How To Ensure that the Metaverse is an Inclusive Space

by Hetty Mahlich on 19 October 2021

A new report by the Institute of Digital Fashion, in partnership with the Circular Fashion Summit, says that digital avatars are failing to represent the identities users want to express online.

A new report by the Institute of Digital Fashion, in partnership with the Circular Fashion Summit, says that digital avatars are failing to represent the identities users want to express online.

The Institute of Digital Fashion (IoDF) was launched in 2020 in response to the accelerated digitisation of fashion during the pandemic. With ours being a traditionally exclusive industry, IoDF are keen to harvest the potential for digital spaces to be even more inclusive than those which already exist IRL. Despite fashion's investment in the metaverse, with Gucci and Balenciaga recently partnering with gaming sites such as Roblox and Fortnite to create digital assets for users to wear and collect online, it wasn't until IoDF partnered with 3D digital creator tool Daz 3D for Pride that one of the world's first gender non-conforming avatars came into being. Co-founded by Leanne Elliott Young and digital designer Cattytay, over the past year IoDF have used augmented reality to fling open the doors of London Fashion Week to the public by creating a digital retail space for concept store MACHINE-A, and made the world of haute couture more readily accessible by rendering virtual couture garments for sale. Continuing to harness the power of fashion technology to create a more open industry, they've announced an exclusive partnership with the Circular Fashion Summit (CFS) to explore representation in the metaverse.

'Users shouldn't have to demand to be included; the industry should already be there for them, ready and waiting,' Leanne Elliott Young and Cattytay, IoDF
Cattytay and Leanne Elliott Young, co-founders Institute of Digital Fashion

Striving towards representation and inclusivity in digital spaces, IoDF's partnership with the CFS - the world's biggest virtual reality gathering in fashion - means business. The CFS was first launched in 2019 by designer ShihYun Kuo and her business partner Lorenzo Albrighi, the co-founders of lablaco, an online end-to-end system 'connecting key stakeholders through digitization powered by blockchain across realities'. Kuo and Albrighi host the annual summits to target progress in design, technology and sustainability within fashion, supporting the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals 2030. Last year they hosted the entire event using virtual reality inside a render of the Grand Palais in Paris, where visitors networked via their avatars. In December, the SPIN by lablaco platform will launch a capsule of digital clothes and avatars created by IoDF, as a result of findings from their revealing new report on diversity and inclusion in virtual spaces.

My Self, My Avatar, My Identity: Diversity and Inclusivity Within Virtual Worlds exposes the exclusive nature of digital avatars in their current form, suggesting that the gamification of fashion at present could exclude millions of users and potential consumers without an inclusive, customisable design process. Referencing the Opinium 2020 report, IoDF state that there was a 68% increase users engaging in virtual worlds in 2020. Technology is limitless, so why do so many gamers and users taking up space in virtual worlds feel misrepresented? Key players in the gaming community, such as Playstation, have made moves to make users' avatars more inclusive, but we're not moving fast enough.

IoDF go on to say that 36% of over 6,000 participants they spoke to visit digital worlds for escapism. 'They seek to represent themselves in numerous, potentially conflicting ways- creatively, accurately, uniquely and imaginatively.' Here, reality and fantasy are important in equal parts - a user should be able to create an avatar most like their IRL physical self, or as detached from reality as only the URL world will allow. It all comes down to the user's right to choose. The report penalises key areas including gender representation, character customisation, socio-cultural representation, fashion choices and representing disabilities in digital spaces as they currently stand. For IoDF and the CFS, fashion technology should take us towards, rather than away, from an inclusive and sustainable future.

IoDF x CFS 0.1 collection
IoDF x CFS 0.1 collection

As exclusive creators of CFS metaverse fashion, IoDF's digital fashion capsule will be unveiled on 9 December at the opening of the Circular Fashion Summit 2021. Each piece in the IoDF x CFS 0.1 collection is non-gendered, and can be worn by SPIN avatars. From a draped evening gown -à la Demna Gvsalia's numbers for Balenciaga - to a puffer jacket and pinstripe wool suit, to traditional Muslim headpieces such as a sheila, created in collaboration with the Saudi Fashion Commission, each digital garment's creation process mirrors that of a physical garment. Detailed seams are created using digital software, craftsmanship and artisans, drawing on co-founder Cattytay's background as an experienced digital designer. A host of new avatars will also be unveiled, with unparalleled customisation tools for users adaptable to skin colour, gender and disabilities.

'We face an exciting challenge to contribute to the burgeoning culture of virtual beings. The representation in the digital space of an individual is a massive point of flux where society, gender, age and communication are synthesised into a new kind of space. We want to help combine fashion with technology in this new space with the SPIN avatars', Matt Hermans, Head of XR and Founding Partner of lablaco explains.

IoDF x CFS 0.1 collection
Circular Fashion Summit 2021, Grand Palais



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