“Existing in the metaverse” is explanatory phraseology that quickly became colloquial in 2021 — and looking ahead to the New Year, it follows that brands and retailers are embracing all things digital through emerging solutions and the adoption of NFTs, which of late, have become all the rage.
It’s why solutions such as REKA, a new shopping app concept and online marketplace that connects independent designers with consumers to preorder bespoke pieces with efficiency and sustainability in tow, recently announced that it will introduce an NFT selling model that enables brands to sell NFT designs, in addition to using them for “real world” product orders.
If it all sounds confusing, you’re in good company. Here, Julie L. Swan, chief executive officer at REKA and AFAB, talked to WWD about NFTs in fashion, REKA’s unique take on selling sustainably, and what it means to exist in the metaverse.
WWD: What is the genesis of REKA? Why is this platform differentiated in the market, and how is it designed to impact fabric waste?
Julie L. Swan: REKA is the first and only global fashion shopping platform to seamlessly fuse together digital technology, metaverse applications and IRL fashion products showcasing independent designers. REKA is a destination for consumers who want to discover one-of-a-kind and limited-edition fashion, while also supporting sustainability and ethical production to protect the planet.
Traditionally, the fashion industry has worked off the model of design, produce, sell. We aim to switch the model, so it becomes design, sell, produce. This can be achieved through 3D design capabilities and REKA’s proprietary AI virtual tailor technology. With photos taken from your phone, a designer can have immediate access to all your body measurements, so they can make a one-of-a-kind garment to fit your body exactly, without any in-person interaction required or numerous fittings.
Utilizing 3D designs rather than prototypes and samples to sell direct to the consumer dramatically reduces the lead times of the overall cycle to put fresh product into consumers’ hands much faster and with less up-front cost. Designers improve their cash flow, no longer needing to invest in inventory far in advance. Preselling also eliminates excess waste in finished goods because you only produce to match demand, creating a path to achieve zero waste fashion in the future.
WWD: Tell us about REKA’s NFT selling model. What is the structure of this concept and how will it play out in the market?
J.L.S.: REKA’s platform, in conjunction with our partner, OWNFT World, an end-to-end NFT solution, enables global independent designers to turn a design sketch into a 3D photorealistic NFT in a matter of hours. Designers can sell the NFT on OWNFT World to consumers for immediate wear in the metaverse. Designers can then presell the physical product on REKA and, upon sale, produce and ship the physical product to customers all within four to eight weeks, eliminating the traditional 12-plus month fashion cycle and subsequent fashion waste.
We will be releasing our first NFT drop in January.
WWD: Are “wear-to-earn NFTs” fashion’s next frontier? How has this technology evolved of late?
J.L.S.: NFTs are a great way for fashion to engage with consumers who have grown up in the digital world. Shopping and socializing are already moving to the digital realm and will move deeper into the metaverse in years to come. Fashion should be at the forefront as it is known for innovating and inspiring cultural change. Expressing your individuality through your digital footprint may become even more important than IRL.
Right now, this is mostly happening in gaming but will evolve quickly into digital malls/stores, runway shows, modeling, and personal avatars where you may trade, sell, or rent your digital fashion assets, creating passive income from your fashion purchases. Brands may choose to exist primarily in the metaverse, only producing physical products as one-of-a-kind pieces for special events and major milestones.
In the metaverse, you can become a fashion influencer through your gaming skills, art, or popularity of your avatar, not by who you know or how you look. This is an exciting opportunity for the fashion industry to embrace real inclusivity and diversity. Creativity will prosper as a result, and we will see less and less of the same or copying of designs across brands.
For designers, “wear to earn NFTs” will really become “wear to save NFTs” because designers who create via 3D NFTs are able to sell both the art and preorder the physical fashion item, creating dual sources of income. By preorder, the fashion item created is going to be tailor-made to fit or is already sold before production and hence there is no fashion waste in this model.
WWD: Are there any key trends or opportunities REKA has taken note of in the NFT segment? What is the current climate of the NFT market?
J.L.S.: REKA is disrupting the fashion industry with cutting-edge innovation by moving NFT applications into the world of mainstream fashion. We are creating a new fashion community and business sensibility that doesn’t exist today. Sustainability is becoming more and more valuable in the eyes of the consumer, and the value that fast fashion has provided up to now will continue to become more limiting moving forward.
What we know today is that fast fashion will suddenly appear very slow IRL because consumers will get their fast fashion fix through NFTs in the future. They can have a different digital fashion outfit for every metaverse event they attend, and a digital wallet filled with fashion items to show off to their friends. They can buy a new NFT fashion in the morning and be wearing it that night in the metaverse, without ever leaving their home.
Consumers will naturally scale back on ownership of IRL garments, demanding better quality and garments that last longer while still being fashionable. Independent designers already create differently, designing from the heart and with purpose, without trends dictating the details or meaning behind their collections. They also design outside of seasonal calendars and produce on-demand in many cases, usually with ethical practices woven into their brand ethos from Day One.
REKA’s capability to produce a 3D photorealistic design from a sketch and presell immediately to consumers will make it possible for global independent designers to evolve much more quickly as a direct-to-consumer brand. Therefore, REKA only promotes independent designers on our platform, supporting their creativity and brand growth while also building a thriving community that together can surpass fast fashion and achieve zero waste fashion.
WWD: What’s next for REKA?
J.L.S.: We are just getting started. REKA has recently launched a Wishlist feature that enables a customer to share their Wishlist with friends and family, bringing a more social experience to the concept than what exists on other platforms.
We are also launching a “split the bill” option in the first quarter of 2022, so a group of friends can purchase something special together in one transaction to celebrate a friend’s milestone. We are also working on a Shop Local feature that will bring a more personalized shopping experience to each customer. And, of course, REKA has many more exciting NFT to IRL collaborations in the works. Stay tuned.