Hours after Facebook changed its name to Meta in October, Meta tweeted at Balenciaga: “Hey @Balenciaga, what’s the dress code in the metaverse?” Now, Balenciaga is playing ball.
“When Meta tweeted, we were instantly into it,” said Balenciaga CEO Cédric Charbit in a release. “Web3 and Meta are bringing unprecedented opportunities for Balenciaga, our audience and our products, opening up new territories for luxury.”
Balenciaga, along with Prada and Thom Browne, is among the first to sign on to sell digital fashion in a new Meta-created avatar store where people can buy clothing for their avatars to wear on Instagram, Facebook and Messenger. Eventually, other designers will be able to independently offer digital clothing for sale in the marketplace. The items for sale in the avatar store will range from $2.99 to $8.99 to start. A Meta spokesperson said that it did “not have details to share” on if or how it would share revenue with designers.
Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Instagram VP of fashion partnerships Eva Chen, who announced the updates via Instagram Live on Friday, said these capabilities will be available next week, starting with the US, Canada, Thailand and Mexico.
Starting with well-regarded brands was a key first step, Zuckerberg said, adding that the vision is to expand access. “We want to create a marketplace so creators, over time, can design clothing and sell it,” Zuckerberg said. “A lot of the dream is to make it accessible to anyone. If you want to design fashion today, you need the physical materials and equipment, but in the future, anyone with a computer and an imagination will be able to come up with ideas for this.”
This update offers more insights into how brands might work with and appear in Meta’s metaverse product, Horizon Worlds, and across its products. Fashion will play an integral role. “What we do is all about people expressing themselves and connecting, and a huge part of that is what they wear and fashion, so getting that right on all the apps you use is really important,” Zuckerberg said.
Already, it has begun hiring digital fashion designers. After Meta originally launched avatars in 2020, Instagram added 3D avatars in February. They can now be used on Instagram, Facebook, Messenger and its VR headset called Quest through spaces such as stickers, messages and feed posts.
“Younger generations want to be authentically themselves in the physical and digital realms and part of that is who they are in virtual spaces, so direct-to-avatar will continue becoming increasingly important for fashion brands,” says Cathy Hackl, co-founder and chief metaverse officer at consultancy Journey. Meta’s move will also make major fashion brands take the space even more seriously, says Timmu Toke, CEO of avatar company Ready Player Me.
There’s considerable competition among tech companies to supply consumers with customisable avatars — often referred to as the “direct-to-avatar” economy. Apple introduced Memojis in 2019, while Snapchat acquired Bitmoji in 2016 and has since partnered with brands including Ralph Lauren and Converse, who can wear the clothing for free. In April, Genies raised $150 million after adding tools for brands to create wearable fashion items as NFTs (invitation-only). Meanwhile, cross-app avatar platform Ready Player Me has partnered with the likes of Adidas, New Balance and Dior.
“While other companies have had a head start and a very different approach, Meta entering the space is a signal of the value brands are placing on virtual fashion and how direct-to avatar is slowly becoming the next direct-to-consumer opportunity,” Hackl says. Toke, of Ready Player Me, says that because Meta’s avatars are not yet widely used in experiences outside of the Meta ecosystem, it could face headwinds in the Web3 space. “It comes down to, ‘Where can I use it?’,” Toke says. “We believe the winner in the avatar space will be a neutral third-party provider that connects different metaverse ecosystems and becomes a universal avatar and identity layer.”
According to research from the Institute of Digital Fashion, consumers want the ability to intricately customise their avatars to reflect their identities, which includes both an accurate reflection of their physical appearances and the ability to experiment with fantastical fashion and features that aren’t possible physically. For brands, this offers exponential ways to sell digital assets to consumers across multiple platforms, scenarios and identities. Already, one-fifth of Roblox players update their avatars daily purely for self-expression (meaning that they don’t provide additional special properties). Especially because body language and other forms of communication in virtual spaces do not stand up to the context of the physical world, digital fashion provides heavy lifting.
“One of the great things about dressing up in the metaverse, is you can wear whatever you want and you don’t have to worry if it’s as comfortable,” Zuckerberg — even adding that this might inspire a departure from his grey T-shirts. “It takes a certain confidence to wear shoulders-to-toes Prada, and I think in the metaverse, I may just have that confidence.”