This may seem like a completely bonkers concept or an idea dreamed up by a Twitter bot trying to include all the latest buzzwords into a title, but there is a genuine prospect that there is a future in which metaverse and blockchain technologies come together to provide a new way to make sustainable garments through NFT digital clothing.
At A.M. Custom Clothing, we have always explored new avenues to improve the environmental and ethical standards of our products and the clothing industry, so when we heard suggestions that a blockchain-fueled NFT-controlled AR metaverse world could cut clothing carbon emissions by as much as 97%, we had to do more digging.
The Need for Sustainable Clothing
It has been common knowledge for quite some time that the clothing industry has a major problem when it comes to sustainability. Conventionally-grown cotton is a resource-hungry crop and its production is almost as polluting as industries like oil and transport.
On top of that, there have been major concerns about working conditions and employment practices in the supply chain.
Thankfully, many in the industry are making steps in the right direction. At A.M. Custom Clothing, we have always worked with suppliers that address these issues. It’s why we put a lot of emphasis on organic cotton, recycled fibres, and third-party certifications from organisations like the Fairtrade Foundation and the Fair Wear Foundation.
In doing so, we stock some of the most sustainable clothing products on the planet, helping our customers to reduce their environmental impact and feel better about the purchases that they make.
However, new technological developments could allow us to take this to a whole new level with NFT digital clothing.
The metaverse is a hot topic at present. Facebook’s announcement that it would be changing its name to Meta and investing billions of dollars into metaverse products was a catalyst for all the excitement.
The concept is much older than that though. The term “metaverse” was coined by Neal Stephenson in his 1992 book Snow Crash, where he described a 3D digital dystopia where humans interacted with each other through avatars in a virtual world. In more recent years, it’s come to refer to the “thing” that will replace the internet.
This isn’t perhaps the most accurate description either because any version of the metaverse will rely on the internet’s infrastructure, even if we interact with it in a different way. Instead, it may be better to describe it as the next iteration of the World Wide Web.
The Meta version of the metaverse involves an always-on 3D world that you can dip in and out of whenever you like. You’ll most likely be using a virtual reality headset to interact with it, though some tech people argue that this element may not be necessary.
In the metaverse, you’d be able to interact with other people, much like you do in real life but without having to actually be physically present. This element would be like an upgraded Zoom meeting. Instead of just seeing someone’s face through a screen, you could virtually sit next to their avatar (a digital recreation of their body or a completely fictional character they have designed).
While inside the metaverse, you will have your own space, something like a home that you keep your digital belongings in.
These digital belongings could come from a whole host of sources, including digital stores, video games, or gifts from other people.
Just like in real life, you could store, display, modify, trade, or sell your belongings, creating collections that match your style and taste.
Using the Blockchain
Blockchain technology is talked about a lot today. Cryptocurrencies are everywhere and there is no shortage of people who will gladly tell you all about the different possible uses that blockchain technology has. From selling houses to tracking autonomous vehicles, there appears to be a possible application for this new technology in every area of life.
One of the more recent ways we’ve seen blockchain technology be used is in the creation of “non-fungible tokens”. These are essentially digital deeds to an item, whether it be an image, a tweet, or an audio file.
According to some experts, NFTs could be the way that we track ownership of people’s digital assets. Because the blockchain is public information it would be really easy to see who owns what and prevent theft and fraud.
NFT Digital Clothing in the Metaverse
While the metaverse and blockchain technologies may seem like they have absolutely nothing to do with sustainable clothing, there is actually a possible future where this technology could help to reduce the impact of the clothing industry further than is currently possible.
A recent report from Bloomberg examined the fashion designers currently experimenting with digital clothing garments for their customers to buy and show off in the digital world.
The report suggested that people could buy their fast fashion items in the digital world rather than in real life. In doing so, they could save as much as 97% of the carbon emissions from a normal clothing item. They’d also remove the need for growing crops or producing synthetic fibres, at least for items created digitally.
Of course, this was talked about in the context of fashion, but there is nothing stopping the same concept from being applied to uniform, workwear, events clothing, and other corporate clothing requirements.
How Would Digital Uniforms Work?
The concept is very abstract at present, but there is a possibility of using digital clothing at trade fairs, expos, conferences, and other such events. To work, it would require everyone at the event to use augmented reality glasses or headsets that overlay digital objects on top of the real world.
Instead of producing garments for that specific event, your team could have one standard garment for events and use the augmented reality element of the metaverse to overlay any event-specific designs.
For each event that you didn’t buy new physical garments and you used NFT digital clothing instead, you’d reduce your CO2 emissions on the clothing element by 97%. However, you could go further as much of your stand and displays could also be created in the digital world rather than the physical one.
Pie in the Sky Thinking?
NFT digital clothing products like workwear and uniforms sound like pie in the sky ideas today.
That’s because they kind of are.
However, a few decades ago, it would have sounded like fanciful sci-fi to have a pocket-sized computer with more processing power than NASA used for the Apollo Mission that gives you access to every single piece of information ever created. Yet, today, almost all of us have one.
Many things need to be improved before metaverse clothing could ever become possible. Augmented reality technology is not yet at the level that would be necessary to make this kind of thing work.
Current display technologies aren’t really suited for AR as they’re not bright enough to match natural light levels. Additionally, batteries aren’t powerful enough to let them run a whole day while also being comfortable enough to wear.
That said, the technology to overlay images in real-time already exists. It’s used in professional sports to add sponsor logos and live information into the real-world space for television viewers at home.
In Euro 2020, this augmented reality was used to change the logos and their languages on the advertising boards around the pitches to match the local market that games were being broadcast in.
Similarly, Formula 1 uses this technology to display sponsor logos on and around the track, live telemetry on the cars, and other pertinent information on-screen to help TV viewers understand what is going on.
With developments in AR hardware and software, it is not unreasonable to suggest that digital clothing could be possible by building on what is already in commercial use.
Environmental Concerns of Blockchain Technology
The figure of 97% fewer carbon emissions is very attractive. However, current blockchain technology would negate much of that right now as mining some cryptocurrencies is incredibly energy-intensive.
“Proof-of-work” tokens need to be “mined”, which uses a lot of electricity. According to the BBC, mining uses more than 121 terawatt-hours per year, more than the whole of Argentina.
On top of that, Digiconomist’s Bitcoin Electronic Waste Monitor reports that the cryptocurrency currently produces 27.61 kilotons of e-waste per year, similar to the “small IT equipment waste of the Netherlands”.
Elon Musk’s Tesla stopped accepting Bitcoin as a method of payment due to environmental concerns, though has vowed to accept it again when the currency improves its ecological credentials.
A new model, known as “proof-of-stake”, is a possible solution to this problem and is likely to be adopted by Ethereum and other blockchains in the future.
Let’s be real here. We can’t expect to wake up in 2023 and be living in a 3D metaverse where we meet our friends by donning virtual reality headsets or having augmented reality devices that project NFT digital clothing onto our bodies.
There is a long way to go before any of these concepts could become reality for the vast majority of people.
However, we truly believe that there is a chance that some of this seemingly bonkers thinking could actually be an environmental solution to many of the problems facing the clothing industry.
We, therefore, will continue to monitor and explore this area.
In the meantime, A.M. Custom Clothing will keep pushing the boundaries of sustainability with Fairtrade workwear, organic uniforms, and ethical events clothing.