Anne-Christine Polet, founder at Hatch and Stitch.

getty

It’s 2008, and I’m writing my master’s thesis on the impact Web 2.0 might have on the apparel industry. Back then, Web 2.0 hadn’t reached mass adoption yet—most companies were only just experimenting with the new capabilities that it allowed.

Whereas Web 1.0 was mostly focused on read-only websites and treated users of the internet as mere consumers of content, Web 2.0 enabled a big change in how people and companies were to behave on the internet and communicate on the Web. It allowed people to not just read on the Web but also write, opening up direct relationships between brands and their consumers.

At the time, I predicted a number of phenomena to happen, including an increase in the power of consumers, the use of viral marketing, the rise of “word-of-mouse” (the digital version of word-of-mouth) and the proliferation of Web 2.0 channels, such as blogs and social networks. Fast forward to today, and Web 2.0 is the internet as we know it. And it drastically changed how fashion and apparel companies interact with their consumers. You could say that Web 2.0 democratized fashion.

The ability to not just read but also directly write on the Web unlocked a number of big overhauls to how fashion works. In a way, it was the first step to bringing high fashion to regular people through the rise of street-style blogs like The Sartorialist or Tommy Ton, which then evolved into the era of Instagram influencers and, today, micro-influencers on TikTok. Web 2.0 also enabled everyone to be able to experience a fashion show via live streaming on YouTube and all runway looks immediately available to see (and copy).

Today, we’re on the advent of another generation of the internet: Web3.

What’s Web3?

One good definition of Web3 is “a decentralized online ecosystem based on the blockchain.” Blockchains are key to the equation because they allow for decentralization: Theoretically, no one can own a blockchain.

Initially, the use of blockchain technology was mostly financial and included cryptocurrencies (like Bitcoin and Etherium), initial coin offerings (ICOs) and decentralized finance (defi). But over the last year, we’ve seen the rise of other Web3 elements, as follows:

DAOs, which stands for decentralized autonomous organizations, are those that are formed and governed by their own members instead of a controlling unit.

NFTs, or non-fungible tokens, are unique units of data that are stored on the blockchain and associated with digital files. NFTs are collector items and can reach extreme valuations.

The metaverse is a “simulated digital environment that uses augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR) and blockchain, along with concepts from social media, to create spaces for rich user interaction mimicking the real world.”

So, what could Web3 mean for fashion?

A key principle to Web3 is decentralization: putting ownership in the hands of the individuals instead of big companies. This also applies to creatives. In theory, Web3 enables creatives to own and monetize their work—a true creator economy.

This is paving the way for independent designers to earn their living producing digital skins for games, as well as creating collectibles and selling them as NFTs. We’re also seeing the rise of digital-only fashion houses, like The Fabricant. And even high-fashion designers like Phoebe Hess have pivoted to become Web3-first, stating that “change is simply a necessity because fashion exploits people and the planet to an unimaginable extent.”

These independent creators are receiving support in the form of DAOs. One of these is Digitalax, a Web3 fashion ecosystem supporting independent fashion designers on their journey into the Web3 fashion space. Another is Metafactory, a DAO that aims to launch the world’s first community-owned and operated fashion brands.

Combine this with the shifting consumer landscape and you can start to understand why Goldman Sachs sees the metaverse as an economic opportunity worth $8 trillion. The younger generation has gone beyond being digitally native—they actually don’t perceive any difference between the digital and physical worlds. They might be just as excited about getting digital Air Jordans in Roblox as they are about new gear in real life.

We’re on the cusp of something new.

Just like back in 2008, it feels like we’re at the cusp of something new. We don’t know quite yet what it will look like or the challenges that lie ahead. All we know is that many smart minds are building out Web3 as we know it, funding is moving rapidly in this direction and the younger consumer is already there.

Back in 2008, the revolutionary aspect of this new generation of the Web wasn’t necessarily the Web 2.0 technology itself but the application of the technology that triggered radical changes in consumer and business behavior.

Given what we know about Web3 to date, it might just make for an exciting ride. If the space is able to overcome some of its initial hurdles (including serious environmental concerns), I really can’t wait to see how it might change fashion as we know it today.


Forbes Technology Council is an invitation-only community for world-class CIOs, CTOs and technology executives. Do I qualify?