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The concept of the metaverse has grown in popularity over the past few years, with virtual worlds like Fortnite, Roblox, and The Sandbox garnering hundreds of millions of monthly users. Users hang out, attend virtual concerts, like the record-breaking Travis Scott show, and play games with each other. Just like how millennials might have gotten home from school and instantly logged onto MSN just a few decades ago, today, kids are logging onto Fortnite — with metaverse platforms giving young people a fresh, limitless, and customizable place to chill with their friends. 

And just like on MSN where you'd want the freshest emoticons, background, and winks, the new generation wants cool virtual clothing to show off in the metaverse. That's where Gemma Sheppard comes in. The London-based, 47-year-old is a veteran of the fashion industry, with a background in IRL styling, working with titan brands like Alexander McQueen and Gucci, as well as being the stylist for British television shows like The X Factor, Britain's Got Talent, and Strictly Come Dancing.

After a conversation with her goddaughter only three years ago, she realized how important style is in the metaverse — and had the vision to engage with an electrifying new chapter of fashion that still had yet to be explored. She contacted the leading metaverse studio, Dubit, which is responsible for creating worlds inside games such as Fortnite, Roblox, and The Sandbox and frequently collaborates with brands to create virtual hang-outs and digital products. Then later in 2020, Sheppard started working with Dubit as their Metaverse Global Fashion Director. In fact, she has been named "the first-ever stylist in the metaverse," and already in her time at the studio, she has worked on projects with H&M and Kickers.

We spoke to Sheppard about her groundbreaking role, her fashion influences on and offline, and more.

How did you find out about the metaverse?

In the winter of 2020, my goddaughter asked for money to buy a pair of shoes for her Roblox avatar — they were more expensive than the ones on her real feet. She wasn’t a child who wanted a coloring book and crayons, and I’d never really seen her in a creative light until that point. She then showed me this whole world in the metaverse and I realized it really mattered to her. I saw a different kind of creativity in her that I'd never witnessed before. It was then that my interest in metaverse fashion was piqued.

How did you then get involved with Dubit?

When I went to bed that night, I felt energized by what I'd witnessed. By the summer of 2021, I reached out to Dubit to pitch my vision for how real-life fashion and the metaverse could meet. A key thing we discussed was how fashion can work, on a technical level, within Roblox, Fortnite, and other metaverse platforms. After that meeting, we started synthesizing real-life fashion into the endless possibilities of the metaverse.

Did you then go all in on the metaverse and leave your real-world styling behind?

Whenever something evolves or is created, people worry that it'll replace what came before it — like when people thought the internet was going to ruin the high street. But it isn't about this or that, it's about this and that. When I entered the metaverse space, it wasn't me trying to move away from in-real-life styling. It was me saying, "I feel this is a very big, powerful development in the fashion space and I want to be involved."

Being a stylist is just like any business, you must move with the times. So, I became the first metaverse stylist while continuing to be a real-world stylist.

What does being a metaverse stylist really entail?

Dubit collaborates with established brands like Red Bull and Nickelodeon to create virtual worlds and games within the metaverses. It's my role to style the characters and the virtual world they live in.

When I start a project, it begins very similarly to a real-world project. It starts with visualizing an outfit, then trying to turn that into a sketch, and finding reference images. This soon turns into a mood board full of all my ideas and thoughts. I often know what I want, but it's hard for someone else to see inside my mind, so I share this ahead of a meeting with a client or internally with my team. In that meeting, I'll break down each element of the concept — everything I do has a meaning. Sharing this information from the start makes the collaboration process effortless. 

Every collection I create is dependent on the brand we're working with. When it comes to fashion brands, no one size fits all. It's just like any marketing strategy. When we are talking about a strategy with a brand, it needs to be tailored to them and what they're wanting to achieve. Do they want to be playful like Nickelodeon or glamorous like the Grammy Awards?

How long does that whole process take?

Each project is different, but from visualization to realization, the process can take three months to a year.

What is the difference between styling in real life compared to in the metaverse?

The main difference from real-life styling is that I can give characters auras and superpowers, like wings that float behind them, I love the limitlessness of it. 

Does your real-life styling influence your metaverse styling?

I base a lot of my work on my own archive and my influences. A lot of older fashion designers, like Paco Rabanne, already have collections that translate to virtual avatars quite well, such as enhanced shoulders, thigh boots, or cuff jewelry, which can be tried on and purchased virtually.

What about the other way around, do you think metaverse styling influences the real world?

A lot of brands are road-testing in the metaverse and then dropping them in bricks and mortar. Kickers launched a back-to-school campaign that led to 25 million virtual try-ons within a week. The metaverse is increasingly becoming a place for fashion brands to trial their products. 

Wow, that's so cool! Do you think more aspiring stylists should start in the metaverse?

Yes! The metaverse is an excellent place for aspiring real-world designers to make a start. The average person coming out of design school, however talented, may not be able to afford to create a collection and get the momentum or capacity to make it grow. The metaverse gives you the power to get design experience now, in an affordable way. It's a great place to test and learn. You've got nothing to lose.