Lauren Kacher on why ALTERRAGE is more than a digital fashion label

Lauren Kacher on why ALTERRAGE is more than a digital fashion label
Courtesy of ALTERRAGE x YELLOSESAME | Jeffrey Huang
We spoke with Lauren Kacher, founder + creative director of the DAO-led digital fashion label ALTERRAGE. Lauren comes to web3 from working in the luxury industry in Paris. She founded ALTERRAGE with a desire to disrupt the status quo and to champion sustainable practices, while also breaking down the barriers to entry in luxury and fashion. Most recently ALTERRAGE co-organized the activation DIGI_FASH_GEOCACHE at the conference NFT.NYC. The label is continuing to evolve as a DAO and is developing a new collection and marketplace. Lauren discusses her background, the rewards of co-creation and the excitement of being a first mover in the space. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

What were your first steps in digital fashion and what led you to founding ALTERRAGE?

Before the pandemic, I was working within the luxury industry in Paris within the leather goods department at Saint Laurent, Zadig & Voltaire and Loewe. My specialization was within sustainable and circular development, and to explore how these strategies could be integrated into the design process.  I led and collaborated on one project in particular, the Surplus Bag Project, which at its time was one of the first ventures into upcycling within a luxury house.

As we neared the first confinement I hoped to continue my position in luxury, but I was laid off due to budget concerns as COVID worsened. It had taken me close to ten years to achieve my goal of remaining in Europe as an American and gaining access to this gated and exclusive fashion space. Even in my disappointment, I knew it was time to find a new path. Around this time I came across a conference hosted by Anina.net about web3 tools, digital fashion and the future of technology. This conference opened my eyes to the opportunities that blockchain could bring by providing transparent and trustless interactions in a wasteful and traditional industry. I also received a scholarship to the first Digital Fashion 101 Course, created by The Digital Fashion Group, to learn more about the future of this nascent industry.

After much personal reflection and many inspiring conversations, I realized I have two main objectives. The first is to integrate circularity (a closed-loop life cycle) and digitalization into the creation of products. There are far too many poorly made physical products that pollute our planet, and we must learn how to create without waste and to lower our impact to secure a healthy future environment. My second mission is to break down the barriers that keep aspiring professionals outside of the fashion industry. This led me to found ALTERRAGE, the first DAO-led fashion label to create interoperable collections across digital, augmented and physical spaces. Our core team is supported by 10 members each aligned around a key set of fundamentals. Each day we advance by strengthening our modular DAO ecosystem and our own community of contributors. We seek to disrupt the industry status quo, build a new golden standard and create the future of web3 identity.

Tell us about the FUTR E*SHCK film, how it came together and where it was shown?

During my digital fashion research phase, I had the opportunity to meet Diane Pernet, the first fashion blogger and founder of A Shaded View on Fashion Film Festival. She encouraged me to apply for the 13th festival edition, where for the first time a digital fashion category was introduced, curated by The Fabricant.

I never had created a garment in 3D, let alone an entire film, in my previous experiences as a fashion designer. I began the only way I knew how, by telling a strong narrative and researching a topic that I found both inspiring and motivating. I thought, why can’t we continue to improve the physical world, even within an entirely digital space? This became my motif moving forward, as I researched and selected the unconventional topic of e-waste as the creative, emotional and factual basis for the film. From there I assembled a team of intrigued and motivated motion graphic designers: MDavies, Msistema, and Yellosesame. They designed three “worlds” where we would set our stage. Each space featured one specific topic relevant to e-waste. The first was called “Smoking Metals”, which was about the difficult extraction of precious metals by burning, which puts toxins into the air and soil, for example at the Agbogbloshie dump in Ghana.

We continued our research in collaboration with a series of e-waste specialists and I learned how to work on Clo3D and Daz to create an animated avatar wearing the first initial pieces by ALTERRAGE. Bringing these elements together was the tricky part, as we had to bridge files between several different softwares, including Clo3D, Blender, Cinema 4D and even Houdini. At one point we had to cut the feet off of all the avatars, just to get the shoes to fit (perhaps a strange ode to Cinderella). Finally the editing stage arrived, a step we had massively underestimated as a group of designers. Mikaela Arcangel joined our team at this late stage and graciously supported us as an editor of the film to complete our fragmented vision. We submitted our film to the ASVOFF Festival and were selected for a premiere in Paris, where I attended in person and met the team of curators. Since November 2021 the film has been shown at a variety of events and locations, including the first edition of Digital Fashion Week NY, and it was also projected in a giant format across a building in Nuremberg, Germany.

Courtesy of ALTERRAGE x catherinetheworst

You are introducing your Larger Than Life collection in Decentraland. Tell us about the collection and what the process was in bringing it into this virtual world?

The first official edition of ALTERRAGE, called FUTR E*SHCK, has the “Larger than Life” utility (we say LTL), to celebrate the impossibility and surrealism of identity that a digital-only space can offer. At ALTERRAGE we pioneer the METARALITY formula, a concept I founded where a product is tailored to its most sustainable format across digital (LTL), augmented (ORL) and physical spaces (IRL) (LTL = ORL + IRL).

The first edition encapsulates several looks from the film and carries forward the discussion on e-waste and sustainability. In additional to our film looks, we collaborated with four inspiring leaders in digital fashion; Jessica James, DomingoBeta, Catherinethewrst, and ASA by Majestic Apparell. Our pieces begin in a high resolution 3D model, which is depicted within the NFT. Because of technical restraints, these files must be reduced in size to have wearable on-avatar utility within different metaverses. For this collection, we collaborated with Style Protocol to adapt our 24K book into a wearable ready for purchase during our own FUTR E*SHCK presentation within the Decentraland metaverse.

Issues of sustainability are often present in your creations. What unique contributions can digital fashion make to environmental concerns, beyond the commonly repeated talking points of replacing fast fashion and avoiding general industry waste?

When I look back to previous examples of sustainability in fashion, I think of pioneering designers like Vivienne Westwood protesting through her runway collections, or Stella MaCartney’s stance on animal rights. Transparent supply chains are incredibly difficult to implement, and phrases to inspire environmental change are normally just printed on the front side of a t-shirt. But why are we satisfied with plant-based (plastic) leathers and not fully understanding the impact of our consumption habits?  Do we really believe we will change the world based purely on marketing ploys and fancy jargon?

I believe we need to take “sustainability” one step further in fashion. We need to regain our connection with the earth and how we are affecting it or we will likely not undo the damage our industry has already inflicted. I hope to inspire this concept within digital and physical fashion, not by vilifying how things are currently practiced but by painting a relatable and empathetic story to connect ourselves to our human roots and gain awareness of our current situation. Within the ALTERRAGE DAO we have a sphere called ALTER[activism] that is dedicated to integrating environmental and social action into our collections in an authentic and consistent way. This sphere is still young, but we currently plan to implement the following methods:

  1. Bringing awareness to real world issues through research and storytelling.
  2. Creating a call to action in partnership with nonprofits and specialists.
  3. Donating a percentage of sales of our NFTs to assist those working towards these causes.
  4. Discussing these topics openly and transparently within our DAO and in community gatherings.

Many additional creative methods are possible, for example using certain properties of an NFT to convey a message within the smart contract itself. These are techniques we are exploring and we are happy to have any developers and interested contributors join us along the way.

Courtesy of ALTERRAGE x Stella Achenbach

The digital fashion space moves extra fast. Where or what would you like ALTERRAGE to be at this time next year?

Even at the start of my journey in web3 I never would have imagined the place I am sitting at now. To be a first mover in an undeveloped industry with no set standards can be difficult, yet it is incredibly rewarding and illuminating. Transforming ALTERRAGE into a DAO has taken our collective further than any place I could have gone alone. Opinions and decisions are made not only by myself as the founder, but by those who actively contribute. I see ALTERRAGE as more than a fashion label – it is a new approach to creative collaboration itself.

For the future at ALTERRAGE we aim to continue to implement our strategy by growing our community, strengthening our internal DAO ecosystem and continuing to co-create and launching our METARALITY fashion collections. We are currently onboarding for ALTER[DAO], where anyone interested to learn and share their insight within a DAO fashion label can have that opportunity. We are soon launching the first part of the LTL (Larger than Life) Edition through our own smart contacts deployed on the ALTERRAGE marketplace, a process that we have taught ourselves and consider as a small victory in itself. Even as we continue through a bear crypto market our creativity, passion and mission will carry us forward to the next stage together.