In the fashion class at Roblox University

At a recent presentation in New York, students from the Parsons School of Design showed off outfits they made over the course of a semester. The looks include a light pink stand-up collar top and patterned pants with a deep-sea theme, a strapless mini dress made of shimmering gold feathers and a patterned dress in which strands of gravity-defying water droplets swirl in its path. But none of the clothes are modeled by humans. They don’t even exist in the physical world.

The nine looks created by students in the Parsons class were created in roblox, the vast online game universe that millions of parents can’t stop telling their kids about. Those same kids will soon be able to buy and wear Parsons’ designs — or at least their digital counterparts.

The final presentation is the culmination of a semester-long course offered for the first time this year by Parsons in partnership with Roblox. It was intended as a way to give students hands-on experience with tools that could become increasingly relevant in their future careers, says Kyle Li, assistant professor of communications design and technology who taught the course.

Parsons Assistant Professor Kyle Li, for the designs of some of his students.

“As a university, we wanted to work on this project because we want to learn what skills students need to be successful on this platform,” says Li. “[Roblox is] also interested in shifting their audience from 12 and under to 17 to 24. And I thought, ‘We’ve got the perfect sample to test all those things.’”

While some of the students who applied for the course and were accepted into the course come from a traditional fashion background in clothing making, the class had a range of experiences from game design to architecture.

Yoshe Li (no relation to Kyle Li) had never played roblox before taking the course, but compares the digital clothing in the game to picking out an outfit Crossing animalswhere digital dressing is more clearly an extension of self-expression.

“It’s funny that when it rains, we just go home and put on raincoats,” Li says of playing Crossing animals. “That is very similar to when I was playing roblox with my friends. We went to this game scene, and we switched clothes to match that game scene. And we go to That one, and then we have to like change for that.

Avatars of Parsons students wear their designs in them roblox.
Image: Roblox

Zhenyu Yang, a Parsons student with a fashion background, says he was struck by how easy it was to make clothes digitally and how many possibilities the medium offered. For one project, he digitally recreated a physical piece of clothing he had made in the past. Only this time he didn’t have to run through New York’s Garment District looking for just the right size ribs. The weight of the clothes doesn’t matter either – there’s no need to construct it for physical portability.

“Working digitally gives you so much freedom in terms of the structures you want to have,” says Yang. For another project, he and a partner created a silver and green cyborg outfit with separate chest, leg, and shoulder armor, inspired by anime he grew up with. “[The cyborg armor] won’t work in real life. [It could be made] from metals or other things – it’s just not possible for people to wear.

Some student designs.
Image: Roblox

But digital fashion has its own limitations. Lea Melendez is part of a team that created an asymmetrical jacket that looks like it’s made from stretched and condensed disco balls, plus a black bodysuit with a corkscrew spiral down one leg. Melendez’s outfit, with its many reflective sides on every part of the jacket, was initially too detailed to run in roblox, which has its own requirements for items for sale in the market. Melendez and her partner needed to reduce the 3D level of detail of the digital design.

The showcase included a design station where physical drawings were scanned and digitally recreated.

The drawing is generated on the digital model within seconds.

Although Roblox collaborated with Parsons on this course, digital fashion exists outside of the game. Fortnite players have an ever-changing selection of limited edition in-game skins to purchase and apply to their avatars, including skins that resemble celebrities or Star Wars characters. When Meta launched a store selling clothes and accessories for her avatars, designer hoodies and suits were among the first items on sale. The promise of the so-called metaverse is that people can take their items anywhere in digital spaces. But for far, platforms like roblox are the main ecosystems in which these goods are made and used – and one of the few with a public willing to pay money for them.

Yang was the only student in the class of about 20 to earn one roblox account before taking the course, and he rarely played, he says. Not even Li, the instructor, had played roblox before his course started. His young son, on the other hand, completes chores in exchange for cash to buy Robux, the in-game currency used to purchase clothing items and other digital goods. Yang envisions the audience for his cyborg suit being kids who like the same things they did when he was younger.

Parsons students and faculty pose in designs created in roblox.

Some designs of students from the course.

This is one of the most important tensions out there roblox – any way you slice it, the demographic is young. The company has worked to appeal to slightly older users by introducing features such as age-appropriate games, ad revenue sharing, and fewer language restrictions (older kids can use swear words!). Last week, roblox founder and CEO David Baszucki hinted that more mature experiences like dating, movie screenings or news could be the platform’s future. The Parsons course is an extension of roblox trying to prove that it is a viable and legitimate tool for adult life.

For Parsons students in the classroom, that’s the other reality roblox is not primarily a gaming platform because hardly anyone uses it that way. It is a potential way to monetize their work and a place where jobs can develop in the future. Digital garments can be hugely profitable for companies like roblox — Epic games, for example earned nearly $50 million only on a set of NFL in-game skins purchased by players.

Roblox needs developers like the Parsons students for its platform. For the most part, the company doesn’t make its own games or “experiences,” instead relying on a sea of ​​developers to create content, from novice players, including kids, to more established studios with employees. Roblox representatives joined the class for guest lectures and discussions and provided technical support and troubleshooting for students as they created their digital designs. Apparel from the course, currently being uploaded for sale in roblox, ranges from 70 to 100 Robux, or about 88 cents to $1.25 (roblox takes a portion of sales for purchases in the market).

“If you stop making content, people will forget you after a month or two.”

For developers, the promise of roblox is that they too could make it big and make a living from the game, but success is far from guaranteed. How has been criticized in the past roblox could be exploitative for young children who think they can make money on the platform, only to end up never profiting from it. last fall, roblox said the vast majority of people making money on the platform were over the age of 18 and the top 1,000th developer made about $32,000 annually.

“There’s a lot of competition and people are forgetful,” says Li, the instructor. “If you stop making content, people will forget you after a month or two.”

Schools like Parsons hope to bridge the gap between what students work on in class and what jobs might look like after graduation. And while tech companies like Epic Games, Roblox, and Meta are pouring resources into creating fashion events and spaces in the metaverse, it’s hard to shake the feeling that brands are still building for a limited audience, not an everyday part of most people’s lives.

In metas Horizon worldsare some users hanging out in the digital sphere furious about how the company is handling creator concerns – and not many people even use that Horizon in the first place. During the second annual Decentraland Metaverse Fashion Week in April, for example, major brands such as Coach, Fashion, and Balenciaga gathered in virtual spaces to showcase (and sell) digital goods. Attendees were sparse, however, and the exhibits ranged from the dreamy to the sloppy and boring. What’s the point of walking through a dead digital mall when you can do the same in person and grab a soft pretzel while you’re at it?

Students I spoke to all said they planned to use the tech skills they learned in class — some just for fun as a creative outlet, others to incorporate digital clothing elements into their existing work. Yoshe Li, who is also a singer-songwriter, envisions a project collaborating with other artists and recreating digital versions of their most iconic looks. Could the skills developed in the course lead her to earn money this way?

“I hope the answer is yes,” she says. For now, Li likes to create for fun and for free.

Leave a Comment