During the months where we favoured pyjamas over officewear, where a Zoom quiz substituted for a night out, Tribute Brand found an opportunity to create digital content for a populace stuck inside. Their computer-generated garments superimposed onto consumers with a mere upload of a photo, provide a style refresh for content creators whose wardrobes are gathering dust. For Tribute, the virtual space is the epicentre of a future without prejudices, where its consumers can exist within the natural inclusivity of digital fashion. The ethos behind their technological brand reflects a global cry for diversity in the fashion industry, as well as the increasing necessity to reduce mass consumption and mass waste. We catch up with the brand to discuss responsibility, diversity and the intangible future of ownership.
The concept of Tribute Brand – that fashion has the potential to be entirely contactless – is innovative in a number of ways. Could you tell us how the idea came into being?
We have actually been engaged in digital fashion for a couple of years already. Our founder Gala Marija Vrbanic started experimenting in that direction while she was still at the university. After a while, she founded a team, and in April, in the midst of a lockdown we’ve started to showcase concrete pieces. We believe that digital clothing represents the future, and certainly isn’t only a trend. This premise becomes easy to imagine if you ask yourself whether you see fashion as something that still necessarily functions only within a physical sphere, without technology, within a period of ten years? Surely not.
Who is behind the brand? Is there a large team at work?
Broadly speaking, we are quite a fluid team that consists of a few steady members, experts in the relevant field, and we expand as necessary by bringing in experts from other fields depending on the job we’re currently working on.
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There has been a recent shift in the mindset of consumers, who are becoming increasingly savvy towards the ‘greenwashing’ of the fashion industry and the environmental impact a singular purchase has. Could you tell us a bit more about how Tribute is combatting the threat posed to the planet?
We think it’s worth to repeatedly point out that we believe plastic doesn’t need to be damaging to the environment. On the contrary, when compared to traditional materials, plastic has many technologically pliable features. It came about as a technological enhancement of already existing materials, and it didn’t hurt that it looked great either. It’s the hyper-production and hyper-consumption that are the problematic ones, and these problems won’t go away by hyper-production of eco-friendly materials. Imagine how much water we waste by doing it.
The solution is simple and it comes down to responsible use of plastic. The real question is how to put a stop to mass consumption – it’s not like you can just tell the consumers to consume less, to look the same, etc., especially not in the era of social media. Enter scene digital fashion.
We provide our customers with a possibility to try on unlimited amounts of different looks while having a zero-waste impact on the environment at the same time. Digital clothing also has the potential to look a lot more at-tractive, and it’s much more user-friendly. If we are talking looks, we are not making people take a step back, but rather forward.
The thing I love the most about your brand is that it is adaptable to absolutely anyone, and it completely refutes any issues of inclusivity in terms of size or gender, which certainly cannot be said for a lot of fashion brands out there. How central is inclusivity to your brand?
Inclusivity is also one of the traits which get lost within the cyber translation. This goes to say that we don’t need to think about it while we’re creating because it’s something that comes naturally in digital fashion. Within the virtual world the notions of race, gender, size and so on do not exist. Therewithal, it brings the ease of use to our customers. Some people simply don’t feel comfortable wearing certain garments in public as those garments are unfortunately linked to specific 'types' of people. It takes courage to break through these prejudices. It’s a kind of courage not everyone possesses. Here, in the virtual world, everybody can become what they really want to be, and if we are contributing to making that easier for people, that makes us really happy. We are all trying to promote equality, on step at a time.
We are so used to seeing a homogenous vision of the catwalk, that has only recently started to move towards a more diverse representation. How do you think we must shift the dialogue to allow for inclusivity in all aspects of fashion?
We are really glad you decided to ask this question. We come from Croatia, a country which generally isn’t very present on the fashion map. This position is already enough to know about the less inclusive side of the fashion spectrum. The industry simply isn’t trying hard enough. They’ve trained themselves to pull radically marginalized examples out of their sleeves so as to present themselves as socially aware, while actually the vast majority still remains in a grey zone area, a sort of limbo.
Fashion, unfortunately, isn’t global – not really. The cookie crumbles mostly around the traditional fashion capitals, which if not in the least inclusive are absolutely exclusive. We do, however, still believe that doing meaningful, momentous work and working hard always pay off.
If we are talking about the diversity on the runway, that’s quite relative. Our home country, for example, is a racially homogenous country, which makes complete diversity of representation impossible. If physical fashion brands would try to force that, it would be an insult to foreign cultures with the purpose of self-promotion. There are many examples of the sort that had already happened on global scale runways. We believe that the respect for culture in its natural habitat is far more important than endless reinterpretations for the sake of diversity.
The process of creating a physical garment is often a long process that requires an intense amount of detail, particularly for high-fashion houses. How does your digital creation process compare?
The creation itself takes up approximately the same amount of time, especially if we are talking about more complex pieces. Our tools are just a tiny bit more advanced. Of course, technology allows us to change the type of material in a second, while fashion in physical form doesn’t have this type of luxury. But this gap, an opening of new possibilities for play can easily turn into a time-consuming process which eats up all the time you thought you’d gained.
We can draw a parallel with the creation of posters before and after the revolution of graphic software. There was a time when designers had to cut out the paper by hand and then compile it into collages which would then become posters. With the appearance of new software, everything became digital, it became available instantly. We can conclude from our perspective today: all this didn’t make the production period any shorter.
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Is there a necessity for garment construction knowledge to create the pieces?
Yes, considering the procedure is the same as it would be in the physical fashion industry, the best combination is a designer and a pattern maker. But nothing happens without a good pattern maker.
The digital items themselves are incredibly unique and not really something that could be translated into the practicality of everyday wear, which is certainly a main factor of the appeal. They’re a statement. How did you come up with the designs for the pieces?
It somehow became a stable practice that the designer needs to get inspired by a certain subject in order to (re)create and reinterpret. Which is fine. But we thought it would be great to shake the core of these principles a little bit. The most you can learn about our process of creation is from our brand name. We are a tribute brand, we’re making tributes to all the stuff we’d always wanted but couldn’t have – until now. And we want to do the same for our customers. Of course, technology allows us to amplify everything.
The idea of a ‘contactless’ dress or jacket may be a concept for many that is quite hard to grasp. What do you think it will take to get more people on board with the digital trend?
A little bit of black humour: we’ve really made good use out of the Covid-19 situation. It is precisely these kinds of moments that allow people to fully grasp the point of our approach to fashion. Before the pandemic, it was unthinkable that global brands would embrace digital fashion as quickly as they did, and now almost every presentation happens digitally. The market still determines the direction. Some swam really well in these new waters while others sunk.
All in all, it’s really important that global figures, the big players accept new technologies because that’s the way towards the mainstream. And it’s our role to help with that. It is obvious that it’s the only way to stop the negative consequences that the fashion industry has been accumulating for years before it all finally collapsed. And even though we can’t wait for this period to be over, we hope some things won’t go back to the way they were.
Essentially, what you are providing is a means for constant new content creation for the digital generation. Is there any worry that the virtual world is undermining the art form that is the world of fashion?
We don’t look at fashion as part of the art world. Clothing items are objects for use in most cases – they need to have a protective role. The minority of fashion items which only serve to convey a message, showpieces, detached from function are alive mostly through photographs on digital screens and very few people get the opportunity to experience them in their daily lives.
We also belong in that group, the one detached from function, which serves only visual representation of identity. But in this case, our products are more authentic than the physical ones because they are created digitally and made with the intention of digital consumption. The customer gets to see their most authentic representation, there are no intermediaries. Hence, we are not worried; we actually believe that things are falling into place.
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This also leads to the question of the experience the act of wearing an outfit provides. There is often a sentimental significance, or moreover the feeling of wearing a garment that is lost in a virtual item of clothing. Do you think there is a danger in fuelling the shifting desire towards online validation sourced by Instagram and the rising number of influencers?
This is a matter that we have no control over, we are not able to put a stop to it nor do we want to. It’s all consequential to the development of technology; the speed of communication and information processing that has increased. Digital fashion actually emerged as a zero-waste response to this occurrence. We are currently in a shifting phase where needs that occurred because of technology development have to become acceptable environmentally. Things need to level out. Most people communicate their identity digitally, thus it became clear that physical clothing isn’t indispensable.
Only until recently there was no alternative, as fashion industry arrives late to the game when it comes to implementation of technological solutions. People will always need validation, whether it’s in the physical or digital form; it’s human nature.
Do you think the purpose of fashion is changing more permanently towards the virtual?
Of course, fashion isn’t physically palpable either way. We believe physical garments of the future will be oriented towards function, quality and craftsmanship, while another part of fashion will end up entirely in the virtual sphere.
What do you think the future will be in terms of physical ownership?
It’s here that the lines get blurry. On one hand, there are more and more brands which offer the option of renting cllothes, while on the other hand there are more and more buy and resell platforms. We believe that the concept of ‘ownership’ will become an intangible, dynamic thing which will assume form of a token or value more than anything else. This token will enable us to constantly exchange physical items, keeping only the ones representing sentimental or personal collection value. Either those or the highly functional ones.
Digital ownership is something that is increasingly becoming more and more interesting, and we will see an increase of new regulations in the years to come. In our case, we always limit the number of a specific cyber garment upload, so it can’t be available forever. In that way, users know when they receive a CGI image, they actually own that piece.
Finally, what are the hopes for the growth of the brand?
To stay up to date with technology, everything else will come.
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