Compounded Culture

“PFPs are like the Kardashians” - Pri Desai



This week I was asked when Digital Fashion would reach mainstream adoption.


Normally, when asked this question, I give some answer around the speed of technological maturity meeting new consumer needs. But this time was different.


Different because, for the first time, the words of Pri Desai had inspired a new answer. One based on ‘compounded culture’.


Compounded culture is a term I coined to describe when an art form/ product/ personality becomes so important in your social circles that you have no choice but to engage with it.


Pri’s mention of compounded culture occurred during a discussion on PFPs (pictures for profile) on an episode of the PROOF podcast. Explaining to Derek Edward and Kevin Rose how she felt about the trends towards Bored Apes and Crypto Punks, Pri recounted her transition from:


1. Not knowing who the Kardashians were


TO


2. Swerving around them “aggravated that they were permeating culture to such a degree”

THEN


3. Wanting to know “what was up” and finding herself on their Instagrams

AND FINALLY


4. Becoming an avid consumer: “subscribing to hulu to watch the Kardashians, buying SKIMS underwear and finding myself wondering what’s up with Kim and Kanye’s divorce”



Pri’s experience — the shift from ambivalence, avoidance and anger to “thinking Kris Jenner is a marketing genius” — provides the perfect example of how phenomena spread, layer and then compound into culture. In my opinion, the compounding of culture is a key part of Digital Fashion reaching mass adoption.



Separating the Elements

In an experience of culture, two types of emotion result:


  1. Self sufficient emotion - the way that the experience makes you feel

  2. Collective emotion - the way sharing the experience with others makes you feel (this could be engaging with the experience in a group or expressing how you feel to a group, after the fact)


At the outset, you’d expect these emotions to go in sequence. First, the self sufficient emotion as you engage with something you think you’ll like and next the collective-based emotion as you desire to share it around.


However, this is rarely the case. Instead of coming about in sequence, self sufficient emotion and collective emotion often operate in reverse order or even entirely independently.

Let me break it down.


We all have things we consume that interest us and us alone.


Mine for example are Bowie Branchia and ‘Mermaid Music’ (the songs of FKA Twigs & co.)


We consume these goods to generate self sufficient emotion and then may (or may not!) share them with others if we want to inspire a collective bond.


But we also have things we consume for the collective, consumed in order to fit in (although later, we may begin to enjoy them ourselves).


Watching a cult movie, scrolling through socials or taking a recommendation from friends: all are driven by a desire to participate in wider conversations just as much as they are by an expectation for enjoying what we see/ hear/ feel. Ultimately, for something to stick, for it to become culture, its consumption must be compounded by the collective.



Let’s Talk Digital Fashion

Why does Digital Fashion need to compound? To understand that, let’s go back to the Kardashians and melancholic monkeys. When I was first starting out, a famous influencer told me: “It doesn’t matter how many followers you have. What matters is if people are talking about you in their homes.” And she was right.


Whilst you might get your first 100 true fans, 1,000 true fans or even 1 million true fans from creating an experience that people love, what tips you from being a strong creator into being a global phenomenon is consumers compounding your culture into their communities. Once an experience of your creation becomes a prerequisite of participation then it begins to exponentially grow. This is something that PFPs and KUWTK now have in common. Take Pri’s experience as an example. Starting off as someone who wasn't aware of who the Kardashians were, Pri was so bombarded by KUWTK she was forced to form an opinion (in her case a negative one)... …inevitably, however, the barrage of collective conversation layered up and Pri wanted to inform her opinion, leading her down the “checking Kylie’s IG” rabbit hole. Finally, and unavoidably, Pri was pushed to participate in the KUWTK economy and is now as deep down the rabbit hole as someone who’s been following Kim since her Paris days....


Image credit: @parishilton

Pri was a victim of compounded culture. Consuming goods and Stockholm-syndroming into a very specific niche (the “I love Kris Jenner'' one), Pri’s actions were catalysed by the cultural process.


 

Digital Fashion — any garment that exists in the digital realm—has a market estimate of anything from 40 billion dollars to under 1 million (depending on which category you deal with as well as who you ask).


Two years ago when I started in Digital Fashion, the space was characterized by a handful of evangelists. Led by OGs like The Fabricant, most of us geeked out on the topic irrespective of who else cared. Indeed, Digital Fashionistas, like me, participated in the space due to a self sufficient emotion.


Over the past 18 months a lot has changed. Communities have blossomed and banded together as we’ve moved from intimate clubhouse communities to a burgeoning ecosystem with regular press. We even have niches which allow Digital Fashionistas to sub-categorise and further tailor their identities (are you a Fabricant Digi-Sapien? An RTFKT sneakerhead? One of Charli Cohen’s RSTLINGS?).


However, whilst there’s culture within Digital Fashion, Digital Fashion is still not culture.


If you’re at a fashion event and don’t know what Digital Fashion is you aren’t chastised (in some circles you’re lauded), and if you’re at an NFT event and Digital Fashion comes up, not knowing who Tribute Brand is, doesn’t put you in the doghouse.


Taking PFPs and KUWTK as our north stars (no pun intended), for Digital Fashion to override its tipping point and spill into the consciousness of every man woman and child, it must determine participation in wider groups. Only at the point when Digital Fashion is a word on everyone’s lips, will it convert to the clothes on everyone’s bodies.



 

WRITTEN BY DANI LOFTUS