Founder of the social impact platform, ‘This Outfit Does Not Exist,‘ Daniella Loftus is seeking to embrace the digitisation of the fashion world and in turn, relinquish the pressure we place on immortalising the past.
The fashion industry is rather like a mechanical watch. Bound by heritage, but obsessed with newness. For the more uniform mechanical watches that tell the time in a cyclical manner with each number on the dial, we view time in a circular momentum, suspended between a pendulum of the hours that have passed, the present one, and the view of what is to come. As such, it leaves us contemplating time in a hyper-cyclical motion. Much like how the fashion industry works, we’re guided by the rhythm of shows, led by the beat of pre-season, resort, and bi-annual fashion weeks.
But the arrival of the quartz watch in the 1970s stirred horologists into debate. Some dubbed it the ‘quartz revolution, while others saw it as the ‘quartz crisis.’ It was either love or hate. As a society, when new technologies and currencies are invented, we often err on the side of caution. Like the disruption of the watch world as we knew it, the influx of digital fashion, from non-fungible tokens (NFTs); skins for avatars, to AI renderings on the body has conjured a similar response. Do we embrace or ignore?
The landscape of virtual fashion proposes the opportunity to democratise consumption, reflecting not only future trends, but at a more attractive cost for consumers to afford, all the while decreasing the industry’s colossal carbon footprint. With the average item of clothing worn a futile 7 times before its life comes to an end, virtual fashion proposes the means to explore the future, and not just by talking. By actually doing.
Introducing ‘This Outfit Does Not Exist,’ a platform powering the shift towards digital fashion through education, exploration and exhibition, coined by Daniella Loftus. Finding her footing in the realm of financial technology and blockchain – a data structure that holds transactional records and while ensuring security, transparency, and decentralization – Daniella noticed the palpable feeling of timidity between the fashion industry and the digital world really harmonizing. Today we’re quick to suppose the digital world simply means social media and taking everything online. But the ether of digital isn’t as parochial as that. “Fashion is actually quite resistant to the future,” she shares. “What technology has facilitated over the past 50 or so years is a vast acceleration of the speed that things can happen. The speed at which things can evolve (as epitomised by the Metaverse, a virtual-reality space in which users can interact with a computer-generated environment and other users.) is staggering. This has led to a change in human mindsets – a move from the importance of knowledge retention to abilities for adaptation.”
While this pace is reflected in the fashion industry, it manifests itself more so in the speed of production, rather than innovation, meaning that culture is becoming harder to immortalize. Ultimately, this leads to mass overconsumption, and it not only places precedence on speed and the demands of time, but rather an erosion of it. Are there really enough hours in the day to produce the inane quantities of clothing that possess such short shelf-lives? For Daniella, it’s about throwing every possible opportunity into the digital world and seeing what sticks. Much like the quartz watches that contradicted the traditional Swiss watchmaking manufacturers creating intricate and manual watch movements, digital fashion challenges the comfort of what is orthodox. After all, we don’t tend to like things we don’t understand. But it’s a collective belief that gives them value.
In conversation with Daniella, Editor-in-Chief Scarlett Baker caught up with the digital partisan to discuss the future of This Outfit Does Not Exist, and how the fixation of preserving nostalgia is blurring the lines of potential, both financially and creatively, for a fashion industry that truly embraces change, from the bottom the top.
The Next Hour: Hi Dani, it’s really great to meet you. I’m really fascinated by how you got your footing with ‘This Outfit Does Not Exist’ and creating a platform to share the possibilities of digital goods and really ruffling the feathers on where the value of physical goods lies. Was this something you’ve always been fascinated by?
Daniella Loftus: I always loved fashion, ever since I was growing up. But I was turned off working in it when I was 17 years old because, while I knew I wanted to write, I was like, I didn’t see a lot of innovation happening with regards to the environment and positive social impact. The fashion that I grew up falling in love with was Alexander McQueen or Vivienne Westwood, partially because it represented a movement. Outside of that, I felt like fashion was just about marketing. So I decided to go the complete other way. I lived in the States for 6 years and studied at NYU and joined a social impact space. I worked for a fund which at the time, was the first hire in a financial technology company lending to emerging markets using blockchain. I knew nothing about blockchain at that point, other than sitting on the train and reading about it.
TNH: It’s interesting that you channelled the missing link in the fashion industry relationship with cryptocurrency into a different space. How did the transition merging your work in FinTech with the fashion world come about then? Was it born out of a feeling of resistance?
DL: When I moved back to the UK, I didn’t just want to work in FinTech, but I was super excited about all the emerging technologies out there. So I got a job in a company called Founders Intelligence, in the innovation consulting arm and worked there for two years. We’d go into large corporate business and discuss how their business is going to be disrupted in the next five to 10 years by technology and then provide information on the startups to bring in or technologies to change that.
While I was there, my interest in fashion resurfaced, as I was working across creative sectors. It was around this time I started following digital fashion but the only people who were really doing it were The Fabricant (digital fashion pioneers creating digital clothing by harnessing 2D garment pattern-cutting software and 3D design software), who have been doing it since 2019. I was really excited by what they were doing, but it wasn’t applicable to me. They sold the world’s first digital blockchain dress for $9500, but it wasn’t for everybody. So I followed them, but couldn’t really engage them. It wasn’t until September, of last year, when I read an article where the CMO of Gucci pitched that the House will start designing clothes to only be worn virtually in the next year. And I was like wow, this seems to be hitting mainstream. And I saw that, over the course of the pandemic, two or three marketplaces for human beings to wear virtual fashion had popped up. I figured there are a tonne of people influencing wearing digital fashion or writing about the business models. But nobody was. It was the biggest market gap.
TNH: How do you think the value of time has altered in the present day? What does it mean to us now?
DL: Firstly, there’s an acceleration of change. What is fascinating about this shift is that things can still make history and things can still be sticky. So if you take history as something representative of a particular age and movement we’re getting more and more history in a shorter space just from the speed things are moving. It’s fascinating to see what pieces rise to the top and whether it can be formulated.
At the same time, there’s still an obsession with history. I think unlike other times where hyper-innovation was happening, in this age people juxtapose their excitement for the future with a longing for the past, and this is accompanied by an obsession with trying to slow things down (think the movement towards mindfulness) – people who feel that change is happening to them rather than with them are trying to retain control over the dynamic however they can. What’s also fascinating outside of these elements is whether human behaviour and desires will actually change with this speed of advancement. I think ultimately our needs stay constant but manifest themselves in slightly different ways as society adapts.
TNH: We’ve seen a large storm over the past year, watching novel technologies merging with economies steeped in heritage. Take NFT’s for instance and their ascendance onto the global stage from Christie’s auction house the music world. How do you think this is being received in society, particular within the fashion industry that is built on tangibility.
DL: When I first began my newsletter on what was happened in the field digital fashion each month, it would be a bit of a stretch, I found like 8-10 articles in January, by the time we got to February and the NFT thing happened, it was like 50, boom.
TNH: So by making the knowledge more available and easily accessible, do you think people are becoming more receptive to these new markets?
DL: I think you either have people who really understand crypto, but can’t translate it to fashion, and then those who work in the fashion industry who don’t fully understand the purpose of crypto. I realised I had a unique position to merge the two, and used Instagram to do it. But I also realised nobody was showcasing the aesthetic potentials in a proper way and this is so relevant to conversations about time.These are fashion houses who built their brand on legacy, and part of what is so fetishized about craftsmanship is the fact it takes hours and hours to make a dress, and then all of a sudden saying it’s digital. First of all, people think it’s gimmicky, and second, they think it’s going to reduce the value of the item, which is so interesting, because I actually don’t think it’s true. With digital creators, no, it’s not gonna take as long as it seems seamstress, but it still takes hours. It’s still a craft.
TNH: And also not everyone can make these dresses, which means they’re still artisanal? And just as coveted as what comes down the runway?
DL: In terms of time, what’s so interesting is how brands are having to switch in order to be future focused. And obviously, in fashion there’s always a feeling of what’s coming next, but it’s the creative directors who define who their consumer will be in 10 years time. When launching this platform, I spoke to my younger cousins who are 10-13, and they immediately understood why you see digital clothes as something that held value, whereas when I spoke to the majority of other people, they thought I was mental. These are the people who are going to be coming up in this world, and if you don’t market to them properly, somebody else will.
TNH: I think that’s why it’s such a bold move, and the right one, from Christie’s to incorporate NFTs into their auctions to truly reflect the kind of art people are buying in 2021.
DL: Bored Apes and Crypto Punks (two popular NFTs) got into Christie’s and Sotheby’s because they’ve created a cultural Zeitgeist around NFT art. And it represents a time historically in the way a Picasso would be representative of that art movement. That’s how they’ve come up. And we haven’t actually had that in digital fashion. We haven’t had a brand, who is community led and shows how the features of a blockchain-based brand come up and be successful. Damien Hirst made an NFT. That’s exciting, but that’s not changing the culture in the same way. Because you need somebody to come from the bottom.
TNH: So would you say there’s more reluctance in the fashion industry? There are, of course, brands who are really starting to face it head on.
DL: There’s such a direct correlation between understanding respecting the culture of the space you’re entering, and succeeding as brands. The reason Gucci is doing so well is because they started thinking about what’s going to give value to the community in the game, and what is value connected to those players. Alessandro, Michele, Gucci’s Creative Director built a whole experience in the game so that first of all, there’s revenue diversification. It forges a connection to the brand because people are playing in the world, but also it means that the community understands that it’s not just the money making opportunity. In 2019, Nike did something interesting by creating products you could buy in a game, but then in order to change the colour, you had to complete challenges. Take Dolce & Gabbana too for instance, whilst I don’t think it’s representative of the cultural zeitgeist, it will make other fashion brands go, “oh my god, we need to also do an NFT.”
TNH: There’s still a feeling of working for something you’ve earned then, even though you don’t wear it on your own body?
DL: Absolutely. We’re moving to a space where there will be a digital layer. And if brands don’t enter into that, they’re missing out on the whole younger consumer base. I think what is going to need to change for existing luxury brands is to completely change the way they conceptualise and the process. We see it at the moment with TikTok works and its people using remixed versions of existing songs. People want the personalised experience, they want things to come from the bottom up, whereas fashion has historically been top down. I think there’s still this dichotomy between people who are in fashion and people who are gamers despite the fact there’s a massive population of each. Physical goods hold a lot of clout.
TNH: When you compare the platform you’re creating to the watch world, it’s interesting because there’s a deep feeling of community, particularly when you look at those who collect watches. It’s acceptable if you and your friend turn up in the same watch, but in fashion, it doesn’t work like that somehow. It’s about unique ownership of having something nobody else has.
DL: Exactly. In NFT art culture, all of a sudden, 4000 people can own the rights to a visual unit of data and display it on their online profiles.. That’s quite interesting when it comes to art, but how would that then work if it came to fashion? Watches are investable assets, loads of people can maybe have the same watch. But if every single person was wearing the same dress, unless you know you were doing it in a uniform way, people wouldn’t like it. When you buy a Rolex, it allows you to be part of an experiment, an exclusive club. NFT fashion can start to offer that. Fashion has not traditionally been an investable asset, and part of the reason for that is that it depreciates with use. Something is defined as fashion by the way you use it. Traditionally, every time you wear a garment that you own, it becomes less valuable because you in some way, kind of ruin it. And for the first time ever with digital fashion. It doesn’t depreciate like that.
TNH: How can we draw upon the attitudes from the watch world and apply it to the fashion industry in order to broaden the scope of the next digital chapter?
There are three things I love about watches and they’re always interesting to me because my grandfather had a line of watches, called Accurist watches. They were originally sponsoring Greenwich Mean Time, so when you’d call up 123, it would say ‘sponsored by Accurist’ and that’s what my family did. Firstly, the fact that they’re pieces that appreciate with value as time goes on – I think we should move this way with fashion. Watches become heirlooms, imbibed with the value the wearer before them placed on the good. Not only is this beautiful, but it’s integral to how we should start thinking about slow fashion pieces moving forward if the sustainability shift is to succeed. Finally, they bring together communities. Holding a watch gives you access in many cases to societies or clubs with other holders. I think when we move into digital fashion and web3 (which is bottom up and decentralised) this can be a real value add, having fashion as a community builder that bonds people and allows them to form connections through select affiliations.
All images courtesy of This Outfit Does Not Exist.