Making It in the Fashion Metaverse: How 4D-Ready Smart Materials Hold the Key for Brands and Their Value Chain Partners

The metaverse is well and truly upon us. You can't turn a corner without hearing about NFTs, AR and VR technology, avatars, and countless other buzzwords. But why should the fashion industry care about the metaverse, what are the implications of not embracing it, and what impact is this new digital era having on the notoriously sluggish fashion supply chain?

Metaverse Origins

You might think the metaverse is a new-fangled term since Mr. Zuckerberg announced the Facebook to Meta name change on October 28, 2021. But, in actual fact, the first mention of the metaverse — a portmanteau of "meta" and "universe" — can be traced back to 1992 thanks to Neal Stephenson's dystopian cyberpunk novel Snow Crash

The concept of an immersive digital reality independent from the physical world can be traced back even further — all the way back to the video games of the 1980s.

Digital and 3D apparel are also not novel concepts. The history of 3D goes back to the mid-80s for footwear and already over 20 years for apparel.

"The easiest way to imagine a practical Metaverse application right now would be to consider how the nature of work has transformed over the past two years. The pandemic established a trend of remote work that will only accelerate from now on. Thanks to the plethora of interconnected communication tools, companies worldwide were able to continue work during the past two years.  

The Metaverse would enrich those interactions by allowing teams to meet and work together in a shared 3D digital space. The same goes for entertainment, shopping and even travel, in the future. And this is precisely why fashion is a closely linked topic when it comes to the Metaverse. Our digital avatar representations will need a way to represent our identity-meaning that our digital embodiments would need something to wear."

Amal Jomaa - Head of Fashion, SO REAL Digital Twins AG

Fashion Landscape Shift

In 2020, the U.S. Department of Commerce released a report which revealed that almost 50% of all apparel sales were made online, and it is anticipated that this trend will continue to increase. As a result, the digital fashion ecosystem is growing, and the value chain is shifting. 

The fashion landscape is undoubtedly evolving, and the entire industry is moving from offline to online to remain competitive, connected, time-efficient, sustainable, and with better communication. 

Additionally, brands and retailers are aiming to provide a new digital model based upon digital garments that have yet to be made, which, in turn, will help to lower apparel return rates. According to McKinsey & Company, roughly 20-30% of apparel purchased online is returned — apparel returns to traditional brick and mortar retailers sit at around 9%.

Brands and their suppliers are racing to get involved in the fashion metaverse, and once the entire supply chain is part of the metaverse, we can develop, scale, and deliver efficient, more environmentally friendly digital apparel. 

The creation of digital apparel will, in turn, support 2D & 3D designers, developers, and manufacturers in creating the digital fashion of tomorrow.

Current Fashion Industry Impact

In December 2021, Balenciaga announced that it would dedicate an entire department to exploration and opportunities within the metaverse. The luxury fashion house showcased its fall 2021 collection through a video gaming app. 

Balenciaga also teamed up with Epic Games' free-to-play battle royale game Fortnite to produce a collection of digital skins for its players.

Image courtesy of Balenciaga

In March 2021, Gucci released a virtual sneaker to be "worn" by the owner's digital persona. Many other fashion brands are jumping on the metaverse bandwagon by releasing one-of-a-kind NFTs. 

The metaverse is also impacting the way fashion designers work; 2D to 3D design is now becoming a necessary skill and process that will open doors and grant opportunities in the future through constant innovation and technological development. Fashion designers need to master digital tools such as CLO3D and Browzwear’s VStitcher to remain competitive. 

Along with the wonderful opportunities that the metaverse is bringing fashion designers to showcase their designs, there are challenges and obstacles that every fashion designer will face, such as a distinct lack of digital materials and samples which must be readily available.

The Implications of Non-involvement

The global pandemic has somewhat forced the new way of working upon the fashion industry — remote working, Zoom meetings, online collaboration (mood boards and storyboards) are now the new normal. As a result, innovation has increased, and new skills and technologies are being developed at pace.

The notoriously cumbersome and slow-paced fashion supply chain has faced some real challenges during the pandemic. Since the brands are starting to demand a digital workflow, how can the supply chain keep up?

Brands and suppliers must cooperate to reach the ultimate shared goal of digitalization and eventually, the shared value through productivity will increase. All players must be aligned — the brands are pushing for this, but the entire industry needs to upgrade as one unit for digital fashion to succeed.

For fashion brands, adopting a digital workflow and digital product creation is essential for the following reasons:

  • The environmental impact that the fashion and textile industry has is at a critical stage. 85% of all textiles end up in landfills worldwide, and the apparel industry accounts for 10% of all carbon emissions globally. 
  • The time to market can be reduced significantly by utilizing digital materials throughout the process instead of real physical materials or samples. 
  • Cost reduction
  • Siloed communication between brands, suppliers, and manufacturers. Geographic limitations, restrictions, and boundaries. 

The Gateway Into the Fashion Metaverse for Fashion Brands and Their Value Chain

Now that we have established that the metaverse is here and it's not about to go away anytime soon. Brands and their supply chain desperately need a sustainable, scalable solution to enable them to enter the digital product creation world quickly and efficiently — without limitations.

As mentioned earlier, the environmental impact that the fashion and textile industries have on the planet is a major cause for concern on a global scale. 

Substituting traditional fabric samples with digital equivalents is the smartest answer to help reduce our carbon footprint impact, eliminate waste, and contribute to a more sustainable and eco-friendly future.                                                     

On top of all of this, fashion brands and their supply chains don't just need a material digitization solution; it must be easy to adopt, straightforward, cost-effective, and efficient.

If you're a brand, designer, or a member of the supply chain and you're reading this, fear ye not! There is a solution out there, and it is changing the way we co-work, co-design, and co-manufacture — forever. is a first-of-its-kind SaaS platform that facilitates the rapid digitization and generation of 3D and 4D-ready fabrics for brands, retailers, designers, and suppliers.

This unique process allows the user — regardless of who they are or where they're located — to scan their 2D fabric materials and upload them to the platform in as little as 30 seconds using a standard home or office scanner. 

With the powerful AI-powered image and text recognition technology working in the background to analyze the 2D digital fabrics layer-by-layer, the 3D fabric layers (maps) are then generated within just a few moments. 

Then, within 3-5 minutes, generates downloadable 3D and 4D-ready U3M files, which can then be plugged into a multitude of further applications such as 3D design authoring software and PLM systems via its open API toolkit — interoperability is key!

Since the whole process from beginning to end takes around 5 minutes or less, we can now scale like never before with consistent, accurate results each and every time.

The Frontier way

Each U3M file contains the following 3D data:

  • Fabric specifications: description, weight, width, finish, and more.
  • Material metadata: AI-generated maps (layers) such as base, normal, rough, and displacement.
  • Physical properties: stretch, bend, thickness, etc.

You may have noticed that we have mentioned “4D-ready” digital materials throughout this article, but what does that mean and what kind of impact will this data have on the value chain?’s 4D-Ready Digital Materials

The concept behind 4D-ready is the foundation of’s fourth level of datasets — commercial data. 

This extra layer of data includes:

  • CO2 impact measurements
  • Lead times
  • Costs
  • Country of origin (COO)
  • Regions
  • Chemicals
  • Test certificates
  • Remaining stock
  • Production capabilities

The significance of this extra layer of commercial data is not to be sniffed at. In particular, the CO2 impact measurement data. As we know, the fashion and textile industries are under the microscope as they are responsible for roughly 10% of all global carbon emissions. Now, imagine being able to display the impact that each fabric has had on the environment from beginning to end. has recently teamed up with one of the world’s leading impact measurement solutions providers to enable full transparency and traceability. It’s all well and good talking the talk about how green your brand is, but without real figures, and real data, how can you prove it to your customers?


Thanks to the innovative technology behind this unique partnership, can deliver material-level impact measurements such as Co2 emissions, water consumption, energy usage, and even land use instantly.

For the first time in history, the fashion and textile industry will be able to scientifically measure Co2 at the product level. 


The global pandemic has taught the fashion industry that being able to quickly adapt to and adopt a digital way of working is the key to survival and this trend is not going anywhere as more and more of our industry is opting to work remotely and smartly. Now is the time to embrace this transition and look towards the future of digital fashion. Together we can change the traditional supply chain, into a future value-chain that is driven via connected datasets. 

Schedule a demo to find out more about and what we’re doing to significantly reduce the cost and time to market for designers, manufacturers, and brands in a scalable and sustainable way.