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The Future of Web3 Fashion — Part 2: Generative Art
How generative art gives a new meaning to fashion and enables new business models.
A while back I wrote a Twitter thread about the next frontier of Web3 Fashion.
The three technologies I see pushing the envelope of Web3 Fashion are:
The second part of this series focuses on the possibilities that generative art introduces to Web3 Fashion.
How can generative art impact Web3 Fashion?
What Is Generative Art?
To understand how generative art can impact fashion, we have to understand what generative art is.
According to the art gallery Tate:
Generative art is art made using a predetermined system that often includes an element of chance – is usually applied to computer based art.
The first-ever curated exhibition of generative artworks was hosted in 1965 in Stuttgart, showcasing works by Georg Nees and garnering significant success. George Nees and Harold Cohen are considered to be some of the pioneers of Generative Art.
In fact, Cohen’s AARON, a computer software program for generating works, “is one of the longest-running, continually maintained AI systems in history”.
Art Blocks, the first crypto-native generative platform was founded in 2020 by Snowfro and has created a newfound interest in generative art. The platform has catapulted new generative artists like Tyler Hobbs, Matt DesLauriers, Kjetil Golid and Dmitri Cherniak into fame.
While the most famous pieces are static, Art Blocks has seen various generative art types from interactive to audio/visual.
The Art Blocks Mechanism Explained
The Art Blocks mechanism consists of three steps:
The generative script is stored on the blockchain
Buyer receives a unique (1/1/X) work
Essentially, a generative script (a piece of code) is stored immutably on the Ethereum blockchain for each project. When the user mints an iteration (i.e. NFT) of a project a unique “seed” is generated which affects the output of the project generative algorithm. You don’t know what you minted until you receive the piece.
Because the collector wallet address is used as one of the inputs for the seed, which guarantees a unique generative output. Below is an excerpt from Chromie Squiggle contract visualizing the process.
One of the most exciting use cases for the generative method is fashion. The recently announced Art Blocks Engine is an important bridge between generative art and fashion. The platform will allow coders to upload their script directly on-chain (Art Blocks prides itself in storing as much of the art as possible directly on-chain). In its own words:
Some of the projects that have already used the Art Blocks Engine, are:
Bright Moments – IRL Minting experiences
Plottables – Curated on-chain generative art platform
Flamingo Flutter – Flamingo DAO’s platform for generative art
The ATP Tour
The first application of The Art Blocks Engine to fashion will be 9dcc’s upcoming Iteration-02 project at Art Basel. It uses Engine as it references the original Chormie Squiggle (on-chain) generative script. This, 9dcc’s second release, will combine a white premium t-shirt with Snowfro’s iconic Chromie Squiggle algorithm. What’s exciting is that the prints won’t represent the currently available Squiggles, but will be generated live onto the t-shirts from the same algorithm. Thus, the printed artwork and their corresponding rarities will be revealed live.
Why This Could Benefit Fashion Brands
Custom Products for All
The core aim of the Art Blocks Engine is to collaborate across different mediums from fashion to architecture and the 1 of 1 of X (1/1/X) concept. Art Blocks’ founder, Snowfro, argued that people would often rather have a product that is 1/1/X rather than 1/1. This is partly because people are social beings and the 1/1/X model would create interesting social dynamics from rarity flexing to trait sub-communities. This is something we’ve already witnessed via the PFP phenomenon.
In some ways, Art Blocks Engine has found a clever way to “PFPfy” generative algorithms without watering down the output. However, the bottleneck with 1/1/X physical products will likely be the manufacturing process. The idea of being unique within a crowd is an exciting idea until brands realize how difficult this is to scale (more on this later).
However, overall, this makes a lot of sense, especially in the context of fashion seasons. Seasons usually seek to create a coherent whole while individuals like personalization and uniqueness. The 1/1/X model could accomplish both; each item in a fashion collection would be unique yet coherent with the overarching theme.
More ambitiously, generative designs could perhaps be the solution to the mass-customization issue. People want customized products, yet, customizing each product scales poorly. Generative designs scale better. While generative art doesn’t customize to user specifications people often end up identifying with the art or PFPs they buy/mint (based on empirical evidence from two-year full-time participation in the NFT market).
So how would the production side of things work? Done correctly, generative algorithms could create a viable on-demand production model.
The aforementioned 9dcc Iteration-02, the t-shirt graphic will be printed in-person and on-demand. Extrapolating this to the fashion industry, there would still be the issue of ordering “blanks” or blank pieces of clothing. However, these blanks could be used for most of the graphic in-store items and used across seasons. While this won’t satisfy the brands who wish to introduce new fabrics each season, many fashion brands don’t require vast varieties of materials or models but rely on a few basic models (think Supreme, The Hundreds, etc.). Ideally, this would create a pseudo-just-in-time delivery where there are no surplus designs left over at the end of the season.
Although Direct-to-Garment printing only takes ~5 minutes per garment the idea of printing every shirt in person seems impractical. Yet, a few interesting concepts that make sense from the get-go:
Real-time demand data via NFTs
Preordering designs (think Starbucks Pickup)
Unbundling of the Design Process
Initially, this will likely be confined to brand-specific stores and generative scripts, however, at some point, fashion designs could shift toward a more modular system. Imagine a Nintendo ecosystem where NFT-verified generative designs = cartridges and printing locations = gaming consoles. A key advantage of blockchain-enabled provenance is that one could easily distinguish between real and fake designs.
We’ve seen the unbundling phenomenon in everything from music to traditional media, why not fashion as well? Instead of each brand having its own production vertical, generative (and other) designs as NFTs could create a more democratized landscape where brands, consumers and designers all benefit.
Consumers: Similar to the incentive mechanism of Music NFTs, collectors could identify great designers (fashion, generative, etc.) early on and partner with retail stores to carry those designs exclusively. The NFT holders could then receive royalties or revenue share from the designs they hold as NFTs. Alternatively, holders could carry their designs with them and reuse them. For the first time, consumers could impact which designs are manufactured (for better or worse).
Brands: Could plug into Web3 culture by partnering with NFT artists (generative or other). They would have cheerleaders (NFT holders) from the start for specific designs. Brands would rely on design curation more than top-down design making.
Designers: Designers could maintain greater work flexibility, gain supporters and bootstrap their collections financially.
Obviously, this would require several legal matters to be worked out such as granting exclusive rights to the NFT holders. Interestingly, Adam Bomb Squad is doing something along these lines with its NFT project by giving royalties (The Hundreds gift cards) to NFT holders when their PFPs are being used for a physical collection.
Why “Printing Clothes” Could Actually Work
While some fashion purists would resist printing your clothes/designs, we must understand that due to the ever-strengthening attention economy, fashion is shifting increasingly toward visual aesthetics and communication value. Nowhere is this more evident than in gaming where skins are 100% based on visual aesthetics. The importance of communication value is evident in other industries as well. For instance, MrBeast Burger was able to gather 10,000 individuals for the opening of MrBeast Burger’s first physical location. Prior to this MrBeast Burger was able to reach $100 million in revenue without a single physical location using a business model not too dissimilar from the above cartridge + console model.
While this discussion has revolved around 2D printing, imagine what accessible 3D printing (see Iris van Herpen) would unlock. Generative designs could expand to entire outfits.
Off-Chain Generative Art = The Next Frontier
Generative art in crypto has so far focused on on-chain generation, however, most of NFTs are not stored on-chain. Incorporating off-chain assets (e.g. Arweave, IPFS) to generative scripts will open a new frontier of possibilities (this is also the point of Art Blocks Engine Flex).
This expands the spectrum of possible outputs to photography, AI, recorded audio, video, and more.
For instance, combined with AI, generative art could truly unlock meaningful design inputs and outputs. Imagine a brand creating generative art based on user inputs.
Idea 1: The brand creates a generative graphic based on the inputs of its customers (similar to adidas for Prada re-source).
Idea 2: The winner of a raffle gets to input/train the AI algorithm which is then combined with the generative script. The 1/1/X collection nature of generative art would create cohesion, structure and rarity in otherwise seemingly boundless AI outputs.
An example of a generative AI art project (not related to Art Blocks Engine Flex) is Solvency by Ezra Miller.
The post is starting to get pretty long, so I’ll wrap it up here. Overall, the growing NFT infrastructure is enabling great innovations for brands that are willing to disrupt. There are some great niches to build upon and the creativity of this space will undoubtedly draw in more Web2 brands going forward.
Read the previous piece in the series: The Future of Web3 Fashion — Part 1: AI
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