The Fabricant’s Amber Jae Slooten on sci-fi, self-expression, and the environmental benefits of digital fashion.
When she was eight years old, Amber Jae Slooten started playing The Sims. For a young girl obsessed with clothes and identity, but too shy to express it in real life, this popular life-simulation computer game was the perfect way to experiment. “In this digital world I had all the room to explore without being judged,” says Slooten. Dressing up virtual characters and trawling the internet for bespoke content created by other gamers may seem a strange way to while away your childhood years, but for Slooten, these hours spent living in the digital realm would come to define her career path.
Going on to study fashion design at the Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences, Slooten worked primarily with wearable technology during her first and second years, but became frustrated with the paper and fabric waste that designing physical outfits entailed. It wasn’t until she took a class exploring the use of 3D design tools in fashion that she found her niche. “I had exactly the same feeling I had when I was a child using Photoshop for the first time,” Slooten says, enthusiastically. “I saw a future where expression and functionality were taken apart. I imagined that we could have one physical suit to keep us warm, and then a virtual, expressive layer on top that would be visible with AR glasses.”
This vision still drives Slooten today in her role as the co-founder and creative director of The Fabricant. Established in 2018, The Fabricant is the world’s first digital fashion house, and was co-founded by Slooten and entrepreneur and motion graphics designer, Kerry Murphy. The Fabricant differs from most fashion houses in that the designers never touch any fabric. “Everything happens inside the computer screen,” says Slooten, who explains that she begins her process by draping digital fabric around an onscreen body before going on to utilize technologies from the film and visual effects industries, such as compositing, 3D rendering, body scanning, and motion capture. “All the colors, prints, and types of fabric are all just a click of a button away. I can also immediately see how a garment moves by inputting animations and simulating motion.”
The Fabricant works with a wide variety of brands and editorial outlets, with projects ranging from dressing influencers for a collaboration with i-D Magazine—“we did it without leaving our desks in Amsterdam!”—to creating garment visualizations for denim manufacturer Soorty. Another one of their most interesting projects has been a collaboration with ITHK for their 30th Anniversary collection, where they created an animated campaign of digital clothes that were presented in a pop-up store. This meant that there was no need to ship collections when the store traveled around the world, therefore reducing the project’s environmental impact.
“Everything happens inside the computer screen. All the colors, prints, and types of fabric are all just a click of a button away.”
The next step for The Fabricant? Overthrowing the fashion industry as we know it. “With the technology that is coming we will be able to radically change the way we see self-expression and stop harming the planet with our needs to look interesting,” says Slooten, who hopes the future will see people buy digital outfits to post on their Instagram rather than real ones. While some may be scared of such radical change, Slooten wants to encourage people to embrace the digital realm rather than recoil from it. “The digital world opens up an unexplored universe. There is no gravity, no laws. If we want waterfalls to flow upwards, or to use a model who shifts body shape, or even dress animals, it can be done,” she says. “We want to inspire people to take to this new platform and express themselves however they want. Maybe you want to be a man or even a dinosaur for a day. You decide.”
Five science fiction moments that influence Amber Jae Slooten’s digital fashion designs
Ghost In The Shell (1995), directed by Mamoru Oshii
This is one of the greatest pieces of animation ever created. It is about a robot that gains consciousness and tries to take over the world. It has inspired my collections greatly, especially Deep as I worked with algorithms to design the outfits. I even have a tattoo that is inspired by it!
What The Bleep Do We Know?! (2004), directed by William Arnzt
Anything to do with quantum physics greatly inspires me. I saw this movie when I was 16 and ever since I have been encouraged to explore the universe and question reality. It explores the fact that the harsh outside world is not what you think it is, but is actually made up entirely of particles that pop into existence when our consciousness observes it. It took me a while to fully understand it, but once I did, it made the world seem less serious.
Inception (2010), directed by Christopher Nolan
This, for me, is one of the best movies ever created. The visual effects are unbelievable and the concept behind it is absolutely incredible. The idea of traveling in dreams, which are only simulations in our minds, makes me wonder: Do we live in a simulation already? How does our brain make sense of the world? Has the universe been inside our heads all along? These questions are also key to The Matrix, which is another one of my favorite films.
Black Mirror, (2011-2019), created by Charlie Brooker
In general, Black Mirror is one of the best series ever created even though it is often dark and dystopian. The episode titled ‘San Junipero’ is about two girls who fall in love with each other at a nightclub, and continue to meet there at different points in their lives. They fall in love every time and keep trying to find each other across time and space. Later on you find out where they really are, and why they are able to time travel, but I won’t spill the beans.
Altered Carbon (2018), created by Laeta Kalogridis
This series explores the possibility of humans developing a system which would allow consciousness to be downloaded onto a piece of technology like a chip. This would enable us to switch bodies and never die. It’s so well done and feels so real.
Amber Jae Slooten works with the body, animation and digital fashion design. She is the Creative Director at the Fabricant.
The Fabricant is a digital fashion house leading the fashion industry towards a new sector of digital-only clothing.
This interview was produced as part of our series In a Nutshell. Head over to read more articles where creatives around the world talk us through references that inspire their work.
Text: Emily May
Photography: Alexa Sirbu