In 2019, the first-ever NFT dress was sold on an auction for $9,500 at an Ethereum conference – a deal that served as a trigger in the fashion industry changing its course and one of the earliest instances on ‘NFT’ entering the mainstream vocabulary. For those, who were trying to stay clear of all things tech (no judgement), NFT stands for Non-Fungible Token – a piece of data stored in blockchain that certifies the uniqueness of a digital asset.
The woman behind the first-ever NFT dress, Amber Jae Slooten, has always found inspiration in digital identities and the freedom cyberworld offered in expression, among other things. Amsterdam Fashion Institute graduate co-founded one of the pioneer digital fashion houses, The Fabricant, with the ambition of liberating the industry from the constraints of catwalks, photographers, studios and ample sizes. Up until now, The Fabricant has collaborated with brands like Adidas and pop-cultural figures like Pablo Vittar.
Were you always interested in fashion?
Yeah. For as long as I can remember, I was super fascinated with identity and everything. Um, you know, I was always dressing up as a kid, trying to put on many different identities and experimenting with that. I think I was very fascinated with fabric and the wind moving [it] around my body. Afterwards, I got pretty obsessed with digital identity. As a kid, I used to play on the borderline. Growing up in a physical world and then moving into a digital world. Afterwards, all these games started popping up online, and I remember endlessly dressing these Sims characters and all kinds of characters in games and whatever, I would spend hours and hours playing games, just like playing that part.
What was your biggest inspiration as a kid?
I think the fact that things were limitless. I remember endlessly browsing the internet for new skins for my sims because they didn't have crazy things to put on your sim. They only had the normal skin colours, and you could choose only a range of skin colours. I would endlessly stroll on the internet to find two green skins to download, or maybe even like two dresses with extra stuff that you couldn't do in real life. So, I was always trying to hack the Sims, trying to download packages from places. And I knew that a lot of people were creating cool add-ons that you [could] install.
How did it translate to The Fabricant later on?
This was quite a journey. I was obsessed with fashion and decided that I wanted to create fashion, so I did a traditional fashion design [degree]. What I noticed was that it was disconnected from the digital world. It was very physical and there was also a lot of waste. At the end of the semester, there would be this pile of waste<…>. We had a semester at school where they taught us how to fix clothes digitally on a model and then later produce it, which was my first introduction to 3D. And I remember thinking, this is the answer because it makes so much sense. I mean, how can we keep on adding to this pile that was getting bigger and bigger and bigger with more and more waste, with more collections every year.
I remember playing these games and changing my identity rapidly, every minute, and thinking, "okay, that's very interesting". First-generation stuff, it looked shit, but it [was] a good experiment. I came back to fashion school saying, “yeah, guys, I believe in this. You have to see it,” and then everybody was like, “you're crazy. It's ridiculous. Nobody wants to play with their digital identity. It's not going to be a thing”. But then, I decided to graduate with a digital collection, and they allowed me to. And then, [at] my graduation events, I met my co-founder, Kerry. And he was like, “Yeah. That makes so much sense,” this idea, because it happened in the film industry, there [were] some digitisation moments. He saw a huge opportunity, and then we started talking about what we could do together. We have had several NFT drops now. I think the one we did with Arctic effect was sold at an auction back in 2019, and this was the first NFT dress ever. These were not a thing back then, so we decided to auction this dress on blockchain. Nobody understood why, because they couldn't get what an NFT was, et cetera. At some point, we decided to create this costume piece, and then, this model, she worked on our Instagram. Millions of people saw her wearing [the piece]. And the dress was auctioned at an Ethereum conference for $9,500. People were like, “how can you pay like $9,500 [for something] That's not physical,” and nobody got the value of NFT. I think a lot of people see that now.
ASVOFF – the revolutionary platform that spotlights fashion film creators in a festival format, enlisted the expertise of The Fabricant and Slooten in particular to curate its brand-new “Digital Never Physical” program, dedicated to digital fashion films.
How did your partnership with ASVOFF come to be?
Diane [Pernet] came to the very first show that we did in 2018, somehow. She was there for some reason, she was very nice and she asked little questions, but later we lost touch. And then, I think half a year again, she hit me up on Instagram and was like, “I love what you do.” I was super honoured to be a part of that. We're currently figuring out how to set up the jury. We [decided] to have people from our community also judging the pieces. So, it's not just us as the Fabricant but the army, because we believe in them. People can send them their work [on or before] 31st of September, and there will be a special category, Digital Fashion, which I think is awesome for such a big platform.
What are the three values and problems that you see dominating your field?
I think co-collaboration, like collaboration in general, like doing stuff together is for us a massive thing. Sharing your knowledge, sharing your resources, sharing, helping each other out to get further. [I’m] really against this vibe of competition, which very much is what is in the fashion industry. We try to see how we can create a very open space, where everybody's able to share their ideas and feel free to experiment with who they are, what they want to create and how they want to embody themselves.
The second [one] would be freedom of expression. There're no limits to what bodies can wear [with] digital fashion, which I think is amazing because finally, we don't have to stick to traditional sizes, in which we don't include everyone.
The third one would be innovation and storytelling in a new way. For us, storytelling is such an important aspect because why are you otherwise creating what you're creating?
I think accessibility is sometimes a problem. Right now, you need an advanced computer to be able to create these pieces. It's not like everybody's able to access it. I hope that once computing power gets cheaper or better, then more and more people can start joining the movement.
I think, uh, pressure and timelines and trying to fit the digital timeline into the physical fashion timeline, and trying to sort of creating that tension. A lot of workers are being put under pressure of delivering things on time. I think this is also a bit of a problem, and it's also our job as a digital fashion industry to explain that to clients. It's not easy to create a realistic digital garment. So yeah, I think the quality and connections too. The last thing I would say would be wearability. I think everybody's working on that right now and creating all kinds of new solutions to wear digital clothes. And we are seeing Snapchat filters and AR lenses and all this. It's coming. However, it's not as accessible yet, as we wish it could be.
Do you think creatives are inherently dreamers?
I think so. I think everybody is. I think everybody can create a fantasy about themselves in which they could see themselves grow. To me, dreaming is very much about discovering who you are. Dreams are non-conscious to me, something very inspiring. And in general, I feel like uncovering dreams and understanding what they mean is something that we have not done much in Western civilization, let's say. I feel like dreaming is a very big part of discovering who you are as a person. And, it can help you be more prepared for life in a sense. And, I feel like if we [didn’t] dream, we wouldn't move.
What was your metamorphosis, if you ever had one?
I think fully accepting myself for who I am was my biggest metamorphosis, but it's still happening. I would say, I don't know if it's ever going to be done. I feel like every time I'm able to live my truth and stand for what I think is right, then I feel, like, in a way, that's a transformation.
They say that function informs shape. Is that the case for digital garments?
Digital fashion doesn't necessarily have to be functional. We did a project with Atari, a football game engine. We had to design a look for their football character. I remember we designed a beautiful gender-fluid dress, which was based on football T-shirts that draped around the body like a gala dress. And then, I remember people were saying, “but how does this even work?” But it's digital, you know, you can run, you can do whatever you want, It does not have to be functional. Once we get out of the idea of being too functional, we can go way more creative with the things we carry around us. Maybe there's a cloud that you want to carry with you all day or you want to show your aura to everyone, all kinds of things that you cannot do in reality, you can do in this virtual world.
This following interview contributes to a new media format, where Creatives are in full control of their narratives. By exploring alternatives to narrative journalism, GAHSP starts unconventional conversations, emphasizing values and problems that shape our lives collectively.
Written and edited by Gennady Oreshkin
Creative Concept by Julia Horvath
Image Courtesy of The Fabricant