How apparel brands can embrace gender fluidity in the metaverse
The burgeoning metaverse offers clothing labels an opportunity to offer a more inclusive experience while shaping the fashion industry of tomorrow, writes Basic/Dept copy lead Marc Weinreich.
Virtual environments are reshaping the manner in which some people think about fashion and personal identity. / Adobe Stock
The metaverse, which according to one estimate could soon generate $1tn in annual revenue, is allowing us to explore individual identity in a new world of lifelike virtual avatars. At the same time, the proportion of Americans identifying as LGBTQIA+ is at an all-time high of 7.1% – closer to 10% for Millennials and Gen Z – according to a Gallup poll released in February 2022.
From a brand perspective, it bubbles up to a single truth: if you’re focused only on today, you’re going to fall behind tomorrow. In meme language, you’ll lose to the brand she told you not to worry about.
Here are three ways to re-imagine the online, in-store and metaverse experience for tomorrow’s clothing shopper.
1. Get creative with apparel categories
Some apparel brands have historically taken a vanilla approach with categories like evening wear, active wear and so on.
But we’re now seeing the blueprints for innovation from some emerging brands. Cider has a ‘Pick A Mood’ option with collections like ‘Feeling K-Pop’ or ‘Feeling Nostalgic’ as well as sections like ‘70s Road Trip’ and ‘Tumblr Girl.’ Cult Gaia offers collections like ‘Life of the Party’ or for that ‘Golden Hour’ time of day; The Reformation has ‘Cottagecore’ for excursions out of the city, or ‘Date Yourself’ if you want to dress up – but only for yourself. Princess Polly has a ‘Horoscope Shop’ to browse by astrological sign.
In a 2022 study on metaverse fashion trends, conducted by the wildly popular gaming platform Roblox, more than half of respondents (all living in the US and aged 14 to 24) say “their style changes based on their mood or feelings on a particular day.”
Apparel categories, in other words, are ready to be re-imagined.
2. Use fictional non-binary characters to inspire collections
No, we’re not talking about the bizarre fad of virtual avatar influencers or non-binary superheroes. Don’t give us more Marvel-themed clothing, please.
Instead, let’s see a major fashion label curate a collection inspired by Rue Bennett, Zendaya’s non-binary character from HBO’s show, Euphoria. Dr. Kai Bartley, a character introduced in 2021 on Grey’s Anatomy, uses they/them pronouns. Hospitals aren’t exactly fashion runways, but Kai’s style beneath the white lab coat could inspire a brand.
And who knows? Maybe one day it’ll be possible to try on virtual clothing in the metaverse, while interacting with the character who inspired the collection.
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3. Add a color spectrum to supplement the gender spectrum
As the repertoire of neopronouns continues to expand, and as the metaverse continues to evolve, there could be an opportunity for apparel brands to provide a link between real-life and virtual identities by offering a wider range of color options.
Let’s say that your avatar is a frog because your neopronoun is ‘frog/frogself.’ A closet of green-colored apparel in real life allows you to align your physical world appearance with your other-world identity and vice versa.
The Roblox study mentioned above found that “70% of Gen Z say their avatars dress at least somewhat like their IRL [in-real-life] style, while equally as many users (70%) also get physical style inspiration from dressing their avatars.”
As the virtual avatar becomes an extension of personal identity, exciting opportunities are there for apparel brands looking to provide more inclusive products and experiences.
Brands build loyalty by inspiring you to be you. Organizing clothing by color in an increasingly animated world might be a more valuable tactic with the exponential rise of gender fluidity and neopronouns.
The most absurd idea wins
Countless questions are arising with respect to how brands can resonate with a rapidly growing community of non-binary shoppers. With generational changes in technology and gender identity, it’s critical to reconsider age-old tactics now and to experiment in innovative and meaningful ways to stay relevant in consumers’ eyes and hearts. As Albert Einstein once said: “If at first, the idea is not absurd, then there is no hope for it.”
Taking calculated risks today could place you ahead of the competition tomorrow. With the metaverse in its nascent stage, your brand now has the opportunity to help shape this virtual world.
Marc Weinreich is copy lead at branding and digital design agency Basic/Dept. For more on the latest happening in tech, sign up for The Drum’s Inside the Metaverse weekly newsletter here.