerce sales for apparel are down, but digital fashion apps are on the rise.
- Forma, a virtual try-on app, is getting more requests from brands wanting to try the technology, while games like Drest are spotlighting digital clothing.
- The current crisis could open up more opportunities for digital fashion, which has mostly existed on the fringe of the industry.
Despite what for many is idle time in front of screens, e-commerce shoppers have not turned to traditional fashion for their retail therapy. As of late March, online revenue for apparel was down 11 per cent year-on-year, while overall online revenue growth was up 50 per cent, according to an analysis of US consumers conducted by Quantum Metrics.
But as sales stall, interest in fashion hasn’t disappeared: platforms that let people engage with clothes digitally are on the rise.
New users for fashion try-on app Forma, for example, are doubling each week. Its users are spending more than 50 per cent more time on the app and trying almost double as many outfits per user, compared to pre-coronavirus activity, says co-founder and CEO Ben Chiang. And Drest, the six-month-old fashion gaming app that lets users style digital models, is seeing a 50 % month-over-month increase in installs; in Italy, it saw a 400 per cent uplift during the first week in April, compared to the week prior.
According to data firm App Annie, overall time spent in apps globally is up 20 % compared to this time last year, with an increase in apps that allow consumers to maintain normality while staying at home, reported market insights manager Adithya Venkatraman.
For fashion, that extends beyond the digital fitting room. Video game Animal Crossing: New Horizons has become so important to fashionable gamers during quarantine that lifestyle brand 100 Thieves made virtual versions of its entire inventory downloadable for free to fans. And online social gaming platform Roblox, which lets players design, buy and sell digital fashion items, saw a 40 % increase in usage in March. “Games have the power not only to entertain but be a light in the dark during difficult times,” says Covet Fashion VP and general manager Sarah Fuchs, who adds that Covet Fashion, a gaming app, has seen a rise in engagement over the last few weeks.
Digital platforms offer an opportunity to increase engagement, attract new customers and harness the power of fashion to be a respite from real life. For digital players angling to be taken seriously, this moment could serve as an unexpected catalyst that helps transition digitised clothes from fun experiment to must-have tool.
A virtual dressing room
The Forma app, launched in 2019, lets users try on fashion virtually by uploading a front-facing image of themselves or selecting a model.
The tens of thousands of outfits on the app, from names such as Marc Jacobs, Proenza Schouler and Farfetch, are sourced directly from brands, who can integrate online catalogues and link out to purchase pages, or uploaded by users. (Forma declined to name specific partners). Chiang says that conversion rates have remained relatively steady since the lockdown, with categories like athleisure and plus-size increasing and bridal and formalwear dipping.
Brands can also add a Forma try-on option to their e-commerce pages. Online bridesmaid dress brand Birdy Grey, which added Forma to its site in February, saw a 5 per cent conversion lift in A/B testing for customers who had access to the tool. Shoppers who start a try-on are more than six times more likely to complete a purchase, Birdy Grey CEO Grace Lee says, and the brand has since rolled out the try-on to all customers. Lee says that Forma is a way for the online-only brand to recreate the in-person dressing room experience. “Given all that is going on, Forma is another way to keep her engaged and interested,” Lee says.
Chiang says that the company has seen a “huge jump” in inbound requests from brands and retailers, with pilots in the works. In the future, for example, brands can use Forma to let people immediately try on clothes after runway shows (red carpet looks are already popular), test the popularity of potential designs, or “unlock” independent design talent.
AR try-on company Wannaby, which has worked with Gucci to create a virtual sneaker try-on, is also receiving requests from brands who want to use its Wanna Kicks sneakers app to present new releases during the quarantine, says CEO Sergey Arkhangelskiy. At a time when offline channels are closed, he says, virtual try-on becomes a natural platform to introduce new products to customers.
Gamifying real-life fashion moments
Engagement is picking up for games including Drest, a fashion styling game created by former magazine editor Lucy Yeomans that lets players dress model avatars in digital versions of real designer clothes. Users can compete in style challenges, pay for in-game extras and click out to buy the products from those including Gucci, Burberry and Farfetch. In addition to the dramatic increases in app installs, sharing and connectivity “have moved to the next level,” COO Lisa Bridgett says. Globally, there has been an incremental increase in Drest creations being shared across social, with twice as many photo shoot challenges being posted across various platforms, she says.
“We expect that as long as audiences remain in lockdown, more people will seek escapism and turn to Drest for their fashion fix and personal creativity,” Bridgett says.
Roblox, which has offered virtual Nikes, added a user-generated content store to provide players with a catalogue to buy digital hats, hair, wings and glasses — all designed by other users — to dress their in-game avatars. The monthly average revenue for full-time creators selling items on the Roblox UGC store is about USD 26000, with the most successful making an annual income that’s in the high six figures, says senior director of product Matt Brown. The top-selling item, a pair of “Deal With It” shades, sold 500000 times.
A 20-year-old Australia-based designer who goes by the name “Missmudmaam” on Roblox says via email that when making virtual fashion choices, people are “more bold and daring”. She adds that in virtual worlds, players are free to dress as members of groups that they might not be able to in real life, such as in Harajuku or gothic styles.
Creators and designers understand their audience because they are in the same age category as buyers, says chief business officer Craig Donato. While the platform originally was popular with children and Gen Z, now more than 40 per cent of users are older than 13. “An outsider may not always understand every design that becomes popular, but the community votes with their Robux (our virtual currency),” Donato says. “We believe some of these trends we are seeing will define what the digital fashion industry looks like in a few years from now.”
A good time to test new concepts
This unprecedented time — in which consumers are seeking inspiration and escape online — provides a fertile atmosphere for digital designers to test concepts beyond games and apps. Last week, digital fashion house The Fabricant, which has worked with Tommy Hilfiger, Puma and Napapijri, began testing Leela, a platform that creates 3D avatars from users’ submitted selfies. They can then see themselves in the same types of digital designs that last year sold for $9,500 at a blockchain conference.
Last month, Jonas Niedermüller and Grigorij Aronov introduced digital fashion brand Rohbau with a collection of hoodies designed by Central Saint Martins alum Assaf Reeb. For €40, customers can submit an image that is then dressed in one of four hoodies that are chrome or transparent. The entire process of creating, trying, buying, wearing and posting can all be done from the customers’, and the founders’, couches.
The brand launched on February 21, but during the two weeks of March 23 to April 5, online store visits doubled, and sales increased by 500 per cent, and influencer posts about the brand received approximately 49000 likes. “I’ve been overwhelmed by the DMs from consumers, magazines and musical artists,” Niedermüller says. “The supply chain is stopped right now, but a digital fashion designer can render images at home.”
Once the lockdown has ended, Chiang thinks that many of these new behaviours might stick. “Inertia is strong and everybody keeps doing more of the same when things are fine, so sometimes it takes something bigger to break the inertia. Everybody is probably doing some level of reevaluation of what’s important, what’s exciting and new, what will no longer be the same going forward.”