Trading animal skins for pixels, our digital selves call for a digital wardrobe. The Institute of Digital Fashion, led by CommuneEast founder Leanne Elliott Young and Digi-Gxl creator Catty Tay is a collective developing the future of digital fashion. As an emblem for change, the network of glocal 3D makers and designers are forming the revolution of the industry. They discard the fashion calendar agenda, the influences, reform education and change the language of fashion. By bridging the gap between the on and the offline, the Institute of Digital Fashion create solutions and activations in the worlds of AR and VR. These platforms restructure how technology and digital are used within fashion. Recently collaborating with Machine-A to launch an exclusive IRL x URL campaign for London Fashion Week, allowing visitors to experience collections within a virtual reality store. We discussed with Leanne and Catty how digital will revolutionize the industry, the democratization of the popular image and what XR means for the reality of fashion.
You are an emblem for change, innovating and building a more inclusive digitization of the fashion industry. What does this entail?
From the rise of big tech to the birth of virtual models, innovations in digital technology have changed fashion as we know it, the semantics of fashion have changed. Our mission is to use technology to enable change, we aim to push tech-use toward a more democratic and sustainable future, offering a platform and manifesto to restructure how technology and digital are used from creation to consumer, building a new future for an unregulated and biased industry, We deliver bespoke, world-class digitalisation for brands, makers and institutions but our ethos is more than that, we are wanting to sell creativity not more clothes. We are here to disrupt the way the system concepts, broadcast, produces, education and creates.
The semantics of fashion have changed
The industry needs disrupting, it's an archaic beast that's based on outdated models, digital gives us the ability to rethink, remake, rebuild with innovation and a new sense of creativity freedom. We have the chance to make decisions beyond the traditional formats, beyond the status quo, beyond beauty norms, beyond prejudices and the hierarchical system fashion sits within.
From studio floor to production, from invites, to showrooms and shows the customer and industries journeys have started to change, we want to make sure this looks different, we are not here to mirror the past but to invent and incubate new inclusive and diverse messaging. We believe in a unison between the digital and the physical, this will be the initial step to conquer post the pandemic, we also believe that technology shouldn't be leaned on for a quick fix, we should not be mirroring the system that already exists instead re-inventing a new one with a brighter, more inclusive and sustainable direction.
Digital making should elevate the messaging and champions the product through digital and real time spaces. We have the world's best teams to deliver this, and they exist glocally as a community, we head up strategy that activates change and innovates, we craft creative, and we lock in the best talent and tech. Its a module structure that not only exists as a business but a framework for emerging and established talents to be incubated and nurtured, we have a philanthropic arm that exists 2 fold to deliver experiences and concepts that might be unachievable for younger brands. When it comes to inclusiveness there are many threads to this conversation, one is how tech/ digital can democratize this space, and how do we do that in a primarily ‘exclusive VIP driven’ industry. We are harnessing change and challenging the old habits, showcasing how virtual and digital can mean togetherness and boasts a joint experience.
The theatre of fashion has become instead a democratized viewing portal
This means we have an obliteration of the tier systems we once walked within, how and where is front row, backstage on a live feed? The theatre of fashion has become instead a democratized viewing portal. We have been working through experiences that serve these categories/ tiers, but for us the intrigue is how to democratize not rebuild those systems.
The Institute of Digital Fashion offers exciting and inclusive alternatives to the worn out traditional fashion cycle, making and production. Is there any aspect of the traditional industry that should be held onto, or is what we are seeing a complete overhaul and revolution of the industry?
We believe in weaving the IRL and URL, we live in a tactile reality that can not be ignored, or forgotten. We are not pushing digital to replace IRL but to elevate and work harder. Part of our work is making tech work more, and for the industry, from the creatives sketch book, into production, to online and into our homes, there are points that digital can intercept, streamline and aid to build better mechanisms. You can incubate messages, and deliver knowledge exchange and on a basic level, deliver more content. We understand the industry, the flaws, the sticking points, and want to find solutions, together we have a 360 perspective, our solutions are driven from that knowledge, we can provide service and advice on how to step into the digital space with integrity, not for tech sake.
Step into the digital space with integrity, not for tech sake
The rate of technological ability in digital fashion has developed centre fold, especially over the lockdowns. What future technological developments do you hope to see?
We are working with AR and VR to build new ways to be a part of the fashion experience, from digital try ons to glocal fashion weeks that you can experience through multiple cities all from one device. The decisions that brands make today, will shape their futures, in turn brands have become more accountable to their consumers. We at IoDF are pushing to change an industry that's already on its knees, the fashion industry needs to be reinvented, the model, the production, the shows, showrooms and it’s thinking. We need a progressive, challenging, innovative new landscape and we are here to shape that. One way is using social media, we are currently creating IRL garments that are embedded with digital extras. Digital technology can generate a new form of emotional connectivity, creating a highbred product that holds both physical and digital layering. This means a product with more worth, both with social URl and physical IRL status.
Digital technology can generate a new form of emotional connectivity, creating a highbred product that holds both physical and digital layering
Digital layering allows us to ‘sell creativity’ through the incorporation of interactivity and modularity, it allows for one garment to do more over time, as an example, creating augmented reality drops after purchase, generating longevity to one single piece of clothing. Beyond this, there are so many solutions with digital technology. Tech can be created to solve issues that are prevalent in the industry, such as representation. We are creating tech that allows for avatars to be sliding scales and gamifying the web domaines and incorporating more ‘playtime’.
Can you name some other influential designers and creatives reimagining the future of fashion?
Artist like Ed Fornieles, Andy Huang and Prem Sahib.
How do you think digital humans will influence the future of fashion and self expression in general?
Digital humans means the democratization of the popular image, there are so many components to this conversation, ones we are working through atm, we see part of our role as an institute to be pushing for an active change, this area is one with multiple channels to observe. An important part of our work is paving the way for marginalized gender identities to thrive in the tech sector by amplifying their voices and ultimately, giving them control.
An important part of our work is paving the way for marginalized gender identities to thrive in the tech sector by amplifying their voices and ultimately, giving them control
Designing a whole collection based only on one fit-model is not representative, we are here to empower the representation of all bodies. Even from the initial stages designers are currently limited - you have to choose a gender and a body to build designs, garments and patterns onto. With our skills and software expertize in garment simulation we can integrate grading tools that provide multiple sizes at the click of a button. This leaves no excuses when it comes to issues on designing for a diverse runway show, let’s design for all bodies - Trans bodies, disabled bodies, plus size bodies, shorter bodies. We are soon to be releasing some really important partnership info, IoDF with Daz3d, this will be something to keep an eye out for, as it tackles these key issues.
Can you comment on the gamification of the fashion industry?
This is another hot topic, one in which we will be discussing on our igtv series on IoDF.One conversation is on fast 3D fashion, for us there are some products and companies that discrase the digital makers, obliterating their work with low balling prices, in a view to creating a ‘good business model’ it is again mimicking the broken systems, and emulating fast fashion, digital fashion isn't fast fashion.
Digital fashion isn't fast fashion
There is craft and artisan and a superb amount to artistry that largely forgot, ignored and just not paid for. We are building into our social channels as discussion forum, to bring to light some of these issues, we also always with clients inform them of the detailed work and push the BTS as part of the narratives of the project; process is everything in digital, it doesn't distract from the magic it elevates it. We also have our mentorship program where education and support are also delivered both IRL and URL at our London HQ with free co-working spaces, career advice, fair representation all for BAME, LGBTQIA+ demographics and typically disenfranchised communities. Applications are soon to be open in the meanwhile you can email INFO@institute-digital.fashion Subject IoDF SUPPORT.
What would it mean for the future of the technology sector to enable LGBTQIA+ identities and typically disenfranchised communities to thrive?
This is about building the spaces for voices to be heard, it means working harder, listening and then building actions around that, we all have a collective responsibility to make a change. Our IRL space opening in April 2021 , we have dedicated to supporting these communities by gifting ¾’s as co working spaces, to also build mentoring programs and support both IRL and URL for disenfranchised communities.
What do the radical potential of the collectives CommuneEast, Digi-GxL and The Institute of Digital Fashion mean for the future of tech and society, culture and creativity and glo_cal in general?
For us being an institute, it's about change, about standing guard and building a better industry, the digital arena can not fall into the traps of the fashion industry, accolade and overpayment, and the bottom of the industry falling out due to low pay. We are here as a support, a go to and also to set an industry standard, we have a combined mission to deliver that, for us this philanthropic arm is the backbone of our work, it's not a secondary thought, it's our purpose. We do not work with companies who do not share these values. The institute houses and supports talent and innovation, representing fairly their networks, working ‘for’ and ‘with‘ them never ‘selling’ them. With the global state of crisis provoked from Covid-19 and BLM movements that has radically affected every current of the fashion industry, this is an opportunity to re-write the system, go beyond the basics and to digitally reinvent and showcase fashion in new, innovative and democratic ways.
This is an opportunity to re-write the system, go beyond the basics and to digitally reinvent and showcase fashion in new, innovative and democratic ways