A digital fashion house partners with Meta. Should we celebrate or cry?

Meta, formerly Facebook, announced last week that it would start selling virtual clothing made by DRESSX in its Avatar Store.

The news marked a turning point for digital fashion houses. Until last week, only three brands – Prada, Balenciaga and Thom Browne, all legendary brands in the physical realm – had been asked by the social media giant to create digital clothing for metaverse avatars. For the first time, a digital native fashion company had a seat at the table – a table built by the most colossal corporation operating in the metaverse, no less.

There is no doubt that DRESSX’s partnership with Meta is remarkable. Why that is, however, is beginning to become controversial.

For some, the move is a huge step forward for digital fashion as a whole: soon, billions of Facebook, Instagram and Messenger users will have access to digital outfits for the first time.

For others in the digital fashion world, however, the move represents nothing less than a game of thrones-caliber betrayal: the leap from a would-be ally of decentralization to the side of the cause’s greatest enemy, just as the final lines of what some industry leaders have called the “Battle for the Future of the Internet.”

With us or against us

When Facebook was rebranded as Meta last fall, the move signaled the complete reorientation of the $450 billion company toward one goal: dominating the metaverse. Almost immediately, the first metaverse builders decried the developmentarguing that it jeopardized the online utopia they were trying to build.

This “open metaverse” was envisioned as a constellation of independently managed digital neighborhoods between which a user’s private data and digital assets could flow freely. Meta’s critics feared that because the juggernaut’s business model relies on controlling user data and analytics, the company would establish a huge, closed fiefdom at the center of their borderless world, within which Meta could keep control. ownership of user data.

In such a digital world, digital assets could not flow freely between platforms – a digital dress purchased on Meta’s platform, for example, would remain trapped behind the company’s impenetrable, proprietary walls.

So the implications of this great “battle” were inevitable for the booming digital fashion industry: You build either digital outfits for a borderless metaverse or a bordered metaverse.

“Digital Cage”

These questions have long been fodder for theoretical arguments. Today, as the metaverse begins to take shape and agreements are being written, they are beginning to have real implications.

For some in the intimate digital fashion ecosystem, DRESSX’s partnership with Meta is a true betrayal of the potential of an “open metaverse”.

“Zuckerberg, Facebook, they’ve been very clear that they don’t want an open, decentralized, free metaverse,” said Emma-Jane MacKinnon-Lee, founder of the digital fashion startup. DigatalaxTold Decrypt. “They want one that is tightly controlled… where they are the main choke point. And DRESSX has partnered with them.

For MacKinnon-Lee, the fact that DRESSX allied itself with Meta in this case is not incidental, but rather demonstrative of the true allegiances of the startup.

“What this partnership just showed is that they’re not for an open, decentralized metaverse,” MacKinnon-Lee said. “They are very supportive of building a digital cage.”

Digital outfits offered in Meta’s Avatar Store, including those made by DRESSX, are only compatible with the company’s platforms and cannot be moved from there.

“If you mint on a blockchain, it doesn’t automatically mean you uphold the principles of decentralization, self-sovereignty, liberty, and freedom for everyone who interacts with that network,” MacKinnon-Lee added. “Facebook controls what comes in and goes out of the network, who can do what. It’s the antithesis of Web3.

The outfits for sale in Meta’s Avatar store aren’t even built on the blockchain. Unlike NFTs, tokens that live on the blockchain and prove ownership of an item, and can exist independently of any centralized platform, Meta’s outfits are “off-chain,” meaning they live and die on company platforms, like a purchased asset within a video game.

For others in the digital fashion space, however, this fact is not a problem and rather highlights the seemingly semantic but crucial difference between “Web3 fashion”, which MacKinnon-Lee champions, and ” digital mode”, created by DRESSX.

“[DRESSX’s] The mission is to increase the adoption of digital fashion as a medium and, I guess, to break down barriers for designers and consumers around price or freedom of expression,” said Dani Loftus, Founder of the digital fashion platform. Drup. “Rather than their remit revolves around the Web3 ethic of decentralization.”

DRESSX was founded in August 2020, making it one of the oldest digital fashion brands. At first, the company sold digital wearables that were not chain-built. They then moved on to selling NFT and now sell off-chain and on-chain digital wearables. Its Meta wearables are priced from $2.99 ​​to $8.99.

For Megan Kaspar, a member of prominent digital fashion collective Red DAO, this scale is a testament to DRESSX’s versatility, as is its pact with Meta.

“The partnership is a powerful move for DRESSX,” Kaspar told Decrypt. “The company is now the only digital fashion platform offering both on-chain and off-chain products and services for centralized and decentralized ‘blue chip’ platforms.”

For MacKinnon-Lee, DRESSX, which has embraced both Web2 and Web3 products, cultures and businesses over the past two years, is dishonest.

“They started out as Web2, then they jumped on the NFT, the decentralization hype bandwagon,” MacKinnon-Lee said. “They pretended to be Web3 in the hype. And now that the markets are calming down, they’re thinking, OK, where do they go next?

‘Question for the Meta team’

For the founders of DRESSX, the startup’s deal with Meta – the culmination of more than six months of talks – is a proud achievement, which has the potential to bring digital wearables into the digital closets of billions who interact daily with the Meta platforms.

“DRESSX wants a future where every person in the world has a digital closet,” said startup co-founder Daria Shapovalova. Decrypt. “And an opportunity to work with companies like Meta, especially if they believe in the metaverse concept, can definitely help us scale faster.”

For co-founder Natalia Modenova, the agreement fit perfectly with the philosophy of DRESSX. “Our vision is that every tech company in the world should embrace digital fashion,” she said. Decrypt.

Regarding interoperability issues or whether digital equipment can travel freely between platforms, Modenova dismissed any concerns that the Meta partnership restricted customer proprietary rights. “I would say it’s interoperable across all Meta platforms,” ​​Modenova said. “Through, for example, Facebook and Instagram. They have already built a whole ecosystem.

When asked if DRESSX had a problem with Meta’s vision for the Metaverse, Shapovalova and Modenova declined to answer, saying only that it was “more a question for the Meta team”.

Last month, Meta made a public promise to build toward an “open and inclusive metaverse,” but many decried the move as a vague and hollow publicity stunt intended to obscure the fact that the mega-corporation has not pledged to refrain from controlling users’ digital assets and data.

When asked if the company has plans to ever allow digital assets, such as digital outfits, to freely enter and exit Meta-owned platforms, a Meta representative said Decrypt : “Our goal is to make it easier for people to take their Meta avatar to more places.” The rep cited the current ability of Meta avatars to travel between Facebook, Instagram, Messenger, and the apps that make up the Meta Quest VR ecosystem.

The spokesperson, however, did not specify any future intention to allow external digital assets on Meta’s platforms, or to allow assets purchased on Meta’s platforms to be removed. Meta’s representative also declined to answer a question about the company’s control over user data in its ecosystem.

The metaverse has been promised for years. It is only now that this virtual world imagined by so many people is really taking shape. And as tens of billions of dollars pour into an expected space will soon be worth billionsthe once obscure distinctions – between borderless virtual worlds and bordered worlds, between public and owner control of user data, between, perhaps, Web3 fashion and digital fashion – may soon have very real financial and cultural implications.

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