Providing an alternative to in-person events

It’s hardly a secret, but the coronavirus (COVID-19) has created a difficult business climate for many companies. However, the digital fashion sector is seeing interest soar, according to Kerry Murphy of The Fabricant, which designs clothing that exists only on screens. The firm – which does not manufacture physical garments – is helping brands create alternatives to fashion shows, trade fairs and the traditional shopping experience, providing a valuable lifeline during a crisis.

According to Murphy, The Fabricant is receiving attention from an array of potential clients, ranging “from independent designers to the largest brands in the world trying to figure out what [the situation] means for them”. By helping them create virtual samples, launch online fashion shows and find other ways of entering the digital space, the firm is providing safer and more sustainable ways of doing business. 

Kerry Murphy

From gaming gear to designer apparel

Previously, many fashion companies specialising in virtual apparel created clothing for gaming avatars. But since the start of the coronavirus outbreak, major labels are seeing the value of taking a pixel-led approach to their work.

“We’re talking to a lot of different brands and there’s a lot of opportunities,” says Murphy, whose career began in the world of film and video. “These discussions have been going on for almost a month and right now, we just need to sign a few deals and then we’ll be working on very interesting projects.”

However, the digital fashion field is experiencing challenges as well, and many business plans have been put on hold as funding dries up. Though Murphy remains positive, he also believes a major change in perspective is necessary for success. 

“Everybody’s fishing around trying to see what to do next. They’re just hoping that we have the perfect solution for them,” he says. “But our solution requires a shift in mindset, which can be very [difficult] for a brand that’s been doing things the same way for over 100 years. We need to have many discussions before we can figure out how we can work together.”

Shifting the industry’s outlook

Making this shift requires abandoning many traditional aspects of the fashion business. Instead of mingling at trade events, packing seats at fashion shows and relying on mannequins to attract mall shoppers, brands can embrace a strategy that is more reliant on digital technologies

For established companies that have relied on in-person interaction for decades, it will be a big change, requiring a completely new way of thinking. But some brands, including Tommy Hilfiger, have successfully made the transition, proving it can be done. 

The Fabricant already helped the label's Amsterdam office accelerate its move to fully digital design, and it now has the world’s largest digital transformation team. For its 2022 apparel collections, Tommy Hilfiger will use technology to create and sell all sample items, reducing textile and paper waste while cutting the time needed to take products to market.

Making Amsterdam the world’s digital fashion capital

In Murphy’s view, Amsterdam is uniquely positioned to take advantage of the current situation and be at the forefront of a fashion revolution. “We get to redefine what things mean, and not just change the traditional model into a digital model, but give it a rebirth, a resurrection, a new way of operating,” he says.

Though accomplishing this requires talent, the city is set up to provide this. The Amsterdam Fashion Institute, which teaches branding, design and business skills through its bachelor’s degree programme, already trains students to use digital tools for the sake of sustainability. There is also a flourishing startup and tech sector that can supply skilled workers, as well as incubators nurturing the industry’s young entrepreneurs. 

And while competition and strife have long been part of the clothing industry, Murphy doesn’t predict a battle on his doorstep. “Amsterdam is the digital fashion capital of the world,” he says. “Not the fashion capital – New York, London, Paris and Milan fight for that. But we’ll just take over digital fashion and make this a place where innovation can truly grow and excel.”

Read more business news from around Amsterdam or learn about the city’s fashion industry and how this close-knit community is pursuing sustainability.