Why Lucy Yeoman’s styling app Drest could be the future of e-commerce
We chat to the former Porter editor in chief about her new venture and why now is the best time for tech, gaming, and fashion to merge
By Anish Patel
The effects of COVID-19 have accelerated the rate at which luxury fashion has immersed itself into all things gaming. Whether it's virtual showrooms complete with interactive avatars (Balmain and JW Anderson) or Balenciaga’s AW21 virtual reality runway presented through Oculus VR headsets – to a select 30 members of press – which was subsequently released to the masses in the form of a video game Afterworld: The Game of Tomorrow, gaming and digital platforms are the new dimension-du-jour for fashion’s biggest power players.
However, way before luxury fashion started putting serious money behind ‘gamer-bait’ – a term coined to describe the digital seduction techniques used to attract a Gen-Z demographic who have grown up living dual IRL and virtual lives – and arguably way ahead of the trend, is Drest. Created by Lucy Yeomans, the former Editor in Chief of Porter, Net-a-Porter, and Harper’s Bazaar UK, it is an interactive styling game that gives players a chance to curate their own editorial content and style looks on supermodel avatars using the latest runway items and beauty looks that can be purchased with in-game currency.
Gamers have purchasing power in the real world too, with more than 200 brands on board – including Gucci, Bottega Veneta, Prada, Valentino, and Simone Rocha – that are all shoppable through e-commerce giant, and Drest partner, Farfetch.
‘Tech would allow us to create a space where people can wear whatever they like. A space where people can find themselves.’
Yeomans had a lightbulb moment after playing Farmville, an agriculture-simulation game, almost a decade ago. Cut to the present day and she’s cultivating her own augmented world which she soft-launched in 2020, and is still in its roll-out phase. ‘I looked at games and saw that they had this incredible narrative and were all about storytelling,’ she says. ‘There was player involvement and engagement and complete immersion. I realised that this could be the next channel for content.’ And though, back then, some might have questioned whether two diametrically opposed forces could come together so harmoniously, for Yeomans, they were both about ‘entering a fantastical world, assuming a character and having fun. Why not whip them up?’
Yeomans was also plugged in to the demographic shift happening in gaming. As of 2019, 64% of women were playing games, and 79% were more likely to make in-app purchases: ‘When I first had this idea it was mainly teenage boys playing consoles in their rooms. However, with mobile phones, that has completely changed.’
Though social media and the internet may have reshaped the way we conceptualised and consumed fashion, and gave us instant snackable content to feed our insatiable appetite for newness in a way that print no longer could, Yeomans believes it still has its limitations within the remit of aspirational fashion and ownership of it: ‘On Instagram, you had to have access to the product within the industry or you have to be wealthy enough to buy it in order to really interact with it, but gaming allows people to get close to something and gives them the creative agency to share their point of view.’
And that is what is at the heart of Drest: a commitment to democratising fashion. ‘I wanted to give our players access to fashion, and the opportunity to have all of the tools that I had at my disposal when I worked at fashion magazines, which would really allow everyone to play in this space and see what they could bring to the table.’ This is done through RVR (referring to real items that are made virtual, then shoppable, in reality), which allows people to dress their hyper-realistic avatars in the latest designer items, and style their own glossy editorials.
‘I think Drest will give people the confidence to become more experimental with fashion, and help educate them to see what they really like.’
There’s a powerful competitive-community atmosphere within the app, too. From the outset, looks are graded by other players; higher scores earn you reward points – in-game payments to buy more virtual clothes, hire ‘supers’ such as Natalia Vodianova, Precious Lee and Candice Huffman, reach faraway locations, and use hairstyles fashioned by Sam McKnight. It’s not hard to see why it’s catnip for the fashion fiends among us, achieving 50% growth increase month-on-month in organic installs – and as Yeoman observes, ‘Our active user engagement rates are off the scale too. On average, users play for 33 minutes of the day.’ This was heightened during the pandemic too: ‘It could have been trivial to launch during lockdown but then you realise you’re providing escapism, connectivity and light relief. Our organic installs increased and engagement numbers went up,’ Yeomans says.
In regards to the future, Yeomans adds, ‘Ideally, tech would allow to create a space where people can wear whatever they like. A space where people can find themselves.’ Also high on her agenda is creating a more sustainable way of consuming fashion: ‘The great thing about the game is that you can see a pair of jeans, and see it styled in a thousand different ways. You can style before you buy.’ Yeomans is already in talks with brands about virtually prototyping products so that Drest can serve as a pre-production test-site, helping to reduce over consumption. ‘They can see what product resonates in which territory so that we can test and predict, and be more strategic, about how much they’re producing for which areas of the world.’