The need for digital solutions has accelerated in recent months given the current global crisis, but one visionary company had this foresight back in 2018. The Fabricant is the world’s first digital-only fashion house who operates at the intersection of fashion and technology. They fabricate digital couture and fashion experiences wasting nothing but data, and only limited by their imagination. The Amsterdam-based company has a mission of showing the world that clothing does not need to be physical to exist. This was even proven through the creation of ITHK’s digital collection that sold out instantly without buyers seeing or trying on the physical alternative, and the one-of-a-kind digital dress designed by Johanna Jaskowska that sold for $9,500. Through 3D narratives from concept to implementation, interactive brand experiences, and the creation of digital garments that can be used and traded in virtual realities, they provide brands with digital alternatives to nearly every step of the design process.
We caught up with the founder, Kerry Murphy, to discuss his original vision for The Fabricant, how he’s been able to use CLO as a solution, and how he thinks digital fashion will continue to evolve:
What drew you to founding a digital fashion house? Especially at a time where not many other people were keen to the idea of digitization.
Back in March 2016 I was looking for new ways of using my experience and skill set outside of the context of the advertising industry that I was working in. By chance I met a digital fashion designer who was about to graduate from fashion school with a “phygital” (digital and physical) portfolio. Around that time I was seeing some really creative animations using cloth simulations, so I got curious and wanted to implement this skill set in my arsenal of tools for telling unique narratives through conceptualized animations that I knew would be useful for my client projects. I decided to help out Julie ‘Zil’ Vostalova who I had met back then. When speaking with her I started understanding where the fashion industry was in regards to digital transformation. In my head I thought it was a super advanced industry where all designs were made digitally and the garments constructed by robots. Basically a fully automated workflow. Once I understood that this was far from the truth, I realized that were was a lot of potential to create impact using the tools I know from the VFX and film industry to create positive impact, not only environmentally but also culturally.
I know that you have a background in Motion Graphics while your co-founder Amber has a background in fashion design. Given your 2 different backgrounds, what was your vision for the company when founding the Fabricant and Amber’s vision when coming onboard as co-founder?
The early vision was to start a company to create high-end visualisations for fashion companies to help them create an end-to-end value chain using digital up until the selling point. Still to this day this is extremely difficult to execute, mainly because of the traditional forces in power, so I decided to focus mainly on the marketing activities of companies as they have the budgets and the creative freedom to do what I did best when working in advertising. Amber always had the idea that we will be wearing holograms in the future. I was never a big fan of the idea of a hologram as it limits the potential of digital only clothing to a certain technology. We figured out that we’re not actually a clothing company but we’re a company of virtual identities, using digital clothing to help curate that. I always believed that it’s easy to have ideas, but extremely difficult to execute them. To thrive as a company creating revenue is an important aspect of it and selling digital-only clothing right now outside of gaming does not really exist as a sustainable business model. We see ourselves as a company who do research and development not only in our technological pipeline, or aesthetic style, but mainly in business model innovation. We are working hard to create an industry and business models, where clothing can stay in the digital realm, and never have to exist physically. The best way to make the fashion industry more sustainable is by reducing the amount of physical items made. If we can create business models where companies can increase their bottom line, and reduce the physical items being made, then that’s the first step in creating the impact we’re looking for. We will never be interested in making physical products.
How did you discover CLO? Why would you say CLO, specifically, is integral to your workflow?
I actually discovered Marvelous Designer first. I made a clothing animation test in my preferred software at that time, and it was a horrendous fail. Then a friend of mine suggested Marvelous Designer to me as he had just seen some YouTube tutorial about it. I checked it out immediately and within a few hours I was already creating cloth animations that would have never been possible in traditional 3D software. The results blew my mind and between May 2016 and December 2016 we made multiple test projects testing and developing the workflow for a client project that is typically 8-12 weeks long. The projects we worked on then internally are still some of my favorite ones, as we had full freedom to do what we liked and created results that still are some of the best clothing simulations I’ve seen around. We were able to recreate a typical VFX pipeline for clothing in a short period of time and for no money with only two people.
How have you been able to use CLO as a solution for companies?
We use CLO to create the most detailed translations of garments for visualisation purposes. Additionally the simulation engine of CLO is the best around and allows us to create hyper realistic representations of the clothing. Brands always want the clothing to look and move as it does in reality, but we always advise to think bigger than that as the true value of 3D is to create situations that are better than real. This is the best way to inspire internal teams and consumers.
How does your design approach change with each project or visual campaign you create for a company?
When working with companies the process is always the same, when producing visual representation of clothing as it should look like in the real world. However, when it comes to our own designs we experiment and develop a new language of fashion that can only exist in the virtual space. What’s the fun of designing clothing with physical limitations? We are true believers in the future of digital couture or digicouture as we call it.
Given this ongoing global crisis, why do you think The Fabricant and digital fashion are important for the industry? For the world as a whole?
The crisis has accelerated the digital transformation of the fashion industry. If there are no physical samples, then we need to present new collections digitally. This should have existed since the dawn of 3D software already, and now with the current crisis this is a necessity for any brand who wants to future-proof themselves. I always use the example of Kodak, a film manufacturer who was a monopoly for over almost a century, and went bankrupt in 2012 because of being in the game of digital transformation too late, and not being visionary in that space. I believe that the future of any fashion company is a company like ours. So who will be the first fashion house to collapse because they’ve refused to digitize for too long now? And hopefully in the short term we’ll start seeing brands implementing production on-demand models. Basically using 3D visuals as a selling point, before making any clothing. Great examples of that are the Atacac guys, who lead as an example of how a traditional fashion brand should work.
How do you envision 3D and digital fashion becoming the standard in the industry as time progresses?
It’s fairly easy to predict this by looking at any other design industry who went through digital transformation. From a process perspective the architectural and automotive industries are great examples. From a business model perspective the music industry is a great example. As fashion becomes more digital we will start to see much larger cross-pollinations of different industries jumping into the space. Fashion impacts so many aspects of our lives, and this will happen in the virtual space too. On a weekly basis we have exciting conversations not only with fashion brands but also other industries who recognize that digital-only fashion will be massive and it will impact our lives on multiple fronts. A digital-only fashion industry will be larger than the physical fashion industry… No doubt about it. And I’m super excited about the fact that we get to be in the pioneering phase to co-create that future.