The merging of the physical and digital worlds has become increasingly evident in the fashion industry, with many brands taking advantage of the strategy in order to more closely appeal to the younger generation of consumers.
Boson Protocol has been somewhat of a leader in this type of technology, establishing itself as a blockchain decentralised network that enables the sale of both physical and digital items in fashion. Additionally, its subsidiary, Boson Portal, a customisable marketplace platform for metaverse e-commerce, played a big role in the recently launched Metaverse Fashion Week, aiding brands and advertising agencies in creating digital spaces to sell their products during the event.
The company has also had a hand in the rise of ‘phygital’ activations online and offline, allowing customers to connect with a brand in both worlds through collection drops, interactive environments and immersive experiences.
“Last year, we saw the rise of non-fungible tokens (NFTs) and digital fashion, and what we are seeing this year is the merging of digital and physical fashion,” said Boson Protocol’s co-founder and CEO, Justin Banon. Speaking to FashionUnited, Banon detailed why the phygital trend is something to look out for during the summer of 2022 and where it will take the industry from there.
What is a phygital?
The word ‘phygital’ was coined from the combination of ‘physical’ and ‘digital’, and it refers to just that. While it is often used in reference to the merging of physical and digital strategies for brands, it can also be used to describe wearable items that exist both in the physical world and in an identical digital form, allowing the owner to use the product in real life and in an online space.
Its emergence comes as part of a rise in metaverse-related initiatives by retailers that are looking to cash in on open-world platforms through digitising their real-world products. Many of these items exist as NFTs that can be bought and worn by online avatars while also providing the owner with a physical version of the garment too. Speaking on this rising trend, Banon said: “While last year could be considered the summer of NFTs, we are now seeing this growing trend with fashion and luxury brands where their core business remains with physical items but they are really embracing the digital as well, and combining the two.”
The reason for the increase in this strategy is likely down to the surge in popularity of gaming and virtual reality among the fashion industry, which has taken an interest in the sector due to Gen Z’s engagement. Banon added: “Everyone gets the real world, everyone understands why people buy luxury items to grow their own personal brand. I think a strong reason why NFTs and digital wearable have grown in the metaverse is because, firstly they cannot be deleted in a few years. If you have got the first handbag that is an NFT from a designer, then in 50 years time, that’s a piece of fashion history – it is not going anywhere.”
Why should brands care?
The biggest advantage for brands to gain out of adopting such a strategy is relevancy, Banon noted. Akin to the way social media has changed the industry, he also believes that the metaverse will have a similar impact. “I have never seen a technology adopted like this before,” he added. “Out of all of these technologies, the metaverse is maybe the biggest of them all. We now have this immersive digital experience where we can have fun and it's social, people can be together.”
The metaverse’s introduction to fashion began with many hesitant brands questioning what the concept actually was, a notion that was quickly reversed by them onboarding digital strategies, through either trials or an initial campaign, in order to get a foothold in this fast moving space. Banon said on this swift adoption: “If you don’t join early and learn and develop the skills, these spaces develop so fast it is very easy to be left behind and have an old-school brand within 12 months.”
A particularly attractive part of this digital integration is the potential to connect with the growing Gen Z customer group, young, digital-savvy individuals specifically looking for such fresh new experiences. “Generation Z didn’t grow up on TV and passive consumption of media,” Banon said, adding that gaming has always been a big part of their lives, making these kinds of experiences extremely important when connecting with them. “That’s what appeals to this audience and a lot of brands have realised that and are gaining an advantage over market share and relevance.”
How are brands implementing phygital strategies already?
An important part of implementing a phygital strategy is recognising that there is a need to create differentiation, which is similarly important in the real world. “Everyone starts out as a blank avatar, and as we spend increasing amounts of time in the metaverse, people want to paint on that blank canvas,” Banon noted. “It is that same sort of driver that gets people to point out they are wearing a pair of Balenciaga sneakers, for example, which can be a paired item that they have in both the real and digital worlds.”
He continued: “This blending of physical and digital items is just happening, and it is happening in a gamified, rewarding way. Not just for the sake of technology. It’s making things fun and engaging. That is what’s driving this.”
Over the course of the summer, Banon said that Boson Portal will be doing just that, with different events and activations set to be launched in collaboration with brands and advertising agencies, each linking the digital and the physical. The company, which is currently remodelling its digital space in the open-world platform Decentraland, is preparing to carry out a range of online experiences, including treasure hunts that will allow shoppers to compete in branded games in order to gain access to rare digital items. Activations as such will provide both real life and in-game opportunities to connect with the brand.
Boson Protocol has already worked with a number of brands on phygital launches, including Hogan, which released a series of physical products as redeemable NFTs through its Decentraland-based retail space. The activation took place during the platform’s Metaverse Fashion Week, hosted earlier this year in partnership with Boson Portal, which also worked with the likes of Cider, Ikks and Anrealage on similar launches. Most recently, the company unveiled an exclusive phygital NFT drop in partnership with curator-driven NFT platform, Artpool. A collection of nine phygital items make up the collection, presented alongside an immersive exhibition by renowned multimedia artist, Gianni Lee, hosted in Decentraland.
Where will phygitals go in the near future?
This fast moving environment is something that is always under development, however it is very difficult to predict where this onset of NFT mayhem will go in the near future. Despite this, Banon had some ideas on what to expect with the implementation of digital creation, suggesting that it could soon be normal to buy an NFT and get the physical product with it. “With a lot of these NFTs going at a significant price, why wouldn’t you get the physical as well? You can then wear both,” he noted.
“It is likely that a year from now, all of these high end luxury items are going to have this sort of digital or phygital shadow to complement them,” Banon continued, highlighting that this could become the norm due to the increasing need for relevance among younger target groups. In order to help brands adjust to these changes, Boson Portal has set up its Summer of Phygitals platform, created to support those interested in entering into metaverse retail opportunities.
“Now is the time to get involved and experiment, have fun and learn about these experiences that you can have with your customers. There is nothing to be scared of, there are lots of people that can hold your hand,” Banon concluded.