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The Indian art of making couture for the metaverse

In an interview, Shubhika Sharma, founder of homegrown label Papa Don’t Preach, talks about designing clothes for the virtual world and whether India is ready for metaverse fashion

A Papa Don’t Preach creation for the metaverse
A Papa Don’t Preach creation for the metaverse

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You can now show off couture pieces in your online avatars too, thanks to the increasing entry of fashion houses, including Gucci and Balenciaga, in the metaverse. Now, an Indian designer is joining the club as well. 

Few weeks ago, the India-Austria Bilateral Business Council under Women’s Indian Chamber of Commerce & Industry (WICCI) hosted the Women Economic Forum (WEF) and organised a metaverse fashion show, with designer Shubhika Sharma of the brand Papa Don’t Preach (PDP) becoming the first Indian fashion designer to present a collection meant for the 3D virtual world. To buy these pieces, you need digital currency. The only thing is, you need 5G internet to access the digital pieces, so there’s still some time before you set a sum for digital fashion.

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If accessibility is still an issue, what made Sharma invest in such a  collection? 

“Right now, for the most part, digital fashion is mainly being used as a marketing tool to redirect attention to actual goods made by fashion brands," she says. "But you can't ignore the fact that shoppers are spending more time online. Our brand is very future-focused, and our target audience is young, they are all about community. So it was always on our mind.”

To create outfits for the metaverse, which come with 3D embellishments (a signature of PDP), Sharma worked with House of Krifin (a metaverse luxury, beauty and fashion production house, headed by Samridhi Shoor in India; the company collaborated with WICCI for this event) to scanned all garments, bags, shoes and accessories at their Delhi office. “Every little embroidery on the material has to be scanned to get the texture as close to the real one as possible,” says Sharma.

The clothes, which had physical as well as digital versions, were presented by digital models.

The digital interpretation of the collection will not just help people to try on virtual garments or accessories before buying them, but their physical garments can also be authenticated as NFTs and have a digital twin, which can prove their ownership, and it can subsequently be sold or traded, informs Sharma. 

Just like a physical garment is worked on, the digital garment too requires the skills of a digital artist, like a karigar, and the more the work on the outfit, the higher the cost. Sharma, who has also just opened a new store in the Kala Ghoda district of Mumbai, says the metaverse is another platform like Instagram and TikTok for brands to showcase their work.

She, however, admits that she had to really understand the concept and go ahead, regardless of whether it would prove a fad in the future. 

What excited her, though, was the fact that she could explore the fantastical essence of the platform. 

“Real world has limitations. Collections can often have an elaborate story, and I love to play with sets for every campaign, but I can’t get an octopus 10 times the size of a model if the collection demands it. With the Metaverse, I had models walking on air, stars on heads, dripping shimmer. I am not a very practical designer always and that aspect excites me,” says Sharma. 

It will also help reduce costs of production she says and makes it more sustainable. For example, if they make 30 to 40 samples, often if Sharma likes one of her pieces the most, it turns out to be too avant-garde for buyers, but an odd piece can be a bestseller. 

“For each garment, we have to order materials in bulk for production. So if something doesn’t take off, we are sitting with unused raw materials and inventory. By releasing a collection in the metaverse, we can let buyers interact with designs and colours, and then put a physical collection based on the demand and what I know is working," she explains. "It’s still not easy to get the translucence and fluidity yet with nets and georgettes. That will change eventually. Having said that, using the metaverse eats up a lot of broadband, so it’s not completely environmentally sustainable as you consume a lot of electricity.” 

In future, says Sharma, both formats will exist. “The way we were scared of shops moving online and everything shutting down, there is bound to be a similar fear… that models, makeup artists, tailors are going to be out of jobs," she says. "But clothes will always be about touch and feel, and each outfit looks different on each body, so the experience of the fabric is different with different people. I don’t think metaverse will be a threat.”

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