Belinda Craigie speaks with Lucy Yeomans, creator, founder and co-CEO of DREST, who shares how her fashion-styling game is contributing to enhanced consumer engagement and marketing opportunities for luxury brands.
What was the initial thinking behind DREST and how has your professional experience informed the development of the brand?
I first started thinking about fashion and gaming around 10 years ago, at a time when my Facebook feed was filled to the brim with Farmville posts. I remember thinking how cool it might be if the subject matter of these games was more relevant to me and focused on something I was interested in, like fashion. At the time, I didn’t think the luxury fashion industry was ready to embrace gaming, but at the same time, I saw a desire in fashion lovers everywhere to learn more about the industry and what goes on behind the scenes. The fashion magazine narrative was prominent in entertainment at that time, through film and television documentaries and dramas such as The September Issue, The Devil Wears Prada and Ugly Betty. And the perception of the gamer audience was of a stereotypical teenage boy.
Having enjoyed incredible access to the world of luxury fashion through my job as a magazine editor, I just kept thinking, ‘Wouldn’t it be amazing to give everyone all the tools a fashion stylist has – the clothes, models, incredible hair and makeup, as well as the dreamy locations – and could gaming provide a way for them to use these tools to create their own version of the most elevated fashion stories?’
During my time as editor-in-chief at Harper’s BAZAAR and PORTER, I always focused on being on the side of my reader and at NET-A-PORTER, on the side of my customer. I spent many years listening to the frustrations and desires of audiences and brands, both wanting to get closer to each other, and was keen to find a way to respond. Luxury fashion houses and designers were forever asking how to connect with the new generations coming through and I believed that gaming was a way to marry all of this; that there was a great business opportunity which could provide amazing solutions to the fashion industry and enable their messages to be delivered at scale in a fun, highly interactive, inclusive and sustainable way.
Can you briefly explain how DREST works?
Every player (we call them ‘Stylists’) adopts the role of a fashion stylist and is handed all the tools needed – including the latest fashion, the models (via our five real-life Supermodels and 15 lifelike avatars), the hair, make-up, props and locations – to create their own fashion imagery. They are given the mission to work their way through the fashion ranks by responding to styling tasks in the form of virtual Photoshoots and Mood Board challenges that relate to real-time fashion happenings and trends. Every item featured in DREST is available to shop in real-life, if the player wishes, so there’s also an important e-commerce element via our partnership with Farfetch and some individual brands’ own sites. It’s also an opportunity for fashion brands to tell their story and connect with global audiences in a uniquely interactive, fun and engaging way.
Who is the DREST user and how do you communicate with them?
Our audience is made up of fashion lovers all over the world, with the US and UK being our two biggest markets. The gaming audience has evolved considerably and now more women play mobile games than men, which is reflected in our user base too. The majority – around 60 per cent – of our DREST stylists are aged 21 to 39 years old and 82 per cent are female. We have a two-way dialogue with our community – they are forever telling us what they want to see more of and what would make their experience even better. We recently fast-tracked hair and hats in response to so many requests and the feedback has been brilliant.
How did your partnership with Farfetch arise?
We wanted to provide users with an end-to-end fashion experience so they could style, share and shop the fashion items they have competed with – reinforcing the continuous juxtaposition between the classic and unconventional, the real and the virtual. Farfetch are leaders in digital innovation and have the most incredible breadth of luxury brands on their platform, so they felt like the natural choice.
How do you want your users to feel when interacting with DREST?
My hope is that everyone who enters DREST feels excited and encaptivated by the beautiful world we have dreamt up. I want everyone to consider our app as the ultimate outlet of creativity – where people go to discover, inspire and be inspired. My wish is that DREST will truly democratise the world of luxury fashion and provide a platform for the creators of tomorrow, as well as introduce all fashion lovers to the most exciting and innovative fashion brands and talent.
What opportunities exist within the gaming world that luxury brands can tap into?
I see DREST as a step in the evolution of storytelling and marketing of brands to global audiences. Gaming affords users a unique interaction and deeper engagement with brands and their products, so it’s an innovative way for our partners to forge brand affinities with the luxury consumers of the future, as well as ignite delight in existing consumers. We are in talks with a number of brands about the idea of testing products digitally and measuring appetite in different territories so they can scale orders accordingly and avoid unnecessary production.
We are keen for designers to use our virtual insights when making strategic decisions and planning for a more sustainable future. Our engaged users spend, on average, 33 minutes a day in-app and seven minutes per session discovering and interacting with fashion. These are stats I could only ever have dreamed of in my previous roles in e-commerce and publishing and prove that gaming and interactive entertainment are worlds which brands should consider seriously in their planning.
Have there been any challenges with translating real-life people and products into their digitised versions?
Our fashion assortment is engineered at scale. We use AI retouch to recreate thousands of real-life garments digitally and render them to various avatar body types. With regards to talent, DREST is unique in that we create hyper-realistic avatars. Intricate details of our real-life supermodels were captured in a 3D photographic studio and our in-house team has worked hard to accurately mirror the features of Natalia [Vodianova], Precious [Lee], Irina [Shayk], Imaan [Hammam] and Candice [Huffine] and overcome any technical limitations so that their avatar form is as lifelike as possible.
In what ways have the challenges brought about by the pandemic affected DREST and how have you adapted?
We had been due to launch fully and introduce our real-life supermodel line-up into the gameplay in March of this year. We decided to postpone the commercial launch due to Covid-19 and have used this time to develop features and enhance the overall DREST experience.
There is a fundamental shift happening and a clear need for change to create a better world, so we have pledged to use our airspace for good and match 50 per cent of revenue earned by the supermodels in-game and donate this to their chosen charities that focus on representation, female empowerment, education and the welfare of children.
Although it has been an unsettling and challenging year, there have been some positives for us – we have seen increased levels of engagement and downloads (which, unsurprisingly, peaked in the months when countries entered some form of lockdown). Sharing and connectivity have increased too, with our audience publishing even more of their creations socially. It is clear that people all over the world are actively seeking fun, creative and inspirational outlets that provide some much-needed light relief during their downtime.
What’s next for DREST in 2021 and beyond?
Our roadmap is crammed with new features including challenge modes for beauty, fine jewellery and watches and we’ll be announcing partnerships for each of these categories throughout 2021. The milestone moment we are focused on is the ‘Selfie’ avatar launch. There are some technical limitations around disabilities, height and shape, so we are currently exploring ways to tackle these as we have set the bar so high with how lifelike our gaming elements are that we need to ensure the Selfie avatar works for everyone.
This will mean that individuals everywhere can appear as themselves in DREST – something that is increasingly important to Gen Z, in particular – and, we hope, it will be something that is key to combating sustainability issues faced by the fashion industry. Unlike e-commerce sites and fashion magazines, we aren’t limited in showing how many ways an item can be worn, in fact, quite the contrary, as DREST promises digital experimentation and creative freedom so users can style looks endlessly.
This, along with the Selfie avatar, will hopefully encourage more thoughtful consumerism so individuals ‘style before they buy’ and use DREST as a virtual wardrobe. We also plan to include a donation of five per cent from every in-game microtransaction to a group of causes supporting representation, digital responsibility, mental health, body positivity and female empowerment.