Let’s get Phygital: the future of physical and digital collaboration in the fashion industry
Moving into the digital fashion realm requires a deeper look at what it means to have digital responsibility: for example, where are the guidelines to ensure digital fashion design remains sustainable? And what is the potential of mixing the physical with the digital – an approach some are calling ‘phygital’?
The fashion industry is becoming more and more digital. Fashion designers have moved from stitching and sketching to screens and renders. Some brands embrace the digital transformation by taking a digital-only approach, while others take a collaborative one by mixing the digital and physical – a so-called ‘phygital’ strategy. For example, some favour a made-to-order clothing method that uses 3D to make their collections without garments. These digital designs are then exported and produced in the physical world.
It is still very much unexplored territory. We talked to Alison Murray, a Cyber Tailor, Clothing Creator and Collaborator from Edinburgh who has researched the subject. She started by assuring us that the digital realm also needs to start looking at guidelines.
“Physical fashion already has a lot of guidelines, but when it comes to digital fashion, which is so new, there aren’t many sustainable guidelines. A lot of people believe that going digital means being more sustainable, but it is not the case. And that’s how I started my research,” recalls Alison.
Make Responsible Digital Fashion
Alison collaborated with many brands during lockdown by making digital designs. There were no runway shows, and photoshoots were equally unlikely to happen due to restrictions. Many brands took the opportunity to try something more innovative to excite and surprise their customers.
“Digital fashion at the beginning was a new, exciting, surprising thing, which I do think it is. But then I started thinking about the whole twist on this exciting new thing, and what should we as creators be aware of. Digital’s not going to save everything because you also need to use it responsibly as we do with physical fashion and physical design.”
Everyone asks about the sustainability of physical fabrics, but who is asking about the sustainability of digital fabrics?
Experimenting with 3D software Clo3D
With this question, Alison embarked on a digital creative experimentation to explore the present and future of digital responsibility. Using a library of digital fabrics accessed using the 3D software Clo3D, she tested which fabrics were the most sustainable by analyzing the lowest-scoring render times and file size fabrics. The goal was to search for some digital design guidelines with a view to formulating a new digital fashion care label.
“A lot of digital textiles are replications of physical textiles, but they all have different render times and file sizes. I asked myself if it’s got a longer render time, is that more unsustainable? Am I using more electricity than I could if I used another fiber that is half the size?” she asks.
By analyzing different scenarios, Alison was able to assess the sustainability of building a digital collection.
“I decided to bring to life a new digital care label that could be more transparent about textiles.”
The next big thing is phygital
How fast the industry will revert to physical runways and campaigns is unclear at present. But, a lot of people are eager for them to return as they miss the physical connection.
“I like the physical part of the industry. I love both physical and digital. During the lockdown, a lot of people learned a lot of amazing new skills and new presentation methods. So the next step would be to combine them and find ways to enhance one another,” explains Alison.
Alison suggests using digital to see the garments up close. For example, when people are watching the runway, they don’t always get to see all the details of the garments. In digital, there’s the possibility of going inside out and seeing all the different stitches and zippers. This way brands can splendidly communicate every detail of their garments and then complement them with a physical spectacle.
Looking into the future
Alison’s exploration raises a question that the fashion industry needs to take into consideration. It also highlights the relevance of sharing digital design experiences, as it will enable the different components of the fashion industry to evolve responsibly together.
As stated before, digital can be very beneficial if used responsibly. Designers are afforded a place to play with different materials without having to make physical productions. But there’s also a need to reflect on the phygital future of design – and how best to take care of the environment.
“Digital fashion is a world of opportunity; however, it is how you use it that matters,” concludes Alison.
About Alison Murray
Alison believes in the power of phygital responsibility and collaboration to be a force of change in the fashion industry. She originates from the UK, but has been educated globally, and now resides in the pixel world championing digital garment creation and animation. Find more information about Alison’s research and work here.