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Online Fashion Show Sells Digital Apparel Items for More Than $600 Each


Shanghai Fashion Week (SHFW) may have been postponed, perhaps indefinitely, but the fashion industry has quickly pivoted. A case in point: Chinese social media and ecommerce platform Xiaohongshu has teamed up with SHFW to launch a digital fashion showcase.

Design Verse’ kicked off on April 15 and runs through the 28th. What it entails: A total of nine Chinese designers are releasing 20 digital designs while also vending 3,000 virtual fashion items solely on Xiaohongshu.

virtual fashion week

A promo poster for ‘Design Verse.’ Image via Design Social on Xiaohongshu

Seeing as purchasers can’t wear the digital fashion items in real life, some question the point. Nevertheless, the hype is real.

When Chen Peng, the designer behind the costumes at the 2022 Beijing Olympics’ opening ceremony, released 10 virtual mermaid-inspired ensembles, they sold out immediately. Even though these outfits only exist on a phone or computer screen, the apparel items were priced at a staggering 3,999 RMB (about 618 USD) each.

The only outlet for such digital designs to be worn or shown off is their owners’ Xiaohongshu profiles.

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Chen Pengs designs for ‘Design Verse.’ Images via Cheng Peng’s Xiaohongshu profile

Digital fashion is often discussed in tandem with NFTs. However, the garments showcased at ‘Design Verse’ are being sold for real currency instead of cryptocurrency, which is banned in China.

No longer just a novelty in China, digital fashion was the key theme of Vogue China’s January 2022 issue. Not only did the magazine feature digital fashion on its cover, but it also included a healthy debate on whether digital fashion was a mere stunt or stood to be a game-changer in sustainability — a trigger word in fashion these days.

Digital fashion undoubtedly faces many limitations, but creative expression is not one of them: Virtual designs eclipse traditional fashion by pushing the limits with regards to shapes (finally, one size does fit all), materials (want a dress made of fire? No problem), and designs (no matter how crazy the outfit, you’ll escape your family’s judgment).

In an interview with Xiaohongshu, Peng shared that his team had extended their digital designs beyond fashion and also created digital furniture, living spaces, and natural environments.

“In the future digitalization of fashion, we want to build a whole world that strongly carries the language and philosophy of our brand,” underscored the designer.

virtual fashion

Fashion influencers wear Half-Made’s virtual designs for ‘Design Verse.’ Images via Half-Made on Xiaohongshu

Fashion, especially for Gen-Zers, doesn’t only serve to cover the naked form — it can also be an outlet to express one’s identity, convey status, and showcase personality. And the internet’s far reach makes digital fashion easy to flaunt. It’s no wonder fashion influencers and tech-savvy youth are fans.

Cover image via Xiaohongshu

Beatrice Tamagno
Beatrice is a graduate student in sociology at Fudan University in Shanghai. Her writings have appeared on SupChina and ChinaNauts, an online magazine she co-founded with fellow researchers from Fudan. When she is not researching gender in contemporary China, you will find her playing mahjong or binging Chinese TV shows.
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