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Big brands set sights on virtual fashion


Nike made a move to expand beyond the physical realm. It announced a deal to purchase a company that, among other things, specializes in selling virtual sneakers in the digital world. And Nike is not alone. Big brands including Adidas and Ralph Lauren are also experimenting with digital fashion. We wanted to learn more about this, so we called Imran Amed, CEO and editor-in-chief of the Business of Fashion, a media company that tracks the fashion industry. Imran, welcome to the program.

IMRAN AMED: Thank you for having me.

PFEIFFER: For listeners who might not be clear on what we mean by virtual sneakers and digital fashion, give us a visual.

AMED: Well, I guess the most helpful visual might be to have people picture what the world looks like in gaming. You know, aesthetics in the gaming world are kind of limitless. And there is a possibility for people to imagine all sorts of things with unbelievable colors, shapes, features and and combinations of things that you would never see in the physical world. So you might have a pair of sneakers with a pair of wings attached to them, or you might have a pair of sneakers that look like a kaleidoscope that's constantly changing.

PFEIFFER: Or I watched a video where there was a dress on fire, and apparently dresses can be made of water, things you can do with technology that you couldn't wear in real life.

AMED: Exactly. And so this is why this idea of virtual fashion is so interesting because it's really the convergence of fashion as we think about it in the physical world with fashion as we might express ourselves if we have no limits if we could be whomever or whatever we wanted to be. We could be whatever gender. We could be an animal. We could be a hybrid of all of these different elements that just don't exist in the physical world.

PFEIFFER: For most of history, for the entire history of the universe, fashion has been something physical. It's clothing we put on. It's shoes we wear. It's makeup we put on our face. What makes companies think there's a market in the digital world?

AMED: Fundamentally, it comes down to the purpose of why fashion exists. Of course, we all wear clothes for functional reasons - to stay warm or to cover ourselves up. But fundamentally, fashion is about expressing our identity, explaining who we are, which tribes we associate with, you know, who we want to be. And as more and more people are spending more time in virtual spaces, in particular younger generations who are spending time in the metaverse, you know, in gaming, on Facebook or Instagram or on Roblox, what we're finding is that in the same way that we want to use the things we wear in the physical world to express who we are, there is also an opportunity to express who we are in virtual spaces as all of us spend more time in these spaces.

And it's only natural that as we do spend more time in virtual spaces, that fashion has a role to play in expressing our identity. You really begin to realize if you're the CEO of a fashion company that a significant portion of the future growth opportunities and revenue for these businesses will come from younger cohorts of customers who, in a way, don't maybe make the same distinction as you and I might do between the physical world and the virtual world. And to the extent that virtual fashion enables us to connect with and express who we really really are, then there's always going to be value in that.

PFEIFFER: That's Imran Amed, CEO of the Business of Fashion. Imran, thanks for talking about this. It's really fascinating.

AMED: Thank you for your questions. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.