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Richmond garment factory creating clothes for the metaverse

Precision Design Group launched its new service earlier this month

A Richmond garment factory that has spent nearly 30 years pattern making and manufacturing clothing is now expanding into the metaverse.

Through its new service, launched earlier this month, Precision Design Group — on Viking Way near Bridgeport Road — can not only manufacture physical garments, but turn them into NFT (non-fungible token) “digital wearables.”

These digital wearables can be worn by users’ virtual identities or avatars in the metaverse as they socialize and interact with its various communities or attend live, virtual events such as concerts.

“It’s pretty neat, because we’ve been given the opportunity to take existing patterns that we normally create for a physical product and apply that to a digital garment, a digital wearable, that people can wear or sell in one of the many metaverse platforms that are out there,” said Ben Christy, Precision’s managing partner. He added the company is the only garment factory in Canada that is creating clothes for the metaverse.

Christy said the move comes at a time when clothing manufacturers are struggling to find skilled sewing machine operators amid a surge in demand for domestic production brought on by COVID-19. The pandemic also impacted the supply chain and overseas production and shipping costs.

“We’re starting to see quite a few (skilled workers) retire and finding people that are skilled enough to do some of the projects that we do — it’s quite challenging,” he said.

“This huge demand in domestic manufacturing and this lack of available labour, sort of got us thinking — how can we continue to manufacture without sewers?”

That’s when Precision began to explore the metaverse, what it is and how to bring clients into it, Christy said.

Christy explained that, rather than being “one central universe,” the metaverse is currently made up of several different platforms and virtual worlds.

Some of these metaverse worlds also have their own digital economies, where users can create, buy and sell goods. Decentraland, for example, uses a cryptocurrency called MANA and allows users to buy and sell digital real estate while exploring, interacting with and playing games in the virtual world.

“You could almost look at each metaverse as its own video game, and each video game caters to a different demographic,” Christy said. “That played a huge part in us determining what might be a good fit for our clients, because it’s not a one-shoe-fits-all scenario.”

Technologies such as virtual and augmented reality can make up the metaverse, but it can also include virtual worlds and communities accessed through computers, gaming consoles and phones.

Idealistic versions of the metaverse — the term was coined by science fiction author Neal Stephenson in his 1992 novel Snow Crash — are interoperable, according to Wired, allowing people to take virtual items such as clothes or cars across various platforms.

Some metaverse environments only allow you to create one item, which can be gifted or put on an avatar that you control, said Christy, while other platforms such as Decentraland allow people to create, for example, a digital garment — to be worn by users’ avatars — and sell as much of that item as they want.

While this creates business opportunities for clients, Christy said the metaverse can also give people the chance to access clothing that may be out of reach for them in the physical world.

One of the companies Precision worked with to create digital wearables is Sevin Kasran — a Vancouver-based menswear line worn by NBA players, musicians and celebrities — whose physical designs can go for hundreds of dollars.

Once uploaded to a platform such as Decentraland, the digital wearable is turned into an NFT, or non-fungible token — a unit of data unique to each product that serves as proof of ownership. 

“You can, in Decentraland, set your item as rare as you want it, so it could be you only make one of them, you can make five of them, you can make 100…it’s all up to you how you want to approach exclusivity with these products,” said Christy.

“But for every one that is purchased, the owner then gets this (NFT) that you can wear, but it essentially dictates a sense of ownership. It’s unique to you.”

The cost of the digital wearable is determined by the seller, said Christy, but a typical range is $50 to $100.

“If you wanted to make it super exclusive, and you only wanted to have five pants available in the metaverse, you probably could charge quite a bit more for that,” he said.

Nike, for example, recently purchased RTFKT, which creates digital products such as sneakers that can go for thousands of dollars, he said.

Luxury brands such as Gucci and Burberry have also entered the metaverse with NFT products. 

Decentraland, meanwhile, is gearing up to host its first fashion week next month, which will feature avatar models, catwalks, pop-up shops and after parties. The virtual event, according to a statement, is “expected to draw some of the biggest fashion brands in the world.”

One of the challenges with designing wearables for the metaverse, said Christy, is the fluctuating value of cryptocurrency — which is used on some of the metaverse platforms.

Another hurdle is that each virtual world has specific requirements for what they can and cannot accept — some may require more simplified or polygon designs while others can be more photo-realistic.

“That’s kind of been the challenge — how do we take something that’s so beautiful in the physical world and sort of stylize it and render it in a way that still looks great in these 3D worlds?” Christy said.

“So, we want to try to take the best attributes of a garment in the physical world and somehow translate that to whatever the parameters of these metaverses are.”

But just as much as Precision, as an early adopter, is trying to be “evangelical” about the metaverse, Christy said the company is also working to educate clients and show them “what these spaces are, how they work and how their products might interact with them.”

“These digital wearables, they’re definitely going to fall into that category where people have a wardrobe that they can pick and choose from for these events (such as virtual concerts)…There’s just so much potential.”