Tabitha Swanson’s digital fashion creation blurs the line between fashion and art

Berlin-based artist and designer Tabitha Swanson looks at creating impossible fabrics while treating digital fashion as a move towards sustainability in the industry.

by Sukanya DebPublished on : May 05, 2022

Digital fashion seems like a paradox and yet it has found its place in the extended idea of the Metaverse. Decentraland touts itself as being the ‘virtual destination for digital assets’, where one can buy property and land in the virtual world, incorporating 3D elements and other virtual infrastructure. Digital fashion is essentially made for avatars to adorn, while opening up the possibilities for production and new brand-to-consumer processes. While traditional fashion brands are catching up the trend, there are digital fashion houses already on the rise, from The Fabricant to Auroboros and Carlings. What does this mean for fashion in terms of marketability, reach, sustainability, and the very nature of fabrics?

Tabitha Swanson is a designer and artist based out of Berlin, whose work moves between fashion and art. She has a range of experience under her belt, from fashion marketing and graphic design to UI/UX design and augmented reality. Speaking about her previous experience, Swanson tells STIR, “Sewing the clothes wasn’t the skill that I felt like I wanted to pursue. Instead, making the clothes with digital tools was something that was nice to reach.”

Standing on a patch of dead grass, 2021, Digital Image, Tabitha Swanson | All the Hidden Things - Digital Fashion | Tabitha Swanson | STIRworld
Standing on a Patch of Dead Grass, 2021, digital image Image: Courtesy of Tabitha Swanson

Swanson has been working on releasing various series of NFTs on foundation from her practice as a hybrid media fashion designer and artist. She speaks to STIR about her extended practice and how she intends on exploring digital fashion to a greater degree.

“An interest area for me has always been exploration, and that activity becomes an extension of my practice. Fashion is something I am still passionate about, and that allows me to explore that aesthetics in a different way,” mentions Swanson.

What is exciting in her explorations is the potential for impossible materials to flourish within the digital realm, blurring the lines between functionality and art. Her NFT series All the Hidden Things evokes a series of displacements and situations that are caught on screen, imbuing her own research and design practice into the fabrication of a digital materiality that surpasses or challenges physical fabric. Through her evocative titles one can witness overarching musings and themes that lend a certain philosophical space, encountering being and life and death, while all occurs on the virtual plane.

Honey and the Duality of Everything – Pink, 2021, Digital Image, Tabitha Swanson | All the Hidden Things - Digital Fashion | Tabitha Swanson | STIRworld
Honey and the Duality of Everything – Pink, 2021, digital image Image: Courtesy of Tabitha Swanson

“I also consider it as an art piece, the fashion that I am making is not necessarily stuff that would be practical to wear, because I don’t think trying to replicate what is already existing in real life is the only thing that I want to do with it. The digital world has so many possibilities,” says the artist.

It’ll collapse in this world, 2021, Digital Image, Tabitha Swanson | All the Hidden Things - Digital Fashion | Tabitha Swanson | STIRworld
It’ll Collapse in This World, 2021, digital image Image: Courtesy of Tabitha Swanson

The graphic artist speaks about “leaning in” to the glitches that occur in the process of design evolution. Standing on a Patch of Death Grass, from the series, appears to explore the treatment of skin as material, where there is a certain plush-like quality that takes place as the virtual skin of the unnamed digital model. Hair appears to be as in the physical world. In this exploration there is a futuristic quality explored, where the skin becomes a point of contention. How does one 3D print skin, and would it have the same qualities? The translation between the digital and physical becomes interesting to consider. Occurring somewhere in the liminal, the tangibility of material is fascinating to consider through the lens of the artworks, where there is an entirely new dimension to synthetic fabric. In Honey and the Duality of Everything - Green, a woollen bikini is adorned by a digitally produced protagonist, whose body is made of a transparent, solid material that does not lend itself to the texture or effect of glass or plastic.

All the hidden things, 2021, Digital Image, Tabitha Swanson | All the Hidden Things - Digital Fashion | Tabitha Swanson | STIRworld
All the Hidden Things, 2021, digital image Image: Courtesy of Tabitha Swanson

Swanson also walks me through the possibilities for change in end-to-end processes between the designing of clothes to manufacture, where the industry is notorious for creating an economy of use and throw, through the fast fashion, profit-driven model. Much of the ongoing research at the contemporary moment is around correct sizing, and the substitution of physical measurement to digital, where applications are being developed in order to custom build wear for any person. After sizing correctly, one can send that to a 3D printer directly, where the change occurs from mass production to direct to consumer goods, that cuts down on manufacturing and shipping costs. The idea of brands having to guess how much will be bought and rejecting that which is leftover is a model that creates an unsustainable amount of waste, and is one of the biggest problems for the fashion industry. With technology, these solutions can become scalable with the proliferation of 3D printing technology and ways of digital production.

All the hidden things, 2021, Digital Image, Tabitha Swanson | All the Hidden Things - Digital Fashion | Tabitha Swanson | STIRworld
All the Hidden Things, 2021, digital image Image: Courtesy of Tabitha Swanson

However, Swanson is also aware of the challenges and drawbacks that technology can produce. “One thing we need to keep in mind about digital fashion is that it is not completely without waste. It’s hard to quantify because it’s not as tangible, but pollution from batteries, from using the internet and electricity can really add up to quite a bit, especially if you are using computers and software that can be powerful enough for digital fashion. We also have to be careful that we are not making double the waste” she mentions.  

All the hidden things, 2021, digital video, Tabitha Swanson Image: Courtesy of Tabitha Swanson

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