At school, Miao Sheng'ai is a grade 12 student who is busy preparing for her college entrance exam, while at home she designs garments that do not exist in the physical world. The "fabric" she uses is not made with thread but generated by a computer, allowing the 18-year-old Tianjin resident to fully unleash her creativity and imagination. In the digital fashion landscape, rules are meant to be broken, and gravity does not exist.
"With no concerns about textiles or functional needs, I can focus on the visual aspect of my design," Miao says. She learned to use 3D design software on her own, and her unique fashion sense has gained her 19,000 followers on Xiaohongshu, a popular Chinese social media platform.
Miao's designs have already garnered interest from an entertainment star. Xu Yangyuzhuo, a member of pop idol group SNH48, recently posted three digitally altered photos on the platform in which she sports Miao's designs.
Digital fashion is gaining popularity with the tech-savvy younger generation, who live more of their social lives online. Influencers and celebrities are following Xu's lead, using the new technology to enrapture audiences.
Digital fashion, still a largely unexplored frontier, has grabbed the fashion industry's attention, and circumstances have also forced a market change. The COVID-19 pandemic, which shuttered or restricted the operations of malls and boutiques around the country, accelerated the pace of digitization.
Morgan Stanley, a United States investment bank, predicts that by 2024, industries that operate in virtual space will hit a value of $8 trillion in China. In a recent report, it stated that "the metaverse will be the next generation platform to replace mobile internet."
The concept of the metaverse refers to a network of virtual places linked to a virtual universe, in which people can interact via various forms of virtual technology, including virtual reality and augmented reality.
Companies in China are responding to the new opportunities presented by these technologies. During the Spring-Summer China Fashion Week in September, sportswear brand Anta and tech giant Baidu launched a virtual fashion show, displaying Anta's latest gear.
Social media platforms like Xiaohongshu and Bytedance have also entered the field. Via R-Space, a digital shopping platform, Xiaohongshu users can shop for virtual garments and accessories. Bytedance launched Pheagee, a digital fashion community, early last year. It carries virtual clothing collections from 28 domestic brands.
Customers can not only browse but also try on digital clothes through augmented reality. After paying for digital items on these platforms, they can send a picture of themselves and wait to receive a photo in which they are wearing the virtual pieces. The photo can then be posted on social media.
Prices are customer-friendly, ranging from a few dozen to a few hundred yuan. The designs Miao sells on R-Space usually cost 89 yuan ($13.12) for two photos.
Digital fashion is here to stay, satisfying the increasing demand for self-expression online. As one Xiaohongshu fashion blogger named Kira Qiya explains in a post to her 113,000 followers, "by getting rid of all the rules of reality and the limitations of textiles, digital fashion has opened a brand-new world for my wearing experience."
After COVID-19 put face-to-face activities like shows on hold, an increasing number of designers turned to the metaverse as the place to display their collections.
Designer Chen Peng, who founded his namesake brand in 2015, collaborated last year with digital artist Uv Zhu, releasing a digital fashion collection consisting of six super-sized puffer jackets, intended to.