With this article, we begin a series of interviews with fashion experts about fashion tech, digital fashion, and the future of our industry, aiming to develop a Fashion-Tech Statement Report. You will learn more about those concepts, how are we developing technology combined with textiles, and thinking about the fashion consumption of the future. Stay close and get to know all about Fashion Tech during the next weeks.
A quote is attributed to the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche that says “and those who were seen dancing were thought to be insane by those who could not hear the music.” Somehow, this phrase seems to be related to the avant-garde ideas of the Dutch fashion designer, Amber Jae Slooten. Co-founder of The Fabricant, Amber is the creative mind behind the digital fashion house that recently sold an exclusively digital dress using the blockchain.
Her lucidity about the future of fashion and her democratic approach to expressing oneself in virtual environments has made me believe that those who don’t understand the urge for change are the ones who aren’t hearing the music.
In an exclusive interview for our Fashion-Tech Statement Report, Amber Jae Slooten told us how she came up with the idea of a digital fashion house, what it takes to develop a 3D design collection, and how technology is—finally—enabling an inclusive model for the fashion industry.
Amber has a traditional background in fashion design, with a bachelor’s degree from the Amsterdam Fashion Institute (AMFI). During her years at college, she learned how to sew and how to create flat drawings by hand, developing three or more pieces of clothing per week—all of it consuming a huge amount of materials, paper, fabric, thread, etc. At some point, it wasn’t making sense to her anymore.
But still, she always has felt a very strong affinity with fashion design. Her mother used to sew her clothes when she was younger, so she was used to creating expression using fabric. Also, as a gamer during childhood, Amber discovered through the characters a way to switch into different identities: “I could fully express myself without having the social pressure of those looking at you, you can just kind of experiment with who you are.”
All these things led her to the next phase in fashion design school. She started thinking about how to create something in this world without waste somehow—to stop creating collections just for the sake of creating, and add more meaning to it. During her studies, she started to experiment with fashion-tech, trying to add lights on garments and using different materials. But it wasn’t until she learned how to use software to create a 3D outfit on the computer that she finally felt “this is where it’s at”.
In 2014, she got into six months of development just to explore 3D and Fashion, how can we combine it, how we can create an experience and see our clothing. She ended up creating a digital fashion experience where people could watch models walking in a virtual environment. Then, Amber was back at AMFI to finish her degree, and brought to academia the idea of a digital collection as her final project. “Nobody really knew how to judge me, because it had never been done before, so they didn’t know what to say. Most of them looked at me like I was crazy, and no one accepted the idea that, in the future, we might wear clothes very differently from the way we do now.” Amber got her degree and her space to experiment at AMFI, developing eight digital outfits displayed in a sort of a hologram on top of in a skintight bodysuit, enabling the idea of expressing an identity digitally, and being able to see that through glasses or lenses.
It was also during fashion school that Amber met her business partner in The Fabricant, Kerry Murphy, who believed in her vision of the future for fashion and decided to create a full technical workflow and did two years of business developmentfollow the idea. In 2018 The Fabricant was officially launched, and their first digital fashion collection presented in different places in the same week. With the first collection was also born their aim to create a real change in the fashion industry: “In every single project, we’ve tried to create a wave of thinking. That is why we call it ‘thought couture’, because it is beyond the physical, just like thought, and it makes people think about the process.”
“Thought Couture is basically digital couture that is added to the blockchain, with the idea of making people think about the impact that it has, and what is behind it all. Traditional haute couture was created based on rules of the 19th century—it was created for a physical world. We are creating this for another world.”
We’ve asked Amber what her inspiration was to create her ‘thought couture’. She answered that it is the idea of enabling everyone’s expression through fashion. To develop that, The Fabricant is building a platform where people will be able to wear, buy and share digital clothes, a place for everyone to express their identity regardless of the body they have, or whatever background they have. The users will be able to curate their own styles using digital items, instead of actual objects, trying to see how we can to go less physical and more digital. “We don’t have to affect the planet with our expression and identity.”
For Amber, the internet is a way to include people from lots of different backgrounds and places around the world in the fashion trends for digital clothing. “As long as you have a device, you are able to tap into that network, and use technology to connect with us all, rather than be strangers to us, and not be excluded” is the goal—a truly democratic platform of identity and expression through digital fashion.
What about the cost of this technology? If the vision is to become democratic, how should it be scaled? At this moment, The Fabricant is looking for partners, and trying to figure out the technological side of this project, to launch probably at Q4 2020, testing business models as subscriptions or ownership through the blockchain: “My thought on that is if we have our ‘thought couture’, it could be your own piece of couture in the blockchain, so it is collectable and could be more expensive because you can trade it, or share it. And there are outfits you can subscribe to, or wear, on this platform. This way, they are more accessible.”
In 2019, The Fabricant sold a couture dress on a blockchain auction in New York for 9500 US dollars. They’ve never seen the owner—she only sent some pictures, and they were able to dress her, to create it in her size, and render the images of her wearing the dress. But what exactly does it mean to wear a digital dress? To Amber, the action of wearing won a whole new meaning on the digital platforms. To exemplify, she told us about the model who used the dress during the auction. Maybe 20 people saw her walking that day, “wearing” the garment during the event, in the physical world, but millions of people saw her online and in the press.
For Amber, the main part of their communication is about educating the user. They don’t fully understand; indeed, “You need to be a super nerd to understand blockchain and be on the crypto scene to understand how we create value for them by selling digital garmentswhat we do. There is a lot of experimenting to do about that.” In this field, they are developing content like blog posts, Instagram, and Linkedin posts, telling the story behind each digital clothing piece, voicing out their process. “A digital garment without a story has no value, and the value is built upon the idea of that,” says Amber.
Besides the challenge of understanding the trend and the tech behind it, there is a barrier regarding consumer behaviour. Are the shoppers ready to not buy a piece and just wear it digitally? Amber believes we are facing a revolution again in terms of consumer culture, and it is affecting fashion. Today, we’re faced with much more aware youth, who care about the story behind the products and care if the brand is sustainable. “Today, you still go to a store and buy a piece of clothing that is hanging on a rack. It is something that is ready for you, and it means the stocks are of high levels. I think this is going to disappear. That is my feeling about what young people will do. I hope that the trend will be wiser and more aware of their behaviour.”
One example of changing shopping behaviour is a campaign that The Fabricant created with a retailer from Hong Kong. (You can see more here). The brand commissioned a digital recreation of a collection designed exclusively to celebrate its three decades. The pop-up store had no physical clothing, just screens where people could order the clothes by interacting with big screens and life size 3D animations of the garmentsAugmented Reality and Virtual Reality. The experience was very successful, with excellent acceptance levels from consumers.
Among everything we’ve already talked about, we still want to know from Amber: What is digital fashion? “Anything that has to do with fashion beyond the physical realm—fashion you can wear with your digital identity”, defines the designer. She sees fashion in a future where we will be able to live in a mixed, alternative world. For her, the screens are dated, and soon we are going to experiment with augmented and virtual reality through glasses or lenses. With screens being part of the past, we are going to be able to see the digital world around us, like “beautiful things coming out of your head, a whole different material that you wear. I think this is a very bright future that we can build, so for me, digital fashion is full self-expression, without the limits of size, body type, gravity, whatever”, says Amber.
The fascinating part of Digital Fashion is exactly this inclusive concept, embracing any body type, with no limitations like the physical standard sizes and samples. People will be able to upload their bodies, and you’ll see how these things are going to look, like “far more open to creativity and also to the celebration of the beauty of these different bodies. We should celebrate everybody, not just size 0. Fashion has a responsibility toward body positivity. Why can’t we express ourselves, rather than need to fit the ideals that no one fits?”
Thank you, Amber, for opening our minds, and never needing to “fit” again.