Metaverse technology has begun to make its rounds across a wide variety of sectors, one of its latest stops being the fashion industry, as we see a new and exciting digital experience enhance the fashion landscape worldwide.
From March 24-27, the first-ever Metaverse Fashion Week (MVFW) took place, with over 70 top brands, artists and designers jumping on the bandwagon. Some big names that have embraced this new era include Tommy Hilfiger, DKNY and Dolce and Gabbana.
These brands are then put together and clustered into themed “neighbourhoods” within the newly created fashion district in the metaverse. This was debuted during the MVFW, as the metaverse space featured catwalks, panels, galleries and more from the respective brands and designers.
Meanwhile, several fashion brands were giving out a replica non-fungible token (NFT) of each physical product that consumers purchase. These NFTs are seen as collectibles and wearable items in the metaverse space.
Boson Protocol, an up-and-coming technology services and consulting firm, provided the main technology system behind MVFW, a decentralised network for metaverse commerce, and helps to design and create a virtual lifestyle and culture portal in Decentraland, the 3D metaverse powered by Ethereum.
Boson Protocol co-founder Justin Banon shares in an interview with Options the value of bringing in digital tokens — particularly NFTs — as a core feature in this year’s MVFW with Boson Protocol’s metaverse commerce network.
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“NFTs are a new standard for digital objects that everyone uses today,” says Banon, underscoring its increasing universality across various systems such that it is easily traded, tokenised and resold in this day and age.
“At the same time, NFTs have lots more capabilities than just being art or wearables [in the metaverse], where they can be programmed to have many other useful functions as well,” Banon shares. “For example, an NFT can be programmed to act as an access key to another NFT or digital token, which is something that we capitalised on in enhancing this year’s MVFW.”
This means that an NFT, as part of the purchased item by a consumer, can be programmed to be intended to unlock another NFT, leading to more digital tokens being accessed (as part of the purchased “package”).
To further spur the NFT sale space, Boson Protocol has also introduced its NiftyKey NFT-based loyalty rewards at this year’s MVFW. With this, consumers are able to access an added loyalty programme that sits on top of the protocol, which is very much once again programmable to different tiers of rewards and points.
The rise of ‘digi-physical’
The way Banon sees it, 2021 was about NFTs; and this year, the mindset has evolved and it is all about the “digi-physical”, or “phygitals”. He explains: “The idea is that ‘wearable NFTs’ act as a complement to the physical product purchased by the consumer, such that they can be worn in the metaverse.”
In this way, consumers now enjoy the benefits of products in a physical sense, as well as in an online dimension.
The NFTs of the physical item purchased, which come as an add-on, can also be traded like any other NFT on platforms such as OpenSea for digital currency, explains Banon. This gives added value to the whole package the consumer is now purchasing. Banon concedes that the appeal of Boson Protocol and the metaverse experience it provides resonates more with the younger generation, especially Gen-Z, as compared to other age groups. “However, we are seeing digi-physical products moving towards a more general purpose at large as well, in light of a surge of massive use cases in the areas of luxury watches and cars, which cater to both young and old alike,” he says.
Therefore, the increasingly relevant and popular use of Boson Protocol has since garnered a World Economic Forum “Technology Pioneer” title for itself, in addition to successfully raising US$36 million ($50 million) in funding and the ongoing development of version two of the protocol due this mid-year.
“We hope that in 10 years’ time, Boson Protocol will be a universal layer on which commerce happens in the metaverse,” says Banon.
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This, however, does not come without some doubts arising regarding the value of hyper-digitisation of many industries, particularly in the fashion space. Traditional brands may have certain reservations about the actual necessity of a digital/ metaverse partnership, while also realising that some consumers may need greater coaxing on why added metaverse products like digital vouchers are a plus in an industry that conventionally thrives on a uniquely tactile and physical experience. Banon understands these seemingly mammoth challenges, and acknowledges that the learning curve for businesses to integrate a metaverse arm to their products is steep as well, which has made a lot of brands hesitant to go “all in” with this new technology.
“The amount of knowledge and understanding [of metaverse technology] within the brands is low, given how relatively new the idea of the metaverse is to the world,” Banon says. “For some brands, it’s very much an unknown territory with high risks.”
Nevertheless, Banon notices that the same novelty of the metaverse has also made many brands extremely keen to jump into such an “experiment” at this time. “We continue to see a surplus of brands coming to work with us [even amid some uncertainty about the industry], just because there is a continued understanding that this is the future of where commerce will be done,” he asserts.
“This isn’t a question of ‘if’ — it is a ‘must’ to stay relevant in this industry,” explains Banon, on the topic of expanding into and utilising metaverse technology as part of product development. “Many brands [that we have worked with] have acknowledged this in order not to get left behind in this industry,” he adds.
Sights beyond fashion and on Asia
Without a doubt, Boson Protocol has made its mark as a leading “metaverse technology” partner with fashion labels worldwide. Not only has Tatler named Banon the “man who revolutionised the metaverse”, his company also recently made NFT history by purchasing a US$1 million Dolce & Gabbana Collezione Genesi “The Glass Suit”, the most expensive suit the Italian designer has ever sold. The digi-physical suit, which exists in real-life as well as an NFT wearable, will be the cornerstone of Boson Protocol’s digi-physical collection.
Apart from high-fashion purchases within the metaverse space, the company last year also acquired prime real estate in Decentraland in a six-figure deal, although the company declined to reveal the exact numbers. This deal is by far one of the largest land deals in dollar terms carried out so far in Decentraland, giving the company full control over a “premium block” of land in the Vegas City gaming district.
Moving forward, Boson Protocol has its sights set beyond the fashion industry, as Banon articulates future plans, possibly venturing towards several other sectors, such as entertainment and even sports. “We’re looking at a huge number of use cases for different projects launching, particularly for live sports and football clubs with regard to their merchandise segment,” says Banon, “in addition to nightclubs indicating great interest in [Boson Protocol] to help them enhance the experiences they provide.”
As for geographical regions of interest, Banon also observes that increasingly, Asia will be an important market to look at when it comes to metaverse adoption as well.
“[Initially], metaverse adoption in Asia, particularly Southeast Asia, was a little slower [as compared to the rest of the world], but many companies in Southeast Asia are willing to work much harder to pick up the pace and get up to speed,” Banon shares.
“Southeast Asia is important because this is where the sophisticated technology and crypto markets are,” he adds. “Top that with how [the region is] crazy about loyalty programmes, and that is the exact combination we are looking for.”
The difference between Asia and the rest of the world is the willingness of the public sector to get involved in metaverse partnerships, especially in Southeast Asia, according to Banon. “There seems to be a lot of government support and sponsorship for metaverse strategies here in Singapore and wider Southeast Asia, so my expectation is that this [region] will become a real hotbed for the metaverse [in the near future].”
When asked about the future of the metaverse at large, in light of the rampant scramble among big tech companies such as Tencent, Meta (Facebook) and Microsoft to dominate this new and enticing space, Banon warns of a monopoly over the metaverse by one or two main stakeholders that could lead to restricting something that was meant to be open and neutral.
“We don’t want our children living in a ‘digital prison’,” says Banon. “The point of Web 3.0 is for all players to work together, each focusing on building a little bit [of different parts of the space] and supporting one another.”
“Like Boson Protocol, the metaverse should be an open, neutral and most importantly, inclusive space,” he adds. “[No one benefits from] wanting to own the whole pie."
Photo: Albert Chua/The Edge Singapore