Every gamer says "gg" at the end of a tough battle, but the real-life road to a good game has just as many thrills, challenges, and adventures. With GG, we're celebrating the gamers who are pushing the status quo and playing to win online and IRL — and that's why, in partnership with H&M (shop the retailer's spring collection today), we're putting the spotlight on virtual fashion visionaries, who are making a name for themselves as clothing designers in the metaverse. Here, they share how they became entrenched in the world of virtual clothing, where they draw their inspiration, and how real-life fashion trends can influence in-game designs.
Thirteen years ago, 7-year-old cSapphire started playing Roblox — a simple building-block game that has evolved into an expansive virtual universe where users wield creative control over the games they play and the avatars they create. But after four years of using Robux — the virtual currency on Roblox — to customize her character, she was frustrated by the lack of sartorial options. None reflected her personal style. So, she did something about it — and taught herself how to design her own virtual clothing.
Now, cSapphire, at 20 years old, is one of the most sought-after virtual clothing designers on Roblox, striking partnerships with brands and becoming the first recipient of the British Fashion Council’s Fashion Award of Metaverse Design.
“It was personal at first, but I decided to put my clothing on sale to see if people would buy them, and they slowly did,” says cSapphire, who launched a fashion group in 2015 to unite clothing designers (complete with judges and themed runway shows). In 2018, she started earning money for the designs she uploaded, describing her aesthetic then as “casual boho,” often drawing inspiration from Tumblr. “I’m one of the OGs. A lot of designers look up to me because I’ve been doing it for so long.”
And as one of the firsts, she didn’t have access to the virtual garment-making tutorials and resources that are so prevalent today (it’s why, cSapphire says, clothing design on Roblox is more popular than ever). While, yes, it’s easy to discern a “bad” design (like not adding textures or copying-and-pasting designs and logos from real-life clothing), she doesn’t consider any design as “bad,” because “I started where the ‘bad’ designers started,” she says. “It’s all a learning process, and it’s not very hard to learn — you just have to be dedicated.”
cSapphire is heralded as something of a virtual apparel-designing doyenne — and it’s evident by the popularity of her designs (her best-selling outfit to date is an early creation: a gray hoodie with a black bandeau that has seen about 600,000 sales), of which she uploads once or twice a year as these substantial 20-look collections.
According to the Roblox's 2021 report, the top-selling items on the platform last year were dominated by "casual wear," which is indicative of how players want to dress their avatars: 'fits that mimic real-world clothing. And that's what makes virtual clothing creation so compelling for both new and veteran designers — the vast ocean of inspiration from IRL collections that would fit seamlessly in the metaverse, like say H&M's trend-forward spring drop (starting at $9.99 with sizes XXS to XXL and 0 to 18 in bottoms), which features eye-catching highlighter-green tie-front tops, '90s-style distressed denim, outsized denim shackets, and Y2K-esque crop tops.
Nathan Alexander, a 22-year-old virtual clothing designer who’s known by his Roblox moniker DopeSir, takes a similar approach, dropping collections of looks (along with a theme, cover art, and special names) as opposed to uploading one here or there. “I like doing my releases as if it’s an actual clothing collection, like I’m a designer at New York Fashion Week. It’s my creative outlet,” says Alexander, who started creating in-game fashion in 2013, going on to earn money from clothing sales. A point of pride: He sketches out all his designs, using runway photos as a source of inspiration. “My aesthetic has always been edgier, more avant-garde. My whole persona on Roblox is this fashion runway witch — my character's skin is green and has neon yellow hair. It’s a ridiculous visual, but I love it.”
And that’s precisely what differentiates the metaverse from real life, and by extension, the clothes in either space: the freedom to wear whatever you want, the freedom to be whoever you want. In Roblox, you can take the fantastical route or you can simulate reality — and cSapphire has done both, dreaming up fantasy, sparkly fairy outfits and designing clothing that reflect her personal style.
“Right now, I’m really obsessed with pink and light colors, and I like to dress more casual,” says cSapphire, naming a heart-printed pink sweater dress as her favorite outfit, and an angelic Y2K-themed line as her most-beloved collection (a collaboration she did with another Roblox creator). “Y2K and '90s are big fashion trends now — definitely crop tops, low-rise jeans, and a lot of pink. Virtual luxury is really in, too, because for some people, they can’t buy them in real life, so they want to have them on their virtual avatars.”
But what’s bound to be the next big thing to hit Roblox is the rollout of Layered Clothing, a 3D modeling technology (still in beta mode with the plan to launch in the “very near future”) that will not only mimic the way clothing drapes, but also allow users to layer items on their avatars, empowering them with infinite possibilities, boundless customizable combinations. And at the forefront of this new development is 18-year-old CoffeeNerd, a full-time Roblox game developer for her family’s game studio Simple Games, who ventured out on her own to learn how to use Layered Clothing. (Fun fact: She knows how to make clothing in real life, too.)
“I normally do scripting, but once I learned about Layered Clothing, I had to try it and incorporate my love of clothing design,” she says. “I spent the next year trying to figure out the software because it’s cool, it’s creative, and the possibilities are going to be endless.”
Without any tutorials or guides at her disposal — not unlike cSapphire’s experience nearly a decade ago — CoffeeNerd describes the process as “definitely not easy.” There were hair-pulling, keyboard-throwing moments, but it was all worth it: After logging hundreds of hours of trial-and-error, she’s been able to whittle down the time it takes to create a single clothing item from a week to two days (her apparel-making knowledge came in handy, knowing how different fabrics naturally lay and fold).
“If I could actually figure out Layered Clothing, I would be one of the only ones to know how to do it, and I could create whatever I wanted, play with any styles, and give other users the options to express themselves — that’s what motivated me to keep going,” says CoffeeNerd, who used real-life clothing and Pinterest images as reference materials, and has since designed silk ball gowns, crop tops, and swimsuits (currently, Layered Clothing pieces aren’t available to sell). “I think Layered Clothing will be a very big part of Roblox — I can’t see any player who wouldn’t want the ability to customize their look. I’m excited for when we can start working with brands, like H&M, and bring their real-life styles into the virtual world. It’s exciting.”
And vice versa: cSapphire hopes to release real-life clothing alongside her virtual designs for her next collection drop — further proof that the line between the metaverse and the real world is beginning to blur. “Having an audience is really surreal because you’re releasing items that you feel are a part of you,” she says. “I just like to make stuff and share it with people. It gives me a voice, and it’s really awesome.”