Roblox, the virtual stomping grounds for Gucci, Ralph Lauren, Givenchy, Tommy Hilfiger, Nike and more, has a new fashion partner in The New School’s Parsons School of Design in Manhattan, New York.
Roblox and Parsons School of Design’s new partnership brings a new metaverse elective course — and new research explaining why such classes are necessary.
The tech platform and design school announced the partnership on Tuesday with the release of a joint Metaverse Fashion Trend Report and the introduction of a new skills-based curriculum that equips students to create hyper-realistic, 3D digital apparel. Parsons faculty worked with creative, education and marketing executives from Roblox on the course collaboration, which debuts for the spring semester.
Described as “The New School’s next wave of fashion design for Roblox,” the 16-week course challenges future designers to “explore the intricate relationship between digital and physical fashion set in an immersive future,” according to the announcement. They will research and prototype both digital and physical fashion, with proof-of-concept prototypes developed on the Roblox platform, and eventually create retail experiences for their clothes and accessories at Parsons and in the Roblox Avatar Marketplace.
A growing roster of design schools such as Istituto Marangoni Miami in Florida, and Polimoda in Florence, Italy, are focusing on metaversal fashion. Parsons was no stranger to virtual fashion either, having previously partnered with The Digital Fashion Group Academy in a digital fashion innovation specialization.
This time, the coursework will also cover themes of inclusiveness, as students apply technology to create looks to suit any body type.
“Digital fashion is central to our curriculum, and it is integrated into core and elective courses,” Ben Barry, Ph.D., dean and associate professor of equity and inclusion, School of Fashion explained in exclusive commentary for WWD.
The course, which may become a recurring elective, taps into a timely area for the industry: “The necessity of inclusion and diversity, that we know is foundational to Gen Z’s fashion perspectives and choices in the physical world, is equally important in the digital world,” he said. “It was key for respondents to have the option to select avatars who reflected their hair texture, hair color, skin color, body shape and size.”
“The New School’s Parsons School of Design is one of the world’s leading institutions for art and design education, while Roblox is at the forefront of immersive shared experiences that connect over 50 million people daily,” said Christian Bayley, Roblox’s global head of licensing. The two share a desire to help inspire the future fashion professionals and designers, he added, and “it is critical they have an understanding of best practices, technology and trends in digital fashion design to address their current and future customer needs.”
To assess those needs, the partners embarked on research to better understand the relationship Roblox’s Gen Z users have with digital fashion.
The Metaverse Fashion Trends Report revealed a “high frequency of avatar customization, along with the sheer number and variety of items created, acquired and worn on the platform.”
Christina Wootton, vice president of global partnerships at Roblox, pointed out to WWD that “two in five respondents said self-expression via clothing and accessories in the digital world is more important for them than self-expression in the physical world, and 70 percent [said] they get physical style inspiration from dressing their avatars underscore the broad impact of people’s interactions and self-expression on Roblox on their daily lives.”
The data confirmed what the company was aware of anecdotally or had observed, she added. “We saw lots of similarities in the way digital and physical fashion impact people’s confidence and connection with others, and just how important digital fashion is for Gen Z consumers and their self-expression.“
Other notable data points:
- Half of respondents said they change their avatar’s clothes at least weekly, and two in five said self-expression via virtual clothes and accessories is already more important than expressing themselves in the physical world.
- Gen Z said they can dress their avatars to express their individuality (47 percent) and feel good about themselves (43 percent), but also to feel more connected to peers in both the virtual and physical worlds.
- Nearly three in four said they will spend money on digital fashion, and two-thirds are excited for their Roblox avatars to wear brand names.
- Diverse avatar customization options are key — from having a full range of skin tones (70 percent), body sizes (64 percent) and hair colors, textures and styles (70 percent). The vast majority said inclusive digital clothing designs are important.
- Seventy percent of Gen Z said their avatars dress at least somewhat like their IRL (in real life) style, and an equal share said they get real-world style inspiration from dressing their avatars.
- What’s popular: The top three metaverse fashion styles are casual (45 percent), trendy (38 percent) and bold (29 percent). The top 10 most popular categories in the Roblox Avatar Marketplace, which has sold more than 1 billion items in 2022 to date: 1. Shirts, 2. Pants, 3. Hats, 4. Hair accessory, 5. Face accessory, 6. T-shirt, 7. Back accessory, 8. Shoulder accessory, 9. Jacket accessory and 10. Waist accessory.
- Spending breakdown: 31 percent said they spend up to $5 monthly, about 30 percent spend up to $10 to $20 monthly and roughly 12 percent spend $50 to $100 each month.
In 2022 so far, more than 11.5 million creators designed more than 62 million pieces of clothing and accessories on Roblox. According to the company, it sees at least 200 times as many creators designing clothes and accessories as there are fashion designers creating tangible, real-life collections in the U.S.
But of course, the platform has attracted real-world fashion designers and maisons, from Gucci, Givenchy, Burberry and Carolina Herrera to Karlie Kloss and metaverse-first companies like DressX.
The ironic twist is that, while fashion races into the virtual future, the company that triggered the metaverse race has been struggling to maintain confidence in its vision. But regardless of whether Meta ushers in the metaverse era or not — which is debatable, as its market share erodes over ballooning expenses — the rest of the business world, Big Tech and fashion seem quite convinced it will surely arrive.
In the meantime, virtual and mixed reality platforms have been steadily honing their visual graphics and developing their tools. For instance, this spring, Roblox launched Layered Clothing, a system that can fit a single virtual design to any body type and allows users to layer up to six garments on top of their avatars’ existing “classic clothing.” Since then, nearly 11 million users have purchased Layered Clothing, and 157 million have acquired both free and paid items.
That’s a lot of activity, which could be great news for Roblox, but ultimately challenging for users in search of professional designers. They may be appeased by the company’s latest addition in September, when it launched a creator verification process to distinguish notable creators by verified badges. This includes digital fashion designers, such as the winners of the British Fashion Council’s Fashion Award for Metaverse Design.
Ultimately, Roblox is making the case that the activity, momentum, technology and prestige surrounding virtual fashion are on the rise, and Parsons agrees.
“Digital fashion design is becoming foundational for a career in fashion, because wearers are increasingly living and dressing in both physical and virtual environments,” added Parson’s Barry. “As the research demonstrates, wearers deeply consider and care about how they fashion themselves and how others fashion themselves in the virtual world.
“They dress to safely experiment with new styles, to reflect and impact their mental health, and to display their identities.”
As for what’s next, Roblox’s Wootton and Parson’s Barry will hold a virtual panel, titled “What’s Next in Metaverse Fashion?” to discuss the key findings from the research and share predictions. The panel is scheduled for Wednesday at 9:30 a.m. PT.