Digital fashion: from concept to consumer at Timberland

The world of apparel has thinking outside the box in its DNA. This season's collection can't look and feel the same as the last—fashion has to push forward. That mindset explains why the industry has been one of the quickest to embrace new technologies.

When it comes to the biggest trend on everybody's lips—the metaverse—no traditional industry has gone all-in quite like fashion. From Gucci to Balenciaga to Burberry, digital garments and accessories are big business.

Now, Timberland joins the list of forward-thinking brands that are claiming their stake in the virtual world. The most recent Timberland CONSTRUCT: 10061 program saw the footwear giant bring boot design and innovation into the metaverse for the first time with an immersive experience in Fortnite.

Real-life footwear was also scanned and brought into the digital world in virtual environments based on the Fortnite experience, which footwear aficionados could download and view in AR.

It’s a head-spinning example of how the virtual and physical worlds are beginning to collide. But scratch the surface, and there’s an intriguing story about how an ecosystem of real-time tools is transforming the way brands connect with consumers.

From designers visualizing prototypes to fans experiencing designs in virtual worlds, 3D technology is the bedrock on which metaverse experiences will be built. And that has big implications for brands looking to design products, build worlds, and establish their presence beyond the physical world.

Fashion in the metaverse

CONSTRUCT:10061 is an ongoing footwear experiment that aims to lift the lid on the often guarded areas of innovation within the footwear industry.

Hosted in collaboration with CONCEPTKICKS—an independent innovation platform dedicated to showcasing the latest developments in footwear—the workshop takes place every six months at THE SHED, an advanced prototyping facility that provides a space for experimentation.

Here, a team of the best footwear innovators and creators from around the world is invited to come and rethink every step of Timberland’s bootmaking process. While there’s an obviously tactile, tangible component to designing these physical prototypes, the rise of the metaverse has made it clear that the future of footwear is digital as well as physical.
Image courtesy of Timberland
That realization saw digital creation tools used to create CG prototypes in the previous CONSTRUCT:10061 event. This time around, they’ve taken a huge leap forward. “As we developed the project, we started to play with digital ways of creation and see how we could implement them into the physical,” says Daniel Bailey, Founder and Creative Director at CONCEPTKICKS. “So it was a natural progression to see how far we could push into that digital space.”

For the most recent CONSTRUCT:10061 event, players and footwear aficionados were invited to discover the footwear brand's design process through a playable experience in Fortnite.

Built in Fortnite Creative, the virtual space features a digital recreation of THE SHED. Footwear innovators from Timberland’s Advanced Concepts & Energy (ACE) team, CONCEPTKICKS and CONSTRUCT: 10061 paired up with digital innovators from BeyondCreative for a design workshop and build that took place entirely in this virtual design lab.

The outcome was a set of four spectacular Metaboots—including a replica of Timberland’s iconic yellow boot, plus three original boots inspired by the custom Arctic, Desert, and Forest Fortnite biomes created as part of the project.
The Forest Metaboot was recreated in high fidelity using Unreal Engine and is viewable and accessible in AR through Sketchfab. This AR boot appears against backdrops modeled after the Forest biome and built using Quixel Megascans.

But that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Real-time tools for marketing experiences

Safir Bellali is Senior Director of Advanced Digital Creation at Timberland. He explains that the idea of “concept to consumer” is one discussed a lot in digital transformation conversations at the brand.

In a nutshell, the company is exploring ways it can use digital technology to modernize the entire pipeline, reimagining everything from product design to customer outreach by blending the physical and virtual worlds. “As such, it was very important for us to build that bridge between the physical and the virtual Fortnite experiences,” says Bellali.
Image courtesy of Timberland
To merge the Fortnite experience with the real-world event, eight physical prototypes created during the physical, in-person CONSTRUCT workshop were scanned and placed against backdrops inspired by the Fortnite biomes using Twinmotion and Quixel Megascans.

Fans who attended the physical event at the OREFICI11 store in Milan were able to view an AR version of each boot by scanning a QR code. “It's really a matter of going back and forth between the physical and the virtual and creating those strong ties between the two worlds,” says Bellali.

The AR component of the experience was powered by the Sketchfab platform, part of the Epic Games ecosystem of technology that enables you to distribute 3D and AR experiences. “What's great about Sketchfab is that it makes 3D content accessible to anyone in a browser or a mobile device using QR codes and AR,” says Bellali.

For brands interested in capitalizing on the opportunities of the metaverse, this is an eye-opening example of how they can leverage the full suite of Epic tools and libraries including Unreal Engine, Twinmotion, Quixel Megascans, and Sketchfab to plan out their entire story from beginning to end—from R&D, prototyping, and design, all the way through to production and promotion, unlocking new ways to connect with customers.

Brands in the metaverse 

The metaverse and real-time technology could hold the key to easing some of the pressures the fashion industry has been facing for some time.

Real-time 3D technology can help streamline design, manufacturing, and merchandising processes, with the goal of reducing physical samples, increasing sustainability, and decreasing returns—as well as shifting to on-demand production over time.

With consumers set to spend more and more time in virtual worlds and experiences, it makes sense that brands should have a presence in those places, too.

Timberland’s Chief Marketing Officer Drieke Leenknegt says this last point has particular resonance for the company. “The consumer today doesn’t draw a distinction between physical or virtual platforms,” she explains. “They live in the physical world. They live on social platforms and in the metaverse. And for them, it's one journey. So for brands like Timberland, if we want to engage with our consumers, we need to go where they are and be present with them in that entire journey.”

With this blurring of the lines between physical and digital worlds, Leenknegt predicts that consumers' first experience with a product will often be in the digital world—and that this will then lead to sales in the real world.
“Consumers today and in the next decade will adopt us first in the metaverse and then say, ‘oh my god, I want this product also for my physical life’,” she says. “So for us brands, it's non-negotiable that we test and learn in these places where our consumers are.”

In 10 or 20 years’ time, there will be little distinction between real-world fashion and digital fashion. Consumers will purchase physical and digital items equally, to showcase their sense of identity as they see fit in the physical and virtual worlds alike.

Timberland’s hybrid digital-physical CONSTRUCT: 10061 event is a bellwether of things to come in the industry—and apparel and footwear brands should sit up and take note.

3D technology for fashion in virtual worlds

By harnessing the power of 3D tools, Timberland has unlocked the door to the metaverse. Virtual designs can reach consumers in gaming worlds and also be reused for physical and virtual sales leading to more innovative ways consumers can interact with products whether online, in-store, or via extended reality (XR) experiences.

“The future of digital fashion is so exciting,” says Leenknegt. “And we haven't even started, as brands, to answer the needs that consumers have from a digital skins perspective. It is super exciting to start exploring where we can go with that.”

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