OWhen I meet Daniella Loftus at an Instagram-friendly cafe in New York’s SoHo neighborhood amidst the huge NFT.NYC conference, she first lets me know that she is not drinking this week. “I’m not here to party,” she said.
Instead, the digital fashion influencer and founder/CEO of digital fashion startup Web3 is in New York to network and grow her business, which sits at the intersection of fashion and crypto. It’s a niche world, and Loftus — who’s sporting an oversized leopard-print jacket when we met — knows it. That’s why she entered at ground level.
This article is part of CoinDesk Future of Work Week.
Talk to Loftus and you’ll find that digital fashion can be divided into three categories: IRL, ENT and URL. IRL includes “everything from when a designer like Burberry uses a digital backend to produce physical goods, to [designers] who will say that we produce a physical good with an NFT [non-fungible token] attached,” she explains. ENT, or “On Real Life”, is what Loftus does through its brand/Instagram account, called This outfit does not existwhere she uses augmented reality (AR) filters to show digital clothing as she poses in physical spaces.
The last one, “Un Real Life”, refers to the “direct economy of avatars”, i.e. the skins in video games or the outfits that avatars wear in metaverse programs like Decentraland. In games like Fortnite, Loftus says, “they don’t call it fashion, these gamers, but it’s a $40 billion market.”
Of these three categories, she adds, “blockchain-based digital fashion is a tiny ecosystem.”
Loftus’ goal is to grow this ecosystem to the point where digital fashion is no longer an emerging trend or buzzword, but an integral part of how people express themselves, both online and offline. To do this, she models digital products on social media and raises funds for her business, Drupwhich she wants to turn into a marketplace where digital native fashion designers can sell their work.
Read more: Megan Kaspar: meta-carrier fashion
“The dream is to be the CEO of a fashion marketplace, which will have, say, 100 digital native brands. [and] collectors who fully monetize their clothes… aiming to move fashion from a consumer good, aimed at a female audience, to an investment,” she says. “You start out buying an item because you like the way it looks, then you realize you can generate income and it becomes an on-ramp for women learning crypto finance.”
Loftus talks about “stumbling” on the blockchain, but his journey seems rather deliberate. Born in London, she graduated from New York University in 2018 while working at an impact fund in the city. One of the fund’s advisers was starting a business that lent money to “financially underserved populations in emerging markets using blockchain,” she says. Although she didn’t know anything about blockchain, she wanted to participate, thinking to herself, “I like a challenge…and I remember sitting on the train and just reading those blockchain books.”
Meanwhile, her love of fashion – something she had clung to since growing up in London – never faded, but she didn’t really see herself working in the industry. “I didn’t see it as ethos-driven as I would like,” she explains, citing sustainability and exclusivity issues. She had a lot of friends in the industry, but she was “always the weirdo that was in business.”
Then, during the coronavirus pandemic, she spent time reading everything fashion-related she could get her hands on, from Vogue Business to TechCrunch. When she came across an article about the marketing director of Gucci saying that the brand would start designing clothes to wear digitally, she thought that was her way of not only getting into the fashion industry, but to shape an important aspect of it firsthand. “I was, like, obviously this is the future,” she says.
Loftus took to Instagram to see which digital fashion brands and influencers were already strutting their stuff. “I thought I was going to see 100 accounts of people wearing digital fashion,” she says. “There was nothing.”
It was in the middle of the pandemic and Loftus was spending a lot of time alone, so she figured she would fill the digital fashion void herself. She launched her This Outfit Does Not Exist Instagram account from scratch and digital design posts. She found the few digital fashion brands and marketplaces that existed and contacted them to collaborate. Although she had a tiny following at the time, it didn’t matter – they still wanted to work with her. “I bet that because they’re just starting out and they need someone, maybe they’ll work with me, and it worked,” she says. “And I was on Clubhouse all the time.”
Then came a watershed moment for blockchain-based products – the recent NFT boom. The timing was perfect for This Outfit Does Not Exist to gain traction. But Loftus still kept his day job. “I had 10 months where I kept my old consulting job and woke up at four in the morning and did This Outfit Doesn’t Exist,” she says.
During this time, she worked her way deeper into the ecosystem, joining Red DAO, a decentralized autonomous organization aimed at “supporting the growing digital fashion ecosystem.” Together, the group bought a physical crown adorned with Dolce & Gabbana jewels surmounted by a sun with a human face (the symbol of Venice), along with the corresponding NFT, for 423.5 ETH, or $1.27 million in September. (Last NFT.NYCsome members of the DAO even got to wear the crown, which is normally held in Milan, but Loftus wasn’t there for the occasion.)
Fashion is just how you want to express yourself. That’s it
In October, Loftus realized his digital fashion work was “maybe a real job.” Because she could do her Web3 business just about anywhere, she moved to Mexico City, a place she had always wanted to live. At that point, “I had an epiphany about what I needed to build in space,” she says.
This rig is Draup, named after Norse god Odin’s magic ring, Draupnir, which is said to multiply for its owner every nine nights (detailed in Draup’s white paper). It’s also a nod to ‘drop culture’, where a brand like Nike (NKE) suddenly releases a new sneaker that fans have been waiting for in the lines that snake around the blocks of SoHo – a model adopted by NFT artists releasing new collections.
Becoming a founder and CEO of her own company caused growing pains for Loftus. “You dictate your own schedule,” she says, lessening the stress she felt reporting to someone else and meeting her deadlines, but exponentially multiplying her workload. “I was taking 15 meetings a day, especially during fundraising. But because I love it and it really is my life’s work, I didn’t realize I was wearing myself out. Her whole personality had become enveloped in her work, especially as she continued to act as a digital fashion influencer with This Outfit Does Not Exist.
“There’s a synergy where that’s all I am,” she adds. “Literally, every element of me as a person feels like it’s encapsulated in digital fashion.”
Making time to keep up with This Outfit Does Not Exist around her busy schedule hasn’t been easy, and Loftus admits she slacked off on that front. She “should publish an article every two weeks,” she says, but when you’re running a business, it’s not really a priority to “put on makeup and go pose in the streets.”
Still, she manages to post when she can. The digital fashion she wears on her Instagram and website comes from up-and-coming virtual designers like Tribute mark, Extended Identity and Replicant, and it appears on his body in two ways. Either she sends a photo of herself posing to the brand, which uses something like Photoshop to put her outfit in the photo, or an AR filter dresses her in “clothes” while she poses in time. real, via products by Snap and Zero10.
Both the Substack and the Draup work towards Loftus’ ultimate goal, which is to make fashion less controlled by price and physical appearance. “It’s so snobbish,” she said, “like you’re not that size…we shouldn’t be engaging.”
Digital fashion has the potential to break down these two boundaries. Many of her fellow Red DAO members, for example, “know nothing about fashion” and have never bought into it in the physical realm, she says, but they’re all about her digital counterpart. “I really like it because that’s digital fashion,” she adds. “It’s about tapping into a whole new type of consumer.”
Over the next few months, Loftus will travel the world to achieve this goal, spreading the word by speaking in London, attending the Dolce & Gabbana show in Sicily and a “digital fashion dinner” in Milan, then traveling to ETH CC in Paris, while trying to find a CTO to help realize Draup’s vision for the future of fashion.
“Fashion is just how you want to express yourself. That’s it,” Loftus says. “And that’s what’s so fun about the digital world, because these [choices] can be so much more unlimited.
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