Digi-Couture, Clean CryptoArt & Augmented Activism: Emerging Tech Trends Pushing Environmental Agendas

By Jessie Hughes

Shortcuts:
Digi-Couture: The Death of Fast Fashion
Augmented Activism: The Filtered Faces of Digital Demonstrators
Clean CryptoArt: The Pipe Dream

Amid the climate crisis and global pandemic, unethical tech is on the rise — but on the bright side, more and more adaptive creatives are becoming environmentally conscious digi-sapiens. From writing off fast-fashion in favour of digi-couture, to augmented activism driving digital demonstrations, and actualising the pipedream of clean crypto: designers are pushing for a future of creativity and innovation.

Right now, there are three tech trends we’re following closely — each with its own bevy of creators rethinking what’s normal, making reality more fantastic and wielding the power of regenerative design to reshape the boundaries of consumption.

A piece from the Puma x The Fabricant Sustainable Technologies Collection on a faceless model. A sunrise (or sunset) glows pink in the background.

Digi-Couture: The Death of Fast Fashion

Identity, self-expression, fantasy and creativity lie at the core of what it means to be human. They drive the emotional relationship between ourselves and our fashion. Social media marketing’s increasing mastery in leveraging the ever-present gaze on our virtual personas is one of the many influences behind our desire to meet the rapid pace of trends in fashion. With the industry valued at more than 2.5 trillion dollars and employing over 75 million people worldwide this year, traditional fashion is here to stay — but consumers are becoming more and more conscious about what their participation in the industry is costing the planet.

The fashion industry is the second-biggest consumer of water globally, and is responsible for 8–10% of global carbon emissions. That’s more than all international flights and maritime shipping combined. The last decade especially has been ruled by fast fashion, with buyers keeping their garments for only half the time as we did prior to the turning of the millennium. Clothing production has roughly doubled since 2000, with an alarming 85% of all textiles ending up in dumps each year. Fashion companies are doubling their annual collection offerings to keep up.

Pixelated garments may be beginning to meet this need, ethically, in a way the traditional industry can’t. For anyone who has purchased skins in video games, the concept of digital fashion (also termed digi-fashion or digi-couture) isn’t entirely new. As surreal as it may sound to those of us who haven’t dipped our toes in yet, digital fashion may be the very solution that participants in this virtually-blended era are receptive to.

In fact, it’s already happening. With the world’s first digital-only dress selling on the blockchain for $9,500, digital fashion has been adopted by the likes of Nike and Puma, and plenty of other fashion brands are clueing on to this perplexing proposal in their wake. The aforementioned landmark digital garment, ‘Iridescence’, was created by digital couture house The Fabricant in collaboration with Dapper Labs: creators of the acclaimed CryptoKitties blockchain phenomenon. We couldn’t imagine a more compelling tone for a future of 3D fashion narratives. The Fabricant stands alongside a flourishing pool of digital fashion houses including Carlings, catalysing the digital-only fashion sector to open up new creative avenues beyond the limits of the physical world — while promoting sustainability and drastically reducing the negative environmental impacts of the current fashion paradigm.

Enabling access to the buying and selling of these unique garments is giving digital-only fashion markets both investment and persistent traffic. Online stores including Dress-X and XR Couture are making the commerce of digital fashion accessible to the public too: most outfit prices range from $30-$200.

An example of a garment page on the DressX platform. It looks almost exactly like a regular online garment purchase page — except uploading your own photo is part of the purchase flow.

Dress-X trumpets the tag ‘the most sustainable shopping solution ever existed’, and they just may be worthy of that title. Under the slogan of “we waste nothing but data and exploit nothing but our imagination” Dress-X could be the fashion marketplace of our modern day.

Offering a familiar alternative to online purchasing behaviour, 3D designers produce photorealistic, digital-only clothing collections that are listed on the store. After purchasing a digital garment from the site, buyers are asked to send in a full-length photo to be ‘dressed’. Dress-X requests that the base photo of the subject be well-lit, with hair off the body, and wearing either form-fitting or minimal clothing. Compositors, or ‘digital tailors’, will then digitally fit or ‘dress’ your image, compositing the 3D digital design on top of the photo. The completed still or moving image is supplied to the buyer, ready to post online.

Another edge digi-fashion has on the physical: The realms of physics do not apply. Instead, we have limitless ‘living’ fabric effects, enabling digital textures to create truly unique and enticing visual experiences. It’s the perfect concoction to generate the dynamic, ever-changing identity that most fast fashion participants crave — minus the footprint.

The outcome of a Dress-X purchase, modelled by Eva Sviridova. A glossy, teal dress flowing in an obviously digital breeze.
The outcome of a Dress-X purchase, modelled by Eva Sviridova. A glossy, teal dress flowing in an obviously digital breeze.

Naturalists aside, we all know there’s still going to be a need for physical clothes. The goal of marketplaces like Dress-X isn’t to replace the fashion industry entirely.

What we find exciting is that an evolution in how we supply is acting as a stimulus to evolve the nature of our demand — instead of the other way around. The production of a Dress-X digital garment emits 97% less CO2 than a physical garment, with waterless production saving an average of 3300 litres of water per item.

If your scepticism for digital-only fashion isn’t eroded that easily, then let’s look to the influencer market’s adoption of this alternative middle-ground solution. Have you ever taken a photo of an outfit while trying it on in the changing room, only to put it back on the rack? That’s the premise of fashion startup, More Dash. As they put it, ‘the future of fashion is content’.

More Dash recognised the harms of the growing trend of ‘purchase, Instagram, return’ early: but instead of going against the tide of content demand, they set up pop-up ‘content creation studios’, using stock from their wholesale showrooms. Understanding that the future of fashion is predominantly content-driven, they charge visitors a fee to dress up in their collection at pop-up shops. The visitors take pictures and videos, and then return the clothes to the rack once they’re done. As an additional sales model, many More Dashers returned to actually purchase the garments after receiving positive online validation that their outfits looked good. For those committed to rocking a following, we’re glad a solve is out there to tout your clout the eco-friendly way.

A young person standing in front of a building — the picture of their body is oversized so they’re as tall as the building. The clothing items they’re wearing are swapping in and out, demonstrating how easy it is to generate the pics content creators need without the rigmarole of collecting them through traditional retail.
A young person standing in front of a building — the picture of their body is oversized so they’re as tall as the building. The clothing items they’re wearing are swapping in and out, demonstrating how easy it is to generate the pics content creators need without the rigmarole of collecting them through traditional retail.

The concept of departing from physical garmentry toward a pixelated exchange makes a lot of sense when we consider our motivations for our online presences — especially for those who are influencers and content creators as their primary profession. As The Fabricant cofounder, Amber Jae Slooten describes it: “Our bodies are becoming fluid, our money decentralized. New powers are being formed. A new cult is rising. The digital world is coming and we are no longer bound to physical space.” Digi-fashion keeping fabric out of landfills and filling a growing market for self-expression at the same time is not only possible — but probable.

Augmented Activism: The Filtered Faces of Digital Demonstrators

A consistent driver since the dawn of time is the human desire to transform. Our yearning for evolution, modification and extension and is knotted into our DNA. It’s no surprise then, that in this age of near-mandatory virtual living, we have given rise to the cultural obsession of augmentation.

Augmented reality, or AR, which layers a computer-generated image or animation over a user’s view of the physical world, is now commonplace. As big-social extends the reach of AR features to curious global audiences — Instagram alone amasses an audience over 1 billion users of our 7.7 billion person population every month — it makes sense that AR is evolving as the latest medium for digital activism.

Aided by the nuanced playfulness filters provide, creators haven’t held back in their commentary on taboo and contentious issues using visually experimental augmentation to frame political and environmental statements.

The Hard–Core “brexit” filter: virtual metal shown on a moving face.
The Hard–Core “brexit” filter: virtual metal shown on a moving face.

Digital artist Harriet Davey made light of the UK’s dark EU exit when she released her gloomy HARD-Core ‘Brexit’ filter. Its users were able to augment the political veil onto their own appearance, exhibiting their shared emotional anguish and aligned political disapproval.

Diving out of politics and into the ocean, we at Josephmark released our own 2021 filter UV-Microplastic as a creative outlet responding to climate inaction and rapidly diminishing ocean health. Released on April 22 for Earth Day, we designed the augmented filter to bring visibility to the 14 million tonnes of microplastics sullying global oceans.

Microplastics contribute more than double the amount of plastic pollution estimated from the ocean’s surface. This filter was a creative exercise in visualising the nefarious degree to which microplastics occupy our oceans.

They permeate the food that we eat, and erode our ecosystems — so alongside educating ourselves about it, we used virtual UV and scale to illuminate this unacknowledged problem in a way that we could share around.

Similarly, last year the New York Times released an AR mobile experience to help readers visualise microscopic pollution particles as geo-informed virtual particles in the air. Both the New York Times and Josephmark have used augmentation to bring a new lens of visibility to these pressing threats.

We’d also recommend checking out research organisation Grow Your Own Cloud — innovators in clean data futures — who partnered with 3D artist Ines Alpha to create a visually breathtaking speculative fantasy of an augmented microbial cloud. Combining the latest in biotechnology, interaction design, and ecological ethics, ‘Interspecies Gossip’ used beauty to bring clarity and connection to the everyday species in the home while challenging our understanding of how we interact with these organisms.

Society’s anthropocentric perspective has led to humanity positioning itself as a species apart, wielding dominion over a planetary system — however, Interspecies Gossip works to provide alternative ways to archive dirty data by working in collaboration with other organisms.

A person in a dark room, rocking their face left and right while the AR organisms in the filter spread across, and attach to, their face.

With our smartphones and screens clocking more and more eye-time, this evolution in enhancing and experimenting with our digital personas through augmented expressions is booming. The pressing need for environmental activism demands new ways of galvanising audiences, and AR isn’t a rock that should be left unturned. For us, any kind of emerging artillery to centre and surface heavy topics in approachable, playful and productive bites of engagement is a good thing. Goodbye, keyboard warrior. Hello, augmented activist.

Clean CryptoArt: The Pipe Dream

The ‘Unconditional’ NFT by PLANTTDADDII: an abundance of pink and yellow bulging, budding and trumpeting shapes, an endless sky, and the face of a bird rising as a behemoth in the midst of it all.

As 2021 settled in we saw a digital-art renaissance, with the boom of NFTs throwing the art (and regular) world into a frenzy. With crypto-artworks selling for up to $69 million, NFTs (non-fungible tokens) have completely stirred up the $50.1 billion traditional art market — and for good reason.

The traditional art market is one of the most centralised markets in the world, giving access to only a tiny pool of artists.

96.1% of artworks sold at auction are by male artists; there are no women in the top 0.03% of the auction market, where 41% of the profit is concentrated; and 80% of the artists in NYC’s top galleries are white (nearly 20% being Yale graduates). NFTs, or crypto-art—a piece of artwork stamped with a unique string of code and stored on a virtual ledger called a blockchain — have inspired an alchemical movement with the potential for a radical redistribution of wealth: levelling the playing field for artists.

The problem — and it’s a big one — is that NFTs are dreadful for the planet. Blockchain technology, which also forms the basis of cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin and Ethereum, has enormous greenhouse gas emissions. When an artist uploads their work to a blockchain to be ‘minted’, it kickstarts a process known as mining, which involves solving complex puzzles through an awesome amount of computing power and a huge load of energy. According to an estimate backed up by independent researchers, the creation of an average NFT has a stunning environmental footprint of over 200 kilograms of planet-warming carbon: equivalent to driving 500 miles in a typical American gas-powered car. Selling a single-edition artwork on Ethereum has a carbon footprint starting at around 100kg of CO2 — equivalent to a 1-hour flight — while selling an edition of 100 works has a carbon footprint of over 10 tonnes: more than the per capita annual footprint of someone in the EU.

While we should all remain cautious of green-washed, idealistic pipedream proposals, new and evolving approaches to more ecologically considerate NFTs are emerging. Under the tags of #CleanNFT #ecoNFT, the culture is calling out for sustainable alternatives for the creation and sale of crypto-art. Ecologically considerate NFTs platforms and marketplaces including KodaDot, Viv3, hic et nunc, Kalamint, SIGN Art, Atomic, Pixeos, Paras, NFTshowroom, Eporio, Solible, Lovada, Stellar NFT, Phosphene have risen through the demand. These platforms encourage sustainable practices while pushing for the use of cleaner cryptocurrencies. Many of these alternative platforms use methods already hundreds of times more efficient than unsustainable popular counterparts such as Ethereum-based platforms.

NFT protocol for Ethereum co-author William Entriken has called the current models used unethical, and offered his solution: “You have to switch to proof of stake. Proof of work should be illegal.” The concept of switching from a proof of work (PoW) approach — which is how Ethereum works currently — to a proof of stake (PoS) approach would remove the need for intense calculations by allowing the owners of existing coins to control the network, rather than the owners of the computing power. It’s estimated this shift could cut the total energy demands of Ethereum by 99 per cent. Co-author Dieter Shirley went on to clarify: “The carbon footprint of proof of work blockchains deserves all of the criticism it gets and more. But NFTs are not the problem here. Now that we have electric cars, we can say that cars aren’t the problem, gasoline is the problem. Same with proof of stake: now that we have PoS blockchains, we can say that NFTs aren’t the problem, PoW chains are.” The real issue lies in how they’re created and sold.

Crypto-artists sick of watching the industry climate-inaction have taken a stand. Artist Joanie Lemercier, known for his perception-bending light sculptures, cancelled two planned drops tentatively priced at $200,000 after learning about the carbon footprint these drops would cause. It was only after Lemercier’s first blockchain drop that he discovered that the sale of his six NFTs, which sold out in 10 seconds, had consumed 8.7 megawatt-hours of energy, which was equivalent to two years of energy use in Lemercier’s studio. He has since called on other artists to consider the environmental impact of publishing their works as NFTs.

With a bounty up for grabs for more ecologically friendly NFTs, the motivation to make crypto-art more sustainable is both rewarding and environmentally critical. For art enthusiasts still persistent in joining along in the hype and hubris of crypto-art, emission-conscious digital art marketplaces using cleaner currencies may be the temporary fix. However, pressure must be maintained on blockchain leaders to switch to Proof of Stake; toward a future where artists can have their cake and eat it too.

Here at Josephmark, our field of vision is broad. Ideas and solutions aren’t formed in a vacuum, and knowledge doesn’t reside in siloed domains or disciplines. We know insights, acuteness, intuition and epiphanies don’t come out of thin air: they are the result of being tuned in — of being open to seeing the big picture, the patterns, and the parallels.

If you would like to talk to the team about how you can integrate these technologies into your ventures, you know where to find us.

Josephmark is a digital venture studio based in Brisbane and Los Angeles. We design, develop and launch meaningful digital products that change the way we work, play and connect. Find us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

Design is our language. Venture is our mindset. We are Josephmark.