Imagine this: the most sought-after luxury brand has released an exclusive pair of limited-edition sneakers. This isn’t uncommon in the fashion world, but what if I told you that these sneakers can neither be copied nor replicated? Is that even possible (cue ‘inspiration’)? For years, brands and designers have been trying to put an end to counterfeiting. They are yet to find an effective solution. Until now. Enter NFTs. The current rage of the digital world has piqued the interest of the fashion industry by providing an opportunity to fix its biggest problem, as well as expand its reach.

For the uninitiated, NFT stands for non-fungible token. In layman terms, non-fungible means unique and one of a kind. In the real world, Leonardo Da Vinci’s ‘Mona Lisa” is a non-fungible piece of art. That means you can’t exchange it with any other work of art, even if the other painting is of the same monetary value. Similarly, NFTs cannot be exchanged with one another and hence, non-fungible. Within the crypto space and metaverse, an NFT is a digital asset that is not mutually interchangeable. They are built using Ethereum, and managed on a digital ledger called the blockchain. Each NFT is like an original piece of art that can be viewed by all, but only one person gets ownership rights of it. NFTs are authenticated and cannot be copied, replicated, or forged. They can be in the form of an image, video, GIF, or music. Each NFT has a digital signature that makes it unique.

NFTs fashion world

But what exactly does a digital token have to do with fashion? It may come as a surprise, but fashion and NFTs have a lot in common. The cornerstone of the NFT is originality, exclusivity, scarcity, and most importantly, authenticity. The same qualities are paramount in fashion as well. Through NFTs, fashion can finally make its mark in the digital world and the metaverse. Luxury brands and designers around the world have understood the potential of NFTs and are making the most of it.

Gucci is the first major luxury fashion house to create and sell NFTs. Its first official NFT was a four-minute short film inspired by their Aria collection to celebrate Gucci’s 100-year anniversary. The film was auctioned at Christie’s, and sold at $25,000.

Another Italian label to make its foray into the digital world is Dolce & Gabbana. Partnering up with digital luxury marketplace UNXD, the duo created their 9-piece inaugural NFTs collection titled Collezione Genesi. The most valuable piece of the collection was the digital The Glass Suit. The bid winner also received a custom-made physical version of the suit.

Burberry launched its own NFT in collaboration with Mythical Games’ multiplayer game Blankos Block Party. Rebecca Minkoff is one of the first female designers to venture into NFTs.
She celebrated 20 years of her label by presenting a collection of 10 NFTs in a series of collages that feature portraits shot by photographer Cass Bird.

Not to miss out on the digital gold rush, Indian designers are creating their own NFTs. Manish Malhotra, in collaboration with WazirX, Lakme Fashion Week, and FDCI, unveiled 5 NFTs — 4 digital sketches of designs and 1 GIF. Ace menswear designer Raghavendra Rathore became the first Indian designer to digitise his personal art and brand memorabilia into NFTs. Understanding the real potential NFTs hold, Rathore states, “There are two nuances to NFT trade: The first is the chosen price of the artwork, which is generally shared with the marketplace. But from then on, every time the artwork sells, you can request a small percentage of the secondary sale. In other words, you are guaranteed a royalty for the rest of your life if people buy and sell your artwork for eternity. This is a boon for luxury fashion items because they will always have a secondary retail market value rather than lose their worth as they currently do. As a designer brand, I plan to create collections in the future that could be sold as NFTs. If we don’t adapt, we become redundant. Heritage and its celebration is the key differentiating factor that Raghavendra Rathore Crypto NFTs stand for, it is one-way to secure our legacy for blockchain eternity.”

NFT digital world of fashion

But as Indian designers are opt for NFT technology, what does that mean for the fashion industry? “Fashion NFTs will give rise to more designers to come forward, display globally, get recognised, build a larger community, and add to their source of revenue”, says Dakshin Adyanthaya, who is a collector, creator, and digital marketer for various NFT projects. Currently, NFTs are at a nascent stage but as the market expands, “Fashion NFT collectors will get an opportunity to connect directly with the artist/designer via social media, help the project grow organically, get rewarded for being loyal holders, and will also be able to redeem their digital fashion NFTs into physical ones.” With more people valuing virtual products as they value real-world products, fashion NFTs can eventually bridge the gap between digital and traditional ownership.

Fashion and lifestyle consultant Neeraj Gaba observes, “NFTs will open up the market to experimentation, exploration with risks within reach. The talented lot will have their growth cycles multifold with experience/exposure/establishment being no bar.” He believes NFTs will help democratise fashion in its conceptualisation, branding, marketing, and production. NFTs will also enable co-creation, collaboration, and “will help cross-pollinate with hugely successful digital industries like gaming and crypto- native fashion brands”. Gaba is optimistic about fashion NFTs and their impact on the industry. He thinks a phygital approach is a great transition point to start from. “Since the digital counterpart is non-fungible, exclusivity, which is highly valued by any consumer, can help expand the consumer- designer relationship in a multifaceted manner. Many more can feel connected to an aspirational brand or designer by owning a piece of their creation.” On the flip side, “a luxury consumer may not feel as prime as they are used to. A tightrope to walk on for any brand and designer, especially couture and luxury ones, to ensure that their current standing relations are as well served as before.”

Another important point of contention is if NFTs will help the fashion industry strike a balance between the physical and virtual world.

Non-fungible tokens in fashion

While established designers and luxury fashion houses will need to find a way to balance their
physical and digital clientele, NFTs and digital fashion offer numerous opportunities for newcomers. A new designer, who doesn’t have the financial resources to launch a physical collection, can showcase their designs by launching a digital-only collection. This way, the designer can circumvent issues of production, and distribution. Sharannya.V is one such digital fashion designer who exclusively creates for the metaverse. She feels that the entry barrier is very low, and it provides an equal opportunity for the entire industry”. This is one of the main reasons why she opts to create digital fashion only. With no current plans to sell physical versions of her designs, Sharannya is sure “everyone in the near future will have a parallel digital identity”.

A few years ago, the idea of spending real money on virtual clothes seemed laughable. That is now changing. With NFTs tapping into the human desire to own something rare, Sharannya states, “Authenticity and scarcity have always been key factors in fashion and that is something NFTs can provide.” Digital fashion houses like The Fabricant have played a huge role in normalising the idea of digital clothes after selling the first-ever NFT couture for $9,500.

So are fashion NFTs the future, or a fad? Fashion designer and educator Aniket Satam, a guest faculty at Istituto Marangoni and NIFT Mumbai, understands the impact NFTs have on the industry. “NFTs are surely a game-changer. Our branded consumption and greed to own something has taken over our brains and banks. What started as a digital revolution has now exploded into an alternate reality dwelling, flourishing parallel with our own real world. Fashion, like any other tentacle of lifestyle, is no different.

Luxury brands started with downloadable products last year, and this has unlocked and snowballed into a whole new genre of branded virtual lifestyle.” Satam knows the lure and appeal of NFTs and how it has opened the market to a new TG, especially the digitally obsessed and virtually driven Gen Z. He thinks the market for fashion NFTs and digital fashion will grow immensely, and eventually will co-exist with the physical world. With technology’s influence on fashion rapidly growing, he has his concerns. “What happens when the internet is down, or the system crashes or files are corrupt? Therefore, personally, for me, NFTs are frivolous and futile.”

Whether fashion NFTs are the future of fashion and here to stay or just the latest fad that will fizzle away, only time will tell. But as of now, we know that NFTs are not going away any time soon.