Work on things that matter to you

Sable Plush is fully rigged and functional even as a humanoid VR avatar.

When the COVID-19 pandemic set in and drove more social interaction online, virtual reality (VR) platforms, like VRchat or SecondLife, exploded in popularity. These virtual environments allow users to make friends, play games, and participate in a virtual economy. For Claire Lumen (BS ‘20, Apparel Design), this technology provides more than just a social outlet.
As a student, VR shaped her academic focus and played a pivotal role in her journey as a trans woman. Now in her professional life, VR continues to shape how Lumen applies her apparel design skills to the virtual world.

Claire Lumen

Tell us a little about what you do as an apparel designer for reality/gaming environments.

My work is essentially 3D modeling commissions for the use of virtual reality socializing. Clients hire me to create entire functional avatars to be worn in a VR environment.

How did you use VR as a student and when did you realize it could be a career path?

During my sophomore year at the College of Design, I discovered a burgeoning social platform called VRchat, which allows users to upload anything they can create to the platform and use it to make friends, play games, and explore creations. The unique elements of socializing in VR captivated me, specifically the ability to present however you’d like to others as well as yourself. It helped me discover that I was very unhappy with my physical appearance outside of VR and was far happier living my life as a woman.

Your senior project heavily focused on the intersection between virtual reality and fashion. How has that project and the research you conducted for it impacted your career so far?

My senior project was an undertaking that I poured my entire soul into for over a year. I definitely set the bar way too high, but I’m still proud of what I managed to achieve with it, which was a fully operational (albeit very buggy) body garment that could track the position of the wearer’s limbs.

What’s the most exciting thing about your job?

There are a few super exciting parts of what I do. Number one is being able to see someone wear what you make them and be happy with it in a way that is so personal. I know that’s not unique to making apparel, but the context of knowing that a person can look like anything in VRchat, and knowing you helped them find something they find comfortable is a very satisfying feeling. I also love creating really fantastical garments that simply cannot exist in the real world.

What advice would you give current design students?

Working on things that matter dearly to you is where I believe you will flourish as a designer. It is the passion for what I do that helps me through the toughest parts of the work and helps me see it through to the end. What you love to work on might not always match academia's timeline, but if it’s what makes you happy then it’s worth trying.

This interview was adapted from the College of Design. See more of Lumen's work