LONDON, United Kingdom — By 2025, virtual and augmented reality is expected to become an $80 billion market, according to the Goldman Sachs Technology Research Group. Indeed, the pandemic has accelerated fashion businesses’ use of more advanced, experiential digital solutions to stand apart online. But the growing impact of AR and VR on consumer behaviour preceded 2020, with Forbes reporting last year that 40 percent of consumers were willing to pay more for a product if they can experience it through AR first.
RYOT, an Emmy Award-winning production house and branded content studio within Verizon Media is exploring the future of this digital landscape and next-generation media experiences. An extension of the recently launched Verizon Media Immersive, now the largest online platform for extended reality, an umbrella term for augmented, virtual and mixed reality — for advertising and content, powered by 5G.
RYOT operates out of a 5G-powered lab in London, offering accelerator programmes for clients to see the power and speed of the technology, the varying mediums it will supercharge such as AR and VR, and how their consumers might respond to it. The studio then helps its partners build out digital strategies to integrate into their businesses. To date, RYOT has partnered with the likes of London College of Fashion, the UK’s National Portrait Gallery and HTC.
RYOT works on the premise that, while consumers and brands may not yet be leveraging emerging tech such as XR, or have access to 5G, global businesses should prepare for its entrance to the mainstream market. As a result, the studio works with brands to formulate storytelling around products, designers or events, amplified by next-generation technology where appropriate.
Now, BoF sits down with Mark Melling, head of RYOT Studio and 5G Lead, to learn more about the studio, its capabilities and what the future might hold for brands and businesses stretching this digital space to its full capacity.
What role can extended reality technologies play in the future of fashion?
Virtual experiences are especially relevant in 2020 as people search for more creative interactive ways to connect with each other while in lockdown. But the trends that we are now seeing, the convergence of the digital and physical world, and particularly the move towards e-commerce, was already happening. Covid-19 has not been the ignition of this convergence, but has rather accelerated those consumer habits.
This is more obvious for younger generations, but what we are seeing is the rapid proliferation of these behaviours across all demographics, and XR [extended reality] acting as a medium to improve the creative and consumer experience online.
By its nature, fashion is a 3D concept. It’s physical. Online however, it’s typically been constrained to 2D screens. So, to free fashion from the 2D world is exciting for the consumer and the creator. Advancements are already being made in real-time, such as Web AR, which allows you to use Augmented Reality without downloading an App, thereby popularising the technology for consumers by eliminating barriers to use it.
How might XR help creativity evolve in the industry?
Putting more sophisticated tools in the hands of creative people and democratising those tools will have an incredible impact. The ability to design and use 3D modelling to create and shape in real time, without having to make physical prototypes, has clear benefits in efficiency.
We are not looking to replace creative processes but rather amplify them, allowing the creators to focus more on ideation and creativity itself rather than production, which tends to slow down innovation. We can create high fidelity photo, real 3D versions of designs, clothing, accessories of all kinds, and allow consumers to try them on or interact with them in a virtual sense.
We are not looking to replace creative processes but rather amplify them, allowing the creators to focus more on ideation and creativity itself.
We put this into practice with the Fabric of Reality, the virtual fashion show we did in the summer. In the virtual event, we did not want to simply recreate the physical, but instead replicate the aspects audiences love about the physical event, like VIP access and personal connection, while leveraging the technology to allow audiences to experience the stories behind designers' collections through immersive storytelling experiences.
What learnings did you take from the virtual fashion show?
Above all, the Fabric of Reality was a learning exercise, so we ran a research study alongside the event. We polled those in attendance and found that, by immersing the audience in the narrative and the story of the designs, 90 percent of attendees said it made them understand the designer better; 84 percent said it made them respect the designer more; and 77 percent said it made them feel closer to the designer.
Most importantly to us, 78 percent said that knowing the narrative added positive value to the garments. That’s the goal of what we do — tell stories about brands, about products, so that they resonate positively with customers.
How do you work with brands entering this space?
First off, we work with brands to understand what aspects their audience love about fashion in the physical sense that can’t be replaced but rather replicated in the virtual world. Then we ask, how can we use technology where there are limitations in a physical sense. Creatively, digital can be used in incredible ways, but it can also be used to scale — over a million people in Asia attended the Fabric of Reality, which would have been limited to a few hundred VIPs if confined to a geographic location
What makes the RYOT studio unique?
We sit on the bleeding edge of technology, but we also sit at the intersection with storytelling. That’s what we believe we bring to our clients. And you don’t have to know the specific differences in the technology — that’s our job. We call ourselves creative technologists. I think we are that rare group that can sit in the same room with creative and techies and speak the same language.
What role does 5G play in enabling 3D capabilities?
4G brought e-commerce to the hands of consumers all over the world with their mobile phones. Consumers can scroll and purchase, even use multiple payment systems — it’s the connectivity that unleashes capabilities. Without 4G, the efficiencies and effectiveness of current e-commerce platforms would not exist. 3G is slow, laborious, inefficient. It does not have the robustness to transfer enough data.
Some businesses are going to be ready when 5G is in the hands of consumers all over the world, and those that are ahead of the curve will be the winners.
5G is then the technology that offers that jump from 2D content to 3D content without an app or headset, for a more seamless, physical-to-digital experience. 5G is not a faster, better, improved 4G — it’s an entirely new technology. For an industry like fashion and retail, 5G would enable you to finally transmit a true representation of your product to the consumer. No matter what industry you are in, I’m confident 5G will impact every business and every job, in some way shape or form, regardless of your focus, in the same way that 4G did.
If you can transmit an incredible amount of data back and forth with basically zero latency, you are increasing the power of the device in everyone’s hand and, specifically, you can transmit 3D content back and forth to a consumer’s device in real time. It’s an incredibly exciting advancement for designers and retailers alike.
Where do you advise brands start with implementing 3D technologies?
Start experimenting so you can learn. You might actually find some things about those mediums that enhance and make your product better. You need to understand how your consumers feel about the technology, how they interact with it, what they like and don’t like about it. Then, you can customise a strategy around that.
We have all these capabilities of AR and VR now. It’s learning about the things that are going to be supercharged by 5G, particularly XR and 3D content, and start experimenting with that stuff now. Because some businesses are going to be ready when 5G is in the hands of consumers all over the world, and those that are ahead of the curve will be the winners.
This is a sponsored feature paid for by Verizon Media as part of a BoF partnership.