"Get ready to wear pixels" says Designer & Creative Director of Papa Don't Preach, Shubhika Sharma
Mumbai [India], July 01: We speak to the Indian Designer and Creative Director of Papa Don't Preach, Shubhika Sharma, who displayed a sartorial line in the Metaverse about the highs and lows of such a show.
Fashionistas or not, the universal problem that most of us face is ‘What do I wear today?’ News is that soon you will start sharing this problem with your digital persona. With the emerging tech trend of digital-only clothing, there are people working to address these situations. The Dutch digital-only fashion house, The Fabricant, auctioned and sold the first digital haute couture dress—for cryptocurrency equivalent to $9500. That was in 2019. In the last two years, several fashion brands have embraced the Metaverse and NFT (Non-Fungible Token). In fact, Indian designers—Raghavendra Rathore, Manish Malhotra, Anamika Khanna, Pankaj & Nidhi—have jumped on the bandwagon of launching NFTs. Taking this a step further, Shubhika Sharma, designer and founder of the Mumbai-based label Papa Don’t Preach by Shubhika, displayed the brand’s garments and accessories at India’s first ever Metaverse show—the India-Austria Bilateral Business Council under Women’s Indian Chamber of Commerce & Industry in collaboration with the Women Economic Forum hosted the show at India International Centre, Delhi—in early June. In an interview, Shubhika talks about her debut Metaverse collection, the challenges she faced, and more.
Metaverse collection came into being and what inspired you?
Shubhika: We started working on this collection seven months ago—when we were launching ‘Nazar Na Lage’, our trans-seasonal festive/couture line. The 3-D process is extensive; we had to send our live garments to the House of Krifin [a luxury production house for the Metaverse] studio in Delhi, where they 3-D scanned each element. Samridhi [Shoor], director and CEO of House of Krifin, was keen that we put up a collection that is Indian yet modern and understandable for international audiences. So, we picked eight of our bestsellers from ‘Nazar Na Lage’ to showcase our signature silhouettes, embroideries, and colours. To my knowledge, we are one of the only designers world-over to have done a Metaverse show for embroidered garments—something our brand is known for. So, it was crucial to get the elements right as we did not want our embroidery to look like prints on fabric, because our USP is handwork and embroidery.
Given you are the first Indian designer to have a digital-only collection, how challenging was it?
Shubhika: Being a first is extremely exciting. Having said that, it comes with a host of disadvantages. Even though we have entered the Metaverse, not everyone can access it without the hardware [Virtual Reality headsets or Augmented Reality glasses], and that is about two years away. In general, India does not have 5G broadband and the Metaverse requires that [currently, their show is on Star Atlas, a custom Metaverse, and it requires a private key access. The show can only be viewed by four to five people at the same time. They are working towards moving it to Decentraland, a browser-based virtual world on which 50 people can view the show at once]. The challenges were—how will people get to consume this show or interact with this. Since we don’t have 5G, any detailing you want to add to the avatar or the garment can take up so much more bandwidth. Also, nothing is complete without our accessories—hand-embroidered jewellery, bags, and shoes. We actually had them all rendered, digitised. But it was a challenge to actually put them on the avatars, and have them move along with the avatars as they walk, as it consumes a lot of bandwidth and time. This is why you see them only on our NFTs. Next, we had access to limited avatars on the roster and had to pick what was readily available. [A few international modelling agencies are creating rosters that might have digital avatars of the biggest names in the modelling world; but this can be very expensive]. So, representation, inclusivity, size—which we are known for—we could not include any of that. Of course, these things will evolve. Having said that, I think we did a close-to-perfect job, if we compare it to other shows happening globally. I am really proud of the team.
India is yet to adopt digital identities. Do you see that as an additional impediment to Metaverse acceptance?
Shubhika: I think not just India; even globally it is a long way off for everyone to have digital identities. However, this is the future for both brands and consumers. Brands can benefit as they will stay connected with their consumers even years after the latter has bought something from them. Now, you can integrate your brand’s website to actually be in places where consumers can take away an experience with their digital IDs, and it is not a disconnect immediately after. Also, it helps in saving our work from being copied, and people knowing which one is an original. I feel things have to evolve. Fashion in India, itself, has only just (as an industry) started being taken seriously [talking about the big investments that have taken place in Indian fashion]. You need more team strength to create such digital IDs and give consumers the maximum out of it. Also, to utilise all this data that we get access to, I think it is about two years away for us…or until Indian fashion houses formalise their structure and teams.
Since this technology is still in its nascent stage, people from the fashion fraternity usually find digital collections underwhelming compared to their physical equivalent. Have you faced similar criticism?
Shubhika: As I said, we could not give the whole experience. In that sense, it is underwhelming. A lot of fabrics we use—net and tulle—we could not digitise them enough to make them look as dreamy and lightweight, translucent as they are in real-life, which hampers the ‘wow’ of it. We have received positive feedback. I think what we showcased matches up to anything that is out there globally. Of course, there were trolls, and the criticism was mostly about [avatars] not being Indian, gender-inclusive, size inclusive. But we addressed those issues. Having said that, I think the kind of environment I was able to create (our avatars walked on pink water) is something we could not have created in real life. I am somebody who draws heavily from fantasy; there is a big space in my head where I store all these big, crazy ideas that we cannot execute because of the limitations in the real world. In that sense, I think a Metaverse show can be very high on experience; it is immersive, a lot like fantasy, a rabbit hole one can escape into. Currently, the Metaverse cannot replicate the touch, feel, and movement of fabrics, or the experience of finally putting the garment on yourself or even touching it. That, kind of, can make it underwhelming. But the future is really exciting.
How are you planning to monetise this? Is this available as NFTs yet, and if so, what has the reception been like from consumers and have you made sales?
Shubhika: NFTs are in a slump right now, so we are waiting for it to pick up and for the overall sentiment to rise. Then we will mint our NFTs [their NFTs can currently be viewed on the House of Krifin website, and soon will be on Polygon, an Ethereum Layer-2 scaling solution, to be auctioned or sold]. We have not made it accessible yet; we are looking for the right time.
What’s next for the brand - Papa Don’t Preach?
Shubhika: We will be at South Asian New York Fashion Week—it has been greenlit by the New York Fashion Week—in September, and we are excited to showcase our work there as a headliner. We are also strengthening our team and focusing on setting our internal structure so we can take on all these new innovations that are coming our way. We just launched our flagship Store at Kala Ghoda, Mumbai, which is slated to open in August. It is an experience store. This year has been special—we moved into a new headquarters, a new store, and 16,000sqft production unit in New Bombay. The team is growing. Next week, we are heading to Paris to do a pop-up in Paris during Paris Haute Couture Week. We are getting great responses internationally.
The current state of fashion in the Metaverse
A Metaverse fashion show can be underwhelming for the audience if a realistic 3D-avatar is not part of the show. The cost to create realistic 3D-avatars (who don the clothing for brands) can start at $2,000 and go up to $10,000. If a brand wants a model, said-model will have to sign up with an agency that has the right to their avatar. These are Non-Fungible People; two versions of the same person cannot exist.