Living out multiple online identities opens up the possibilities for how fashion can evolve into a future-facing and less archaic model, based on community-led, interchangeable and sustainable designs rather than an elitist and capitalist-driven system. The Fabricant are a leading digital fashion house, who make 3D clothing to wear exclusively for the URL realm. As an online platform who hosted the first live streamed fashion show and have long experimented with technologies such as 3D scanning and artificial intelligence, at SHOWstudio we were naturally eager to find out more from one of the key players in fashion's next digital revolution.
Launched by Amber Jae Slooten and Kerry Murphy in Amsterdam in 2018, The Fabricant firmly believe in the synergy between human beings and technology, and in the value of digital fashion to express ourselves. Creating virtual campaigns with brands including adidas x Karlie Kloss, Tommy Hilfiger and Puma, and recently teaming up with digital shoe designer RTFKT on gender-fluid garments sold as NFTs, the platform are striving towards a future where users can easily create an online avatar and try on multiple designs in a digital space.
Collaboration is at the core of what The Fabricant envision as fashion moves forwards after over a year of lockdowns and digital fashion shows, which have pushed more brands than ever before into an exclusively digital realm. Sharing downloadable 3D design files online, holding design challenges for their community, and streaming tutorials and workshops all for free, The Fabricant are helping to build a new democratic universe, transforming fashion as we know it. When Suza Vos, a digital fashion and costume designer for the platform sent us a 3D render she had created using a pattern of an Alexander McQueen S/S 20 dress from our Design Download project, we knew we had to find out more.
Hetty Mahlich: Why does digital fashion design excite you, and why were you drawn to work as a part of the team at The Fabricant?
Suza Vos: When designing I was always more computer-oriented. Maybe because I suck at drawing, but I love how you can combine imagery in photoshop and illustrator and come up with something new, yet very recognisable or obvious. In my second year of art school I saw the documentary The True Cost, and I wanted to quit fashion, I didn't want to be part of such a polluting system. However I also realised that change only starts from the inside out. I began volunteering in clothing sorting factories in return for second-hand clothing. But I always felt very limited. Limitation can also cause creativity, you know, but for me a t-shirt stays a t-shirt when I want to make a jacket or dress from it.
When I saw CLO 3D [a digital fashion design software programme] for the first time, I saw an opportunity to go beyond what was possible in (my) reality. Around that same time I saw The Fabricant's work for the first time during The Dutch Design Weeks. I remember how mesmerised I was by the DEEP collection [where The Fabricant fed images from Paris Fashion Week through AI technology which later inspired digital fashion designs], and ever since I wanted to work with them. We share a connection towards fashion and art. Still every day I feel very honoured and lucky to be part of such an experimental, unconventional and inspiring team. It's so exciting! Every time we come up with something crazy, we have no idea what will happen or how people will react towards it, but we truly believe in it. Sometimes it goes really well and sometimes we learn. We are all very ambitious and also the company culture is very unique. At least from what I hear- this is my first job, so I don't know any different. We don't believe in hierarchical systems, so we can be very open with each other. It's a very good feeling that in moments of chaos, you can always rely on each other.
HM: What's unique to creating fashion in the digital sphere, versus creating clothes IRL?
SV: So, what can we not create in real life? I'm always fascinated by that question, because what makes the difference? I think fashion is always striving to go beyond what is real, and I don't see digital fashion or 'IRL' fashion as two different things. From a logistical perspective, we can work wherever we want, and still be connected and create something together. I moved to Amsterdam once I got the job [at The Fabricant], but during the [first] lockdown I got totally crazy being in an urban environment. So I decided to work remotely from Acores, Portugal. My next destination is Lisbon, and maybe I will go back to Amsterdam [where The Fabricant are based] after that. Many of us don't live in Amsterdam; some live in Germany, others Italy, England, France, Tunisia. Time zones can be difficult when it comes down to working digitally together, but during COVID we didn't have any problems bringing models, environments and artists together, because we can all work from our screens. The output we create can be used in several multimedia environments, in forms of stills, videos or interactive experiences without the need for separate productions, shipping or traveling. It all happens in our minds and computers.
HM: When you rendered the Alexander McQueen S/S 20 womenswear opening dress digitally using the pattern from SHOWstudio's Design Download, you told us how ownership isn't so important or valid when it comes to digital fashion. How do you see the potentials for virtual fashion when it comes to thinking about the industry's often elitist systems?
SV: For too long time the fashion industry has been so secretive and not community orientated. Those closed and private doors resulted in an industry that became very shady and polluting. At The Fabricant we work with a lot of people that come from a 3D, gaming and VFX background. For them it's super normal to exchange information; to go to a forum and ask for help, to give feedback to each other, to watch and create tutorials on how to do things. In fashion, I feel that everybody does more or less the same things, however they always want to claim what they are doing without sharing. I mean what is the point in that? You should share what you love to do. And if someone becomes better because of that, that's amazing to be part of that. That is how you create a connection, how you build towards something beyond you can imagine.
That's why all our files are downloadable for free on our website, we call them FROPPS (Free File Drops). As well we stream weekly design streams, in which our creative director Amber Jae Slooten and I are just chilling and designing while talking to the community. People can ask questions, influence design choices or just chat about daily things. We also created workshops in which we explained about blockchain, softwares and project breakdowns with collaborators. All for free. We did design challenges, in which the community picked a file up and created their own interpretations. The first was in collaboration with adidas. We had over 1,200 downloads and received 400 submissions. The top 20 were minted on the blockchain and exposed in a virtual exhibition. We collaborated with the winner, Tereza Manzo, on a new project, called Re-Veil [Manzo, aka trs.mnz, created a limited edition digital headpiece collection]. We also created a new challenge for that, in which we created the assets as blank canvases, and made our own interpretation of it. The winner of that challenge, Taskin Goerik, is now working with us on a very exciting project for a big magazine. That's how we try to uplift each other, creating chances for new talent. We have to do it together.
HM: From your experience of working with brands and clients, how do you think digital fashion is impacting upon personal style choices?
SV: Brands have to let go that they have the power, but instead give the power to their followers and consumers. Digital design and the ease of the accessibility that it drives will allow consumers to become part of the design. They can decide on colours, details, styles and so on. The brand can allow a canvas, in which the consumer can use it to customise it to their needs, perspective and expression. When brands have a hybrid model and create a cross-boundary between digital and physical, it can give them insight into what they should or shouldn't produce. I would love to see products only made on demand, instead of big productions. We already have enough clothing to physically wear for the upcoming 60 plus years. So it's good to question if we still really need more physical clothing.
What I find most exciting and try to encourage in people is to let go of physicality and research new ways of wearing fashion. Is fashion only attached to our bodies? Or does it go beyond that? How do we create value around that? And will style only be influenced by an individual or by a collective being? A very exciting project within The Fabricant is a collaboration with Buffalo London that's presented on Async Art. This is a crypto platform, in which people can buy layers of artworks, and so be a fractional owner of a product. Within a couple of days the sale will be marked, and in that moment of time the shoe will be made into a AR filter. So as a community you decide about the future of the shoe, and what the people will be wearing. Consumers will have more and more power in terms of design choices.