043 How AR Can Make Fashion Sustainable
Following closely from Black Friday and Giving Tuesday and kicking off the theme of giving and generosity in the month of December, I wanted to share the story of The Fabricant. The company is a digital fashion house known for selling the first digital dress to minimize waste while allowing people to express themselves through fashion.
The company is not the only fashion business to do so. In late September, Dolce & Gabbana auctioned off a nine-piece fashion collection for $6 million and Nicolas Romero, Paris-based designer, sold two virtual sneakers worth $70,000 in cryptocurrency.
I sat down with Amber Slooten, co-Founder of The Fabricant, to learn how she is bridging sustainability, innovation, and fashion.
What is the problem that The Fabricant is solving?
There are too many clothes in this world. Brands are producing more and more garments every single day, and most of the time, in very unsustainable ways. Even though eco-fashion is on the rise, and there's more awareness, there still isn't a suitable replacement for fashion.
We have to create systems that are better for the planet. If we can express ourselves in the digital world, we can save all the resources that we would need to do so normally in the physical world.
Clothing has two functions. On the one hand, it is the very functional side that keeps us warm. And on the other hand, it is an expression of our best selves. We try to take those two apart. Within the physical space, things will be very functional, very nice, and of very good quality, so they'll last for a long time. And in digital space, you can go crazy with new looks every single second and be fully self-expressed.
Creating New Systems
Could you share the story of selling the first NFT (non-fungible token) dress?
We got approached by a company called Dapper Labs, a company that invented a new system of trading entities with which they created a game called CryptoKitties. They wanted to use this system for digital fashion and to join forces with us. They asked us to design a digital garment that they could auction off as an entity on their platform.
Back then, the term NFT wasn't widely used. The dress was designed as a blockchain digital asset that anyone could wear. We sold it for $9500 to the owner of a crypto-security company.
The sale proved that people are willing to pay money for digital fashion, turning the fashion world on its head. This moment made us realize that digital goods may become more important for us and society at large.
What we've seen now happening in the NFT market, with digital art taking off at the beginning of this year, is that art doesn't have to be produced physically. It's a whole new system.
When we sold the dress, it was a new benchmark for fashion, and people started to take us more seriously because people could make money from it. We realized then that the business model behind everything you do is extremely important for your success. Even if you have a cool feature, nobody will take you seriously unless there's money to be made.
How would you put a value and justify the prices paid for NF T's at the moment?
Value is something we create ourselves.
Look at fashion brands and take a pair of jeans. Often jeans cost $10 in the creation process. But if an expensive brand makes the jeans, the garment is heavily marked up, creating hype and a sense of exclusivity. Not everyone can afford the garment.
But the price is not just the value of the material but also the value of the design. How much is creativity worth? Brands come up with the value of this creativity and creation, and it is interesting to see how people are willing to pay for this. So most of the price paid is primarily about status.
If we go into this new digital world, we have a different creation process. You're still creating items that take time, and you're still creating in 3D. There's still craftsmanship in the process, even though it is digital.
There are elaborate tools and techniques in the 3D digital space that doesn't translate into the physical world, but craftsmanship still creates a unique selling point. We can create to such a level of detail with high fidelity that not everyone can do. This creates value.
The value of the digital asset can go up and down, similar to other rare items. The value tends to go down when you create more of the same product. This NFT world is very much about scarcity. If the project is interesting and rare, the price will be high.
What did you learn in the process of securing venture capital financing?
At first, we tried to bootstrap our way through. It was beneficial for our growth, but it slowed us down because we needed to execute client projects and generate revenue.
After we built up our profile, we realized that we needed venture capital funding to scale. We found extraordinary partners that wanted to help us in that journey. The three investors are Dutch VC funds, one of which is an impact fund. The second investor, Slingshot, is backing us from a platform and scaling angle. And finally, Borski Fund invests in diverse founder teams. Our founder team is made up of two women and one man.
Since the investment, we've been able to scale. We are raising another investment round, Series A, and are learning a lot along the way. It is good to talk to many investors and get your company out there. It helps to get feedback from VCs, which has helped us make good decisions.
We're currently building a platform, working less with clients, and focusing on the product. So that's when you really need capital.
Why do you think it is essential for businesses to focus on positively impacting the environment and society? Should companies take responsibility for solving social problems?
I think business makes the world go round. It's the 100% responsibility of companies to do this and to do it correctly and create a better future. We're seeing from the 20th century that we're very good at generating a profit and creating wealth and growth. But at the beginning of this century, or maybe even just only a year ago, is that we have enough.
So how can we use that growth to create more innovative systems that are not about creating but more about efficient ways of working? This can benefit society by reducing waste and figuring out new ways of organizing more things around circularity.
Even though these new systems may not be profitable in the short run, in the long run, this is a way better system for everybody to adhere to. Right now, we tipped over a scale—it's about more, more and more. But maybe we don't need more.
I think with the times, things will shift, and I hope this will happen fast. We can't continue the way we do now, and there's no realistic way of doing so. So indeed, it's the absolute responsibility of any business to do things about that now.
At The Fabricant, we realized that we could create an impact with a business that could change the world.
What innovations could help with the problems that we're seeing in a world today?
We need to leave behind the notion that everything needs to be faster. Let's think instead about how it can be more innovative. Can we have a different system and think about the planet and people before profit?
Let's have a more positive outlook rather than a negative one. Let's inform people that positive change is happening. For instance, a fashion designer is using human hair thrown away by hairdressers to make wool. If we wear angora sweaters made from rabbit fur, why can't we do that with hair? We can create new systems where we can use our waste to develop new products.
There are prototype AR glasses that take us out of our screens, and we can see the world with a digital layer on top. So I can see you, and you could be wearing this beautiful digital garment. We can observe each other's digital space, like a social media space that you wear around you. This type of invention excites me because it will take us out of our screen and create more social interactions to connect us more.
Creating the Future
What is your hope for the future?
I hope we unite rather than divide. We could create more empathy for each other and understand where we are coming from, talk about things rather than ignore each other. Because what we are doing right now is looking in different directions and being in our little silos. It would be great if we could start talking to each other again. This creates that healing mechanism in which we can work together.
I hope that we will understand that the systems we have now are no longer functioning, like fossil fuels, and these systems need massive change.
What can the audience do to create an impact?
I think it always starts with you. As a young fashion student, all my friends bought Zara, H&M, and other fast fashion. I remember our teacher telling us about the impact of the fashion industry and how horrible it was. At some point, I decided I was not going to buy any new clothes for one year.
I never knew how much impact I could have with just doing that, which inspired the people around me. I became more creative because I couldn't do things I'd typically do and had to find new ways to do things.
I think every person has the possibility for impact and can change that system by being the example themselves. If you are creating that example, you're already starting to change things.
In terms of fashion, if you want something new or beautiful, buy something second-hand or something good quality that you can use for a long time. We can still clothe ourselves for the next 50 years with the clothes that are already out there right now. It's just fashion telling us that we need new things. So try not to be brainwashed by that.
Learn more about digital fashion and how you can create a new way of interacting with clothes. We're making this new way of fashion more available for anyone to come and play with this. So join us! Follow The Fabricant (https://www.instagram.com/the_fab_ric_ant and https://twitter.com/the_fab_ric_ant) to see what we are doing.