Virtual Sneakers, Furniture, and Fashion — Creatives Find Opportunities In NFTs
by Patrick McGraw
This has been a good year for the NFT market. By now, most people have heard of the initials — even if they don’t know the letters stand for non-fungible token. While much has been made about NFTs future potential, there are a handful of creatives harnessing their power now. They are thinking of NFTs outside the original bubble of digital art.
Benoit Pagotto is the co-founder of the London based digital collective RTFKT (pronounced artifact), which is something like a gaming studio mixed with a streetwear brand. When the co-founders began the business in January 2020, they planned on making physical shoes. But they quickly realized that users could wear digital sneakers on their avatars. Digital sneakers now make up the core of their brand. The co-founder’s collective backgrounds in fashion and gaming made the crossover seamless.
Benoit said, “We started RTFKT when I was the head of marketing for Fnatic, the e-sports company. I was trying to make stuff with artists from the gaming industry, so I asked Chris Le (co-founder of RTFKT) to make me a skin for my Counter Strike team, as he was one of the most famous Counter Strike skin designers. He used to run his own small streetwear brand, and I used to work in fashion, so we started applying these skins to Air Force 1s, just to test. Combining gaming with sneakers came naturally as people were already trading and reselling sneakers.”
RTFKT’s strategy of appealing to sneakerheads, people who sell and trade their shoes like stocks, has proven wildly successful. They’ve collaborated on sneaker designs with the likes of the 18-year-old crypto-artist FEWOCiOUS, and Atari. This past March, they made headlines by selling 608 pairs of NFT sneakers in just 6 minutes, generating more than $3 million.
“We really wanted to leverage blockchain technology and [see] what we can do with purely digital goods and how we can sell and add value and authenticity to them. We wanted to create a brand of the future, and to lead the way,” Pagotto elaborates.
Blockchain technology is what allows NFTs to be certified. Simply put, it allows a network of computers to record transactions on a viewable ledger, giving buyers proof of ownership and authenticity. While the technology has been around since the mid-2010s, it didn’t catch fire until 2017 with CrypoKitties, a site where you could buy and “breed” digital cats with cryptocurrencies. Now just about anything can be represented in an NFT and put up for auction, even simple tweets. The most famous tweet-turned-NFT was penned by Twitter’s CEO and Founder Jack Dorsey. His inaugural tweet in 2006 that read, “just setting up my twttr,” sold as an NFT in 2021, for more than $2.9 million.
Besides Dorsey, a variety of creatives have embraced the interactivity that NFTs allow. In March of this year, furniture designer Andrés Reisinger sold 10 pieces of virtual furniture he created, generating $450,000 in about 10 minutes. While you can’t actually sit on any of the pieces, they appeal to an audience who sees their value both as a collectible and conceptual art. Consumers can interact with the furniture NFTs by dropping them into a virtual space like CryptoVoxels, or Minecraft, or they can explore them, using an augmented reality device like gaming platform like Unreal Engine. The music industry isn’t far behind. Whether it’s a new song, music video, or virtual merchandise, artists like Weezer, The Weeknd, and Snoop Dogg are entering into the NFT arena as well. The biggest benefit for recording artists is the ability to write “smart contracts” into the code. It allows royalties to be split more fairly among contributors and for an automatic cut of resales.
For Amber Slooten, co-founder of The Fabricant, NFTs allow her to create fashion stories free from the constraints of the material world. The Fabricant, digital fashion house based in Amsterdam, creates digital-only fashion that also can be used and traded in virtual realities. While her background is in traditional fashion design, Slooten says she saw an opportunity for everyone to express themselves through digital fashion.
She said, “Talking to the people who wear the items is really important. Sometimes we design the items live so people can comment on them. They can say whether they like the item or not, and we can answer questions from other digital designers. I think the relationship with the people that you dress is extremely important. The overproduction associated with the traditional fashion industry is because they overproduce to see what sticks. For us it’s about understanding the dialogue and then translating pieces through that.”
All of the interaction between users and NFTs happens in a place referred to as the Metaverse. It’s a term that refers to the collective shared, 3D virtual spaces that’s made up from video games, online forums or stores, and the internet in general. Brands often find that integrating collectible NFTs into a space like gaming, where in-game purchases are already the norm, can provide new growth opportunities.
While most experts predicted a gradual shift toward this virtual lifestyle, COVID-19 accelerated the move. The virus forced people to work, live, create, and interact with each other digitally more than ever. It also changed collective consumption habits. In 2020 alone, digital consumption increased by more than 30%. Brands and advertisers followed suit, as did cryptocurrency users. This decentralized digital money, including Bitcoin and Ethereum, is the most frequent way to buy NFTs. So far this year, crypto users have surpassed 100 million. But even as the future increasingly points to virtual experiences and virtual payments, not everyone is bullish on the new trend.
Maghan McDowell, Vogue Innovation Editor, acknowledged that the fashion industry has begun to dabble in NFTs — for example, she mentioned that Gucci recently sold an NFT of their 2021 Spring collection and Paris Fashion Week gifted accredited attendees with an NFT from iconic fashion illustrator Richard Haines. But she said, “I’m not convinced that the majority of luxury executives would say that NFTs are the future. I think most luxury brands will acknowledge that digital engagement and digital identity is the future. Even before NFTs and digital clothing, we saw a movement toward a more two-way dialogue between consumers and brands, with social media and influencers et cetera, which introduced the idea of co-creation.”
For Pagotto and RTFKT, the current climate has accelerated the company’s work two or three years into the future. “Originally we thought we would continue to make physical shoes to generate some revenue. Then we would make a digital twin along with that. We had only planned on making purely digital items by 2022.”
Pagotto believes the success of NFTs signals a paradigm shift. NFTs have gone from an underground artform that wasn’t taken seriously to a glimpse of what the future holds. “ Nobody saw it coming, that some crypto guys were going to come around and define the next generation art market, and [determine] who profits from it. But value is going to continue to come from that core, from all of these interesting underground places and people who really know about this stuff. Because in reality, this isn’t a culture you can fake.”
Virtual Sneakers, Furniture, and Fashion — Creatives Find Opportunities In NFTs was originally published in Nifty’s on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.