The lines between real and virtual have blurred with NFTs and digital fashion, and we’re reimagining a future with endless possibilities for fashion. Simultaneously, an awareness of sustainable practices has pushed us toward thrifting and mindful consumption. But how do we compare them? Let us count the ways.
On the face of it, NFTs and sustainable fashion seem as different as chalk and cheese. And yet there are surprising similarities. Giving clothes a second chance at life and creating them in a whole new dimension, are both contrarian, futuristic approaches. In these two futures, fashion’s landscape continues to serve as a means of escapism and expression but is less susceptible to fleeting trends and ‘throw-away’ consumerism. Industry pioneer Manish Malhotra believes that NFTs will cement their place as a cultural mainstay, with the potential to integrate Indian history with their inherent futuristic nature.“ I believe that modern innovations stem from the story of heritage textiles and craft. Our origins are so strong that modernising the Indian handloom does not necessarily mean propelling it to conform to modern times. But instead, merging the traditions, the innovation, and the impact of the handcrafted creation with the identity of today’s globalised generation,” Malhotra believes.
An awareness of the power of scarcity underpins both sustainable clothing and fashion NFTs. The latter creates scarcity through limited edition, exclusive items that drive value higher. Thrifting highlights the scarcity of resources that are required to manufacture and sell clothing. Sourcing thrifted and vintage pieces hinge on the same bent. It requires an artistic inclination and the persistence of a forager. Investing in NFTs and sustainable fashion suggests that one is more of a curator, whose every purchase conveys a strong sense of innate personal style, rather than a typical customer, whose buying choices are dictated by preferences and purchasing power. NFTs have limited utility; slow consumption lends itself to inventiveness through versatile pairings. However, while it would appear that NFTs are an evidently more sustainable choice, storing data on the blockchain consumes a huge amount of energy. There is a sizable carbon footprint from minting and creating NFTs to the AI and AR tech involved in displaying and marketing these digital assets on social media.
Much of the way the success of NFTs will play out is contingent on the way digital platforms perform over the next few years. With fashion strutting into the metaverse, there is an opportunity for artists, content creators, games, tech experts, brands and even consumers to democratise the industry by providing creative input and creating personalised products. In a revolutionary move for the fashion industry, artists and original designers can get a cut every time there is a transaction on their design. These royalties give power, agency and flexibility back to the creator.
The initial barrier to entry is low, giving creators and aspiring designers the freedom to start, market, and monetise a brand, creating their own micro-economy without the need for years of experience or substantial financing. The fashion industry then has a more multidisciplinary texture, potentially decentralising the powers of the industry as it is today. With digitisation, there is increased participation and more equitable disbursement of profit. Similarly, when you purchase sustainable, upcycled pieces, you empower artisans, weavers, patternmakers and craftsmen by compensating them fairly and creating safe working environments.
The space for digital fashion is exploding with increased interest even as sustainability is steadily gathering more loyal purveyors. Malhotra adds, “NFTs are already turning into a crucial component of picking up projects. Not just art, even the invoices of your art could be NFTs very soon. The space is perfect for getting Indian craft and technology under one unit. In the past, markets struggled with attracting the most exquisite buyers and collectors; NFTs could change the rules of this luxury game forever as they are meant to be timeless. There’s so much room for experimentation and innovation.”
As regional contexts and craft take centre stage, and gaming and virtual audiences rise, the global east could potentially influence both movements. Offering us a global perspective on the scenario is Nivi Murthy, founder of a sustainable fashion marketplace, Ikkivi. “Much like their cultural flair has piqued worldwide interest in the field of entertainment, countries such as China, Korea and India may lead the way forward for fashion,” she says. Looking a little into the future, she adds, “ Their growing young population are those that are thrifting, conscious, more aware of the climate crisis, more opinionated, more tech-savvy, and exist more in the virtual world. So it’ll be interesting to see how the two worlds meet.” We couldn’t agree more.
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