Idoru, a new app, lets users build their identities from the ground up, unlocking new learnings about what people want to wear and look like in the metaverse.
BY MADELEINE SCHULZ for Vogue Business
A new app is helping people find their true-to-life style and identity in the metaverse, where fantastical fashion has taken a front seat, as brands look to figure out how to connect with customers in virtual worlds.
Idoru, now in private beta, addresses the desire for “realism” through both fashion and personal identity, creating a more familiar and desirable format for the fashion community which has, at times, lamented the often-rudimentary look of metaverse design. It’s also a welcoming forum for people who might have found previous avatar-creation tools limiting. Past studies on avatars and identity have shown that, while a majority of people want to be able to represent their real-life identities in their digital avatars, customisation options are limiting. Users have been calling for more diverse skin tone, hair style, body size and clothing options. Idoru aims to meet those demands.
Idoru users customise an avatar, browse digital fashion options and create an outfit. The looks are meant to be shared: users then drop the avatar in AR, choose an expression and body pose and take a picture. Idoru is free to use, as are the designers’ pieces in the app. Rolling access in now open, and the app is slated for wide release in the autumn To begin, users can share their avatar selfies to social media, with videos to come later this year. The company is also exploring partnerships with other virtual spaces.
The app makes fashion accessible that otherwise might not be, thanks to financial limitations or otherwise. At launch, users will have access to pieces from past and current collections from designer James Flemons’s Phlemuns brand. “The most amazing part to me is so many people being able to actually see themselves in my clothes and not have to question it,” says Flemons. “As a small independent brand most of our presence exists on the internet where people don’t have physical access to the clothing.” Other brands will launch from late September, including New York designers Shanel Campbell’s Bed on Water and Raffaella Hanley’s Lou Dallas.
While many physical designers have translated their items into digital versions, these are rarely in a hyper-realistic context that mimics the physical world. This is partly because metaverse spaces are often an extension of gaming culture, and because the technology required is largely not powerful enough to render intricate details and movements in real time. In Roblox, The Sandbox and Zepeto, for example, items from brands such as Ralph Lauren, Burberry and Gucci tend to have a more stylised, simplified look that is more characteristic of children’s video games. Similarly, at Metaverse Fashion Week, the design aesthetics had to be simplified to translate in Decentraland.
But for fashion, aesthetics and attention to detail are a priority, and some designers have been hesitant to translate designs into a look and feel that feels so foreign; mobile game Drest, for example — created by former fashion and media executives — offers an aesthetic more akin to the physical world.
Idoru wants to help fill this gap. This includes onboarding emerging designers with sustainable and inclusive philosophies. “We believe that brands should look at the space as a way to enable people to experiment and express themselves,” says CEO and co-founder Mica Le John. “This is the future of brand community and marketing. Thinking about it in that way enables brands to join the conversation and become part of culture in ways they haven’t before.”
“It sets a new standard about how inclusion can be a competitive advantage, and be the defining advantage,” says Lenore Champagne, whose company Bright Ventures led Idoru’s 2021 pre-seed funding round, and which focuses on startups and founders who are driving inclusivity. Champagne says she invested in the company because of its emphasis on inclusion at every level of its business model at a time when many leading Web3 and metaverse companies are led, and thus shaped, by white men. “Idoru is meeting a stakeholder demand that a lot of other groups are missing.”
In the coming months, brands might integrate in Idoru before their designs come out in the physical world, creating opportunities for users to experiment and play. Designers might use the app as a launchpad to gauge consumer reactions to colour and material alterations. Or to create virtual garments physically impossible in the real world. To help make a smooth transition into the metaverse, Dani Loftus, founder of digital fashion Instagram account This Outfit Does Not Exist and innovative digitally native fashion platform Draup, advises brands to work with digitally native creators and give due credit.
To bring designers such as Phlemuns’s pieces to virtual life, Idoru has enlisted a team of 3D digital artists led by lead 3D artist Sarah Nicole François and lead 3D character artist Carol Civre. Designers send over tech-packs and fit references, then the artists construct the clothing not unlike they would a physical piece: they make, cut and assemble digital patterns, then apply materials, textures and colours. To Flemons, the most important part of this translation is that the energy of the clothing translates to the digital experience. “I knew my clothes were in good hands with Sarah Nicole Francois, we have a deep love and admiration for one another and our perspective works,” he says.
Idoru’s team of digitally native designers also help inform on avatars. Non-fashion partners with aesthetically oriented products share inspiration and references, which the design team uses to create assets and details for users to use in avatar customisation. “When you enter the app, there’s no already-built body that you have to edit from,” says digital creator and fashion theorist Rian Phin. “You don’t have to work from the ideal body and build yourself from that. You can actually cultivate an identity.”
Phin, who is an Idoru innovator-in-residence, recognised the Phlemuns designs straight away, which drew her to the app. “You can’t always wear the designer clothes you want, because you can’t buy them. But on Idoru you can wear them, and wear them on a figure that actually looks like you that you identify with.”
Additionally, skincare company Topicals provides skin conditions and pigments typically excluded from avatar offerings on Idoru, and haircare brands including extensions company Rebundle and edge styler Baby Tress offer room to play beyond stock hairstyles. This approach responds to longtime calls for greater diversity in avatar and clothing offerings.
This realism links into the mental health component of the company in their mission to offer the means to build avatars that users can actually identify with, rather than a caricature to settle for, says Olamide Olowe, co-founder of Topicals. She highlights the community validation aspect of this: “What Idoru does is closely tied to the baseline concepts people talk about with Web3 — this idea of community and communal experience. Such as being able to share a skin condition or skin care product with someone who deals with the same thing as you.”
Idoru has identified an “impact pathway” to make explicit its efforts to enable young people to experiment with identity. With social innovation lab Hopelab, it will measure the cognitive effects of building and sharing a representative avatar and find ways to build in product functionality and features to nurture this experimentation and play. It has also appointed Emily Weinstein, the principal investigator of Harvard’s Project Zero, where she researches the impact of technologies on teens’ lives and development, to its advisory board.
This intent to accurately represent is reflected in the company structure – its ownership is 90 per cent BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and people of colour), LGBTQIA+ and/or female. To Phin, Idoru’s approach to inclusivity was different than other companies she’d worked with. “They were really focused on genuine inclusivity, not just pitching it as a sales point to market their brand,” she says.