Even in the metaverse, Karlie Kloss is fashion forward. Today, the supermodel is launching a collaboration with the gaming platform Roblox to highlight the work of five fashion designers who create entirely virtual clothing, which users can buy to outfit their avatars. With this partnership, Kloss’ goal is to elevate digital fashion designers and spur the mainstream fashion industry to start taking virtual fashion seriously.
As one of the world’s best-known models, Kloss has spent the last 15 years working with the world’s top designers. But she’s also passionate about technology. Eight years ago, she took a coding class at the Flatiron School in New York City, and two years later, she launched Kode with Klossy, a nonprofit devoted to teaching young women to code and helping them advance in the tech world. In many ways, this Roblox partnership seems like a natural next step.
Roblox launched in 2006, but its popularity exploded during the pandemic, and it now has 50 million daily active users. According to the company, some of the most popular games on the platform involve role-playing or simulating everyday activities. “I didn’t realize until I started playing that many people just like to spend time here and meet other people,” says designer Samuel Jordan, who’s in his 20s and goes by the name Builder Boy on Roblox. “It’s where my generation just hangs out.”
Kloss spent her childhood playing video games with her three sisters, and yet she hasn’t seen the gaming industry pay attention to the needs of female users. “I’ve always loved that video games allow you to access incredible experiences, to play any sport and enter new worlds,” she says. “But there were always very limited options for female characters, from picking avatars to picking the fashion those avatars would wear.”
There are thousands of designers who already create virtual clothes on Roblox and sell them. Users can buy Roblox currency, known as Robux and us it on clothes that cost anywhere from a few cents to several dollars; 20% of users update their avatar with new outfits on any given day. Last year alone, 25 million virtual items of clothing were created on the platform. Jordan, for instance, creates accessories for avatars that generated upward of a million dollars last year
With this Roblox partnership, Kloss wanted to highlight the work of virtual fashion designers like Jordan. The five designers Kloss picked will each get their own pop-up store as part of The Fashion Klossette Designer Showcase. Users can visit these stores, try on the looks, and buy virtual clothes and accessories. (Each user gets six items for free and can purchase others for between 50 cents and a dollar.) The designers have a wide range of aesthetics, from Builder Boy’s beachy vibe to RynityRift, who designs cyberpunk looks. Jordan says self-expression matters a lot to Roblox players. “I’ve found that it’s not the most perfectly designed outfits that are the most popular, but the ones that convey a feeling,” he says. “Virtual clothes can say a lot about the user, and they can change what they’re wearing based on whether they’re feeling angry or happy or lonely.”
Historically, the fashion and gaming industries haven’t intersected all that much. But as gaming has become more widespread, it has been hard for fashion designers to ignore: More than 2.5 billion people globally play video games, including 60% of all Americans, nearly half of whom are women.
Over the last few years, several brands and designers have started to make forays into virtual fashion. Gucci, Louis Vuitton, and Burberry—among other brands—now design garments for avatars. And video game Drest creates digital versions of current designer collections. “I care deeply about the democratized access to fashion that virtual fashion enables, but there’s a real business that is already being built online,” Kloss says.
As more fashion companies create digital clothes, some experts are concerned that virtual fashion will perpetuate the same inequities as offline fashion, such as excluding minorities and people who can’t afford it. But Kloss believes virtual fashion is still in its infancy and has untapped potential. For one thing, she wants to encourage more women to become game designers, building on her work with Kode with Klossy, and she’s hoping to empower everyday designers on the platform through the partnership with Roblox. She also believes it’s possible for virtual fashion to be inclusive of all body types, which hasn’t been true of IRL fashion. Roblox outfits, for instance, are built on a platform called “Layered Clothing” that are designed to fit on any avatar body type. “Garments can not only fit any form, but they can defy gravity or be on fire,” she says. “The possibilities are truly endless.”
Over the years, Kloss has seen firsthand how designers create entire collections from the ground up. She has even designed pieces herself, through collaborations with companies like Adidas. As Kloss has seen how virtual designers operate, she says the process isn’t that different. It starts with mood boards and evolves to ensure that the collection represents the designer’s unique aesthetic vision. “I’ve had the privilege of going into the ateliers of some of the most incredible fashion designers of our time,” she says. “Their process is all about fabrics and thread, while these virtual designers design through lines of code. But it’s the same concept of taking an idea and bringing it to life for the purpose of creative expression.”
What does all of this mean for a model like Kloss? She’ll continue walking runways, she says. But she will also exist digitally, wearing clothes made entirely for the metaverse. “You’ll see my avatar rocking all kinds of virtual fashion.”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Elizabeth Segran, Ph.D., is a senior staff writer at Fast Company. She lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.