Idoru Brings Realism and A New Level Of Self Expression In The Digital World
By Thembela Ngayi
January 24, 2023
These days it’s hard to imagine an experience in the digital world without some form of personalisation, whether it’s modifying your Google page, curating a specific playlist or a game character, we all want a personal experience that reflects who we are. In fact the idea of personalising your digital space has been around since the days of Winamp music players where you could modify the interface to your liking, and when games such as Sims were introduced to the world, the industry changed. As much as we have advanced in creating digital versions of ourselves, we still are yet to get a platform that represents our truest self. Self expression and true representation has always been an important part of our lives, and even in the digital world, one yearns to be seen in a manner that represents them truly. Our generation has been living dual lives, one physical and the other digital. We’ve built and became part of diverse communities where we interact with likeminded people, and ideally we want those interactions to be as authentic to ourselves in thought or otherwise.
One company that is making strides in the digital world in Idoru. Founded by by humanist technologist Mica Le John and former fashion art director Michael Taylor, Idoru is a mobile app that enables users to build hyper-real avatars of themselves, style them in their favorite brands, and express themselves through AR-based content that they share across their favorite social channels. A big part of Idoru is that, it’s the intersection where creativity, expression and technology meet. The app allows users creative freedom to experiment with different looks, skin shades, hairstyles and accessories that best represent their true selves. Expression through fashion is a big part of Idoru, and this gives an opportunity for people to create avatars that can be seen wearing luxury brands that they otherwise can’t afford.
AFROPUNK spoke with the Idoru’s co-founder Mica Le John to find out more about the app.
Can you tell us what sparked the idea for Idoru?
My co-founder Michael and I have actually been building tech focused on creativity and self-expression since 2017. This all started for us almost unintentionally—we’d been having ongoing conversations about the meaning of art, the drive to mass communication, and the importance of self-expression for a number of years, and Idoru is a culmination of the ideas that emerged. Our first apps were experiments in collaborative, social video, and digital community spaces. In building these we began to realize that the avatar is the ideal form of self-expression—it’s the actual self; a medium for creation, expression, discovery and empowerment.
With the world starting to embrace the “digital self” and moving towards IRL and digital integration, where do you see Idoru fitting in, and what sets the app apart from the rest?
Cartoonish or otherwise unrealistic avatars were a fun first step, but realism in a digital-self is what matters going forward. Identity is at the core of how all of us navigate the physical world and it is proving the same in the digital. You need to see *you*—as you decide yourself to be—in your avatar, so body types of all shapes and sizes become really important; skin tone and skin details, hair textures and hair styles become really important; subtleties of gender expression become really important. Our goal is for Idoru to be your true digital self.
You’ve mentioned working with Black-owned fashion brands, can you elaborate on the process it takes for a brand to be part of the IDORU ecosystem?
We’ve had the honor of working with incredible brands across fashion, hair and skincare, all of whom put an emphasis on community and cultural representation. These are brands that are creating new culture, and pulling us all forward along with them. Our partnerships have developed naturally, and the ways we work together reflect that. From hosting community dinners to in-app integrations to creating entirely new, digital-only products, we work together on whatever it is we’re both feeling and aiming to achieve in the moment.
The app is more than just a digital tool to create “cool” avatars but also promotes freedom of self-expression among young people. What’re some of the exciting feedback you’ve received from current users?
The most consistent response we’re hearing from users is a sense of joy—joy at being able to create a digital-reflection that embodies how they truly see themselves, and joy in the freedom to experiment in ways they don’t or can’t in the physical world. Idoru’s stylized realism enables the avatar to be considered seriously, but gives just enough space from your physical self to feel safe to experiment without judgement. Being able to play more freely with gender expression, or exploring different identities in ways they hadn’t previously considered, our community is using Idoru as a genuine extension of themselves.
There’s often a fear that, the more we engulf ourselves in the digital world, the more we lose touch with our reality. Do you think this is true and are the ways to demystify this perception?
In many ways that’s true—look to politics and growing polarization around the world to see the regressive impact of a disconnected, isolated digital citizenry. But in other ways the digital world is our new home for community and acceptance. The digital-social sphere is working through a state of chaos right now—one that I’m hoping is actually the growing pains of an emerging safer, kinder space that accentuates our lived experience rather than manipulate it.
Can you tell us about your favorite cool features from Idoru?
There are so many it’s hard to choose my favorites. All of the elements are absolutely gorgeous: we have freckles, baby hairs, moles, wild eye colors. The level of customization from face to body has been really wonderful to play with and something I’m personally very proud of.
What feeling do you want a person to leave with once they’ve had the experience of using Idoru?
To be able to see yourself as who you know yourself to be, full and complete, can be incredibly empowering. We hope our users are able to craft that vision of themselves within Idoru. Much of what we’re building ties back to mental health, so we’ve developed a framework to measure the long-term mental health effects of digital identity along with an advisory board of leaders in this space to help guide it.
Without divulging too much, where do you see Idoru in the future?
For the time being Idoru is focused on the self, so in the immediate future we’ll be introducing assisted mobility options, more hair styles and more fashion partnerships, along with additional means of content creation that are a lot of fun. Looking a little further out, we’re currently building off our team’s background in AR and machine learning to enable you to interact with friends in ways we think will really surprise and inspire you.
What sort of challenges excite you the most in this industry?
Perhaps our biggest challenge is on changing people’s perception of the digital world—the instinct of the entire industry over the last few years has been to lock it down, introduce scarcity and charge you for entry, when it’s amazing promise is that it’s free, open and infinite.
Where can one get involved and experience using the app?
We love connecting with folks who are interested in what we’re building and the space! The AFROPUNK community can reach us all over the internet. Our beta is in the App Store now and will be available on Google Play very soon (sign up here to stay in the loop). When you post your digital-self, tag us so we can see what you make!
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