Would you pay $80 for a dress you can’t touch or wear?
The solution to cancelling fast-fashion culture is by not producing clothes at all. Sounds ludicrous, but James Gaubert is making it work
James Gaubert is deeply concerned about the fast fashion culture, especially after having seen the ins and outs of the luxury fashion industry for more than 22 years. His solution? Putting a halt to clothes manufacturing and going completely virtual in the realm of retail. This might seemed a little far-fetched given that humans have the innate need to be physically clothed all the time, but Gaubert’s idea actually strikes a deep chord amongst millennials and Generation Z.
Republiqe, founded by Gaubert, is the world’s first digital-only luxury fashion brand. Here’s how it works. First, a customer uploads a good quality photo of himself or herself onto the company’s website. The creative team then digitally fits the clothing that has been purchased onto the photograph. The final photograph is sent back to the customer the next day. As preposterous as it sounds, the idea clicks; customers are given limitless possibilities of social dressing, all without leaving a negative mark on the environment.
What is the world doing wrong that drove you to create republiqe?
James Gaubert (JG): There were some lightbulb moments. In countries like Vietnam, Indonesia and Thailand, I saw, first-hand, some of the damage garment factories cause to the environment.. And there are the massive technological advancements over the past few years that have led to consumers spending a vast amount of money and time on games, including dressing mannequins and avatars. I wanted to tie all of these together with republiqe.
How tough was it to convince the people around you that the brand could take flight?
JG: If consumers need too much education on a product, they're probably not the right consumers. When I told my mum about the company, she looked at me like I was a lunatic. She’s not part of our target audience. Our consumers are Gen Z, who spend money every week on dressing avatars on games and things like that. But at the same time, they do care about the environment.
Do you aim for republiqe to be a huge part of the Gen Z lifestyle? We still need to wear physical clothes, whether old or young.
G: Very good point. We still need clothes to wear and there are two reasons for this: the functional benefit and emotional benefit. The functional benefit is if it's raining outside, I’d need a jacket to keep myself dry. Virtual clothing won't solve such problems. But here’s an example to show the emotional reason: I like shopping and I want to look good. Members of Gen Z are under so much pressure to look good on social media, but they want to wear clothes that have zero impact on the environment. I think that's where we fit. That's what we're looking to do; we want consumers to think twice about whether they’d need to buy another piece of physical clothing that’s going to cause damage to the environment, or could they get virtual clothing because all they’re going to do is to show it on social media?
How else do you think the company would shake up the fashion industry?
JG: Sustainability is one angle. The other angle is around ethical production. We rely neither on sweatshops nor child labour; everything is created on computers. Also, importantly, republiqe is tackling issues like body-shaming as we don't use a size guide – our clothing is literally one-size-fits-all. There’s zero discrimination towards the consumer and what he or she looks like.
What’s the most challenging part of creating a garment for a customer?
JG: Designing the clothes is actually the easy bit. The biggest challenge would be fixing the garment to the photo.
With the presence of fully digital fashion retailers like republiqe, do you think people would eventually lose the essence of buying physical products and touching clothes? Wouldn’t it be easy for the company to fall into this rabbit hole?
JG: This comes down to consumer behavior, which is changing. For my generation, we like to go into a shop to physically touch and see things – that's the way it's always been done. The new generation of young people, on the other hand, are born into a fully digital world. I think there will always be a requirement for physical clothing, but with this generation of digital natives coming through, things are going to be very different for them.