In New Rebecca Minkoff Tops And Dresses, The Blockchain Is Stitched In

Rebecca Minkoff became one of the first American fashion brands to sell NFTs when it launched its “I Love New York” line at New York Fashion Week in September. Now, that same company is using similar technology to give its sustainably minded customers access to their garments’ journeys along the supply chain. For its new RM Green(e) collection, Rebecca Minkoff—helmed by Uri Minkoff, the brother of the designer for whom the brand is named—has teamed up with Resonance, a largely bootstrapped company operating out of New York’s Chelsea Piers that offers cloud-based production alternatives for designers that want to cut back on inventory. As part of a new idea gaining traction in high fashion, no new garment is produced until it’s been purchased by the customer.

“Over the past four of five years [sustainability] has really come to the forefront,” Uri Minkoff tells Forbes about the brand’s decision to invest in a partnership with Resonance: that company is currently responsible for all RM Green(e) products, amounting to less than 5% of Rebecca Minkoff orders. “Technologies evolve. Consumer awareness evolves.” Minkoff says that, less than a year into this partnership, the fractional RM Green(e) sales result in six figures of revenue that he hopes will keep growing. He adds that the flexibility of Resonance’s platform—which uses technology to facilitate real-time ordering and relieves designers of the pressure of committing to particular styles, materials, and quantities before ascertaining how demand for certain fashions will pan out—could help facilitate that growth.

“I don’t have to cut something out if it’s still performing just because I need to make room for something else,” Minkoff says. “It doesn’t matter. I don’t have an investment in that from a production capacity until it gets ordered.”

Available only online, RM Green(e) includes tops and dresses, priced between $158 and $298, as well as $38 face mask sets. Because of this unique made-to-order production method, customers can also order extended sizes, something else that isn’t available through Rebecca Minkoff’s brick-and-mortar locations. Orders take 10 to 25 days to complete, which may seem like a lifetime in the post-pandemic world of almost-instant delivery. Patient, planet-friendly shoppers receive their new, sustainably sourced garments tagged with QR codes, which, once scanned by a phone or other device, displays the purchase’s provenance via the portal created by Resonance and named ONE.Code.

ONE.Code relies on the immutable, shared ledger of blockchain technology: the owner of a new $158 Gigi top learns that it took 1.42 yards of certified organic cotton and 21.22 gallons of water to produce (additional metrics abound).  According to Resonance, that’s 1.48 fewer yards of material and 81.6% percent less water than goes into making a similar mainstream garment. For comparison, the World Wildlife Foundation estimates that making the average cotton t-shirt uses about 2,700 liters or 713.26 gallons of water.

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Resonance, founded in 2017 by Christian Gheorghe and venture capitalist and Digital Currency Group board member Lawrence Lenihan, is mainly a B2B operation, producing limited clothing lines for designers. In addition to Rebecca Minkoff, the company handles the greener operations of fashion brands including Pyer Moss and Tucker, and does whole of production for JCRT, the newest brand from former Anna Wintour darlings Jeffrey Costello and Robert Tagliapietra. In 2020, Resonance ran an accelerator program for upstart Black designers, all of whom are still using its platform, according to the company. But the startup’s consumer-facing products, such as the blockchain portal it’s built for RM Green(e), give it a way in the with the ultra-savvy new growth of shoppers, who may notice its tech enabling their favorite brands in the manner of tools furnished by payments companies like Square or Klarna: there, recognizable, though not obtrusive. 

The demand for clothing made by designers who are attuned to their environmental impact is here, from both shoppers and regulators. At the ongoing COP26 summit in Glasgow, textile production, a $1.5 trillion market that makes up 1.35% of global oil production by processing more than a hundred million tons of fibers annually, came under fire. Galvanized by the nonprofit Textile Exchange, 50 fashion industry companies including legacy brands like Gap, Ralph Lauren and H&M signed a request to governments to offer tax incentives to organizations using “environmentally preferred materials.” Such materials are defined as “those from certified, verified sources that can be traced from raw material to finished product, and that are connected to data-driven environmental impact reduction” and include Resonance’s.

Whether all this makes a difference depends on whether investing in sustainable fashion will in fact become viable for the average person—a $158 tech-enabled top doesn’t exactly qualify as haute couture, but that’s not chump change either. While the advocacy of companies like H&M, whose “Conscious” line blouses run in the $20-$40, is promising, getting fast-fashion companies to reveal the details of their supply chain operations will be difficult. 

If you’re spending $250 on a shirt, you’re already into that bracket of caring about what you look like, and potentially about where your product comes from. Anyone selling a shirt for $250 can certainly engineer that product in a sustainable way,” says Gianpaolo Vignali, a fashion business professor specializing in the supply chain at the University of Manchester. While Dr. Vignali was quick to laud the opportunities represented by the Rebecca Minkoff and Resonance partnership, he expressed concern about the degree of background knowledge required for the average consumer to make sense of the information contained in the Resonance portal: brands should expect most consumers to spend 30-60 seconds engaging with product information, Dr. Vignali suspects. “Everything that goes on in the background, with blockchain for example, is fantastic. That’s great. That really just acts for auditing purposes for those that want to delve deeper,” he adds.

Gheorghe, Resonance’s CEO, was adamant that despite their lip service to sustainability, brands like H&M will continue to contribute to the problem of environmental degradation until the gamut of their supply chain activities are made transparent, and public; until that happens, consumers shopping at lower price points may be left in the dark. “To reach every customer around the world, it would take retailers like H&M choosing to stop destroying the planet with their current supply chain system and transform their business with the Resonance platform,” Gheorghe wrote in an email. Of course, Resonance is not the only company capable of providing such transparency. That bigger companies can devise their own strategies for doing so without involving Resonance at all is totally within the realm of possibility. 

But for consumers who are ready to spend a bit more, and who are already read-up on fashion sustainability efforts—or those who like the cachet that investing in them holds—Rebecca Minkoff’s efforts are a compelling reason to opt for the brand over others that have not as readily invested in attempts at transparency. 

“For a company like AllBirds that launches with something like this as their mission statement from the beginning—people are flocking there because from the beginning they’re identifying that brand as such,” Uri Minkoff says. Rebecca Minkoff’s customers, on the other hand, are witnessing a brand in flux, one that is straddling the line between the old guard and the new.

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Are Designer NFTs And Digital Clothing The New Chic?

Once upon a time, fashion editorials and features were only ever published in print. If it didn’t make it to the next issue’s pages, it never happened. These days, anyone with a story or opinion can share their musings to the world via blog entry to social media post. Also not too long ago, clothes were painstakingly made following a tedious process of fitting, sourcing fabrics, cutting, pattern making and hand sewing. These were the golden days of tailored, custom garments—each lovingly made to be cherished and kept for ages.

Emergence of fast fashion in the 90s, however, completely changed the pace by which we consume style. It has also come at a costly price—excessive waste, pollution, carbon footprint, as well compromised standards for workmanship. Recent years, thankfully, saw the renaissance of conscious, sustainable lifestyles. It’s compelled fashion producers, makers, suppliers and to go back to the basics. It’s also opened up new opportunities for fashion and technology to come together.

The idea of a digital wardrobe, at least on the onset, registered as something straight out of a sci-fi film. Its application, main function and relevance from a consumer standpoint was lost to me when I first heard about it. But it was an intriguing proposition that inspired a new fashion adventure: my first digital fitting with digital luxury fast fashion brand, REPUBLIQU. Unlike traditional fittings with tailors or couturiers, digital fittings require that you upload a photo onto the Republiqu website. Digital artists or tailors then work to creat a “fully sustainable, ethically-produced digital garment.”

Republiqu Founder James Gaubert begins: “Digital fashion is still a very new concept. However, in the next 12 months we expect to see a shift from education to adaptation as more people uncover the possibilities.” As a company that endeavors to cater to a mass market, Republiq offers street-inspired digital garments that are reasonably priced. Most fashion digital companies currently accessible are inclined to offer ‘cosplay’ or hyper futuristic designs. James shares, “Our clothing has an urban vibe to it that ensure it’s not too far out there.”

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Gen Z consumers are the raison d’etre for Republiqu. “In our research, we have found that this consumer group are what we call natural born activists. They care massively about a sustainable lifestyle and are looking for brands that help them to achieve this. As our clothing is fully virtual it is as sustainable as sustainable fashion can be today.” That social media presence has become intrinsic to everyday life, justifies the existence of a digital wardrobe. James expounds, “As lives revolve around online and social media, we are also focused on supporting them in building their digital personas and helping them look good where it matters most—the Gram!”

Just this month, a new fashion tech start-up launched, showcasing digital garments by emerging, contemporary and international designers. Conceived as an eco system for fashion brands to engage with a new breed of fashion consumers, ZER10 bridges the gap between the sketch pad and the social media savvy.

The platform’s debut offering showcases digital clothes from designers like Ksenia Schnaider, ZNY, Av Vattev, TTSWTRS and Florentina Leitner. There are 12 genderless garments currently featured on the platform for free. Drops are slated to happen twice monthly with prices ranging from $1-$20. Special items, like the ones currently on the app, are complimentary.

By downloading the ZERO10 App, consumers can browse, fit and save photos or videos of themselves wearing their favorite digital designer digs. I’d liken the process to playing with filters on IG Stories with the addition of fabulous robes, jackets and trousers. The ZERO10 app utilizes 3D body tracking, cloth simulation and body segmentation technology. This makes it possible for consumers to fit, photograph and capture videos of themselves in digital garments.

George Yashin, CEO and Co Founder of ZERO10 expresses: “We didn’t set out to break the traditional fashion industry rules, but knew that brands and customers in the market are ready to go further. We created an app that mimicked the experience and emotions we all know and love from shopping—trying on and acquiring coveted items from our favorite designer—and a built a digital space for this where users can style and mix items from their screenwear wardrobe with their physical wardrobe.”

Unlike Republiqu or ZERO10, BMV (Brand New Vision Ltd) aims to demystify the metaverse for the fashion industry. The team writes: “BNV is plugging the knowledge gap in this area by working with brandS to create hype pieces with ease. The craze for owning a limited edition sneaker or piece of rare clothing is not new. Demand is always high for true scarcity and provenance. Putting this into digital space with BNV means working with a safer pair of hands that can be comfortably navigate from concept to completion.”

The BNV site currently functions as a showroom, educational and information portal. Visionaries behind the company explain, “What we are attempting with the site and and the app is to try and demystify the process of owning a piece of digital fashion while maintaining the core principles of Web3.0. We aim to make the journey from discovering a beautiful piece from a known brand or designer, to opening a crypto wallet, buying some ether, and purchasing a piece as smooth as possible. With each campaign we walk people through each part of the process especially if this is their first foray into NFTs.”

Application and use of the NFT fashions are boundless. They disclose, “With fashion created and stored as NFTs we can all own a wardrobe and, very soon, be able to wear those jackets, dresses, sneakers in many different digital environments—from games to metaverses to communication apps to tools and services that don’t even exist yet but are on the near horizon.” As more metaverses develop, opportunities to wear these creations increase.

BNV is currently focused on the creation of “iconic or rare recreations of outfits.” A blunt dress, for instance, worn by Rihanna for the 30th anniversary of Dazed magazine was rendered as an NFT by artist, Jawara Alleyne. The team is also developing wearable tools and apps for BNV token holders.

There are on going auctions on the platform’s showroom, featuring limited edition collectibles like a Trek Sneaker by Passport Adv or a Super Being outfit by Chill Create. BNV’s team clarifies, “We prefer to work on sales at fixed prices and encourage the community to engage by offering white lists and pre-sales for those who support communities around digital fashion and NFT ownership.” Auctions, they emphasize, are only presented on the premise of fair pricing and transparency.

Distinction between NFT fashion and digital clothing may take some time to digest, especially for one unfamiliar with all things metaverse. They explain, “One of our core principles is that once you own, a BNV token, as an NFT you should be free to do with it whatever you want. Collect and covet, showcase to friends and the wider community, sell or auction or gift to someone. This is a key difference between current fashion skins or wearables available within games or avatar based apps and NFTs.”

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