Smaller brands are already going much further. RTFKT Inc.—pronounced “artifact,” and considered NFT fashion’s frontrunner—sold about 600 pairs of digital sneakers for $3.1 million in seven minutes in February. 

The company, founded by Chris Le, Benoit Pagotto and Steven Vasilev, recently raised $8 million in a funding round led by Andreessen Horowitz. It has collaborated with Atari Inc. and Electronic Arts Inc., as well as heiress and early NFT adopter Paris Hilton. 

Unusually, the company’s NFTs entitle the holder to a pair of physical shoes as well as a digital item, adding to the appeal for would-be collectors. RTFKT also has a partnership with Snapchat that allows customers to “wear” their digital sneakers via the app’s filters. 
“I believe in a future where augmented reality will be a huge part of society,” Le said in an interview. “You’re going to be walking out on the street and seeing NFT clothing on people.”

For some designers, digital fashion is an opportunity to disappear down imaginative rabbit holes beyond the reach of real-world design. In the metaverse, there’s nothing to stop you from creating—and selling—permanently burning shoes or a jacket with a levitating collar. 

“It’s about exploring parts of your identity and maybe expressing parts of yourself that you wouldn’t normally within your physical world,” said Michaela Larosse, head of content and strategy at The Fabricant, a digital fashion house that sold a shimmering blockchain dress for $9,500 in 2019.

For other players, digital clothing is about new business opportunities. 

Neuno is a fashion-specific NFT marketplace that hopes to displace generalist rivals like Valuables (where Twitter  Inc. co-founder Jack Dorsey recently auctioned his first tweet) by working directly with designers and allowing customers to pay with credit cards as well as cryptocurrencies. DressX—a site that mostly sells non-NFT digital clothing—currently has 70 designers on its platform, and says sales have doubled every month since October 2020.

While digital garments can push the boundaries of expression and business, their utility is limited. Even online. 

Owners can interact with a NFT outfit through augmented reality on their smartphone or with an avatar in some games. But the metaverse isn’t a joined-up place. A Fortnite-compatible garment can’t be used in Decentraland, or vice versa.

A true, immersive metaverse will slowly emerge over time, according to Matthew Ball, managing partner at communications firm Epyllion Co., requiring “countless new technologies, protocols, companies, innovations, and discoveries.” 

Whether the myriad online worlds that exist today can merge into one consistent space—particularly given the very different Chinese and American approaches to the internet—remains to be seen.

NFT buyers are unperturbed though.

“People are increasingly valuing virtual goods just as they value real-world goods, so NFTs can almost emulate that form of traditional ownership,” L’Atelier’s Egan said. “Because NFTs can act as a ‘digital twin’ of a real-life garment—proving authenticity and provenance—brands like Louis Vuitton and Nike are now actively investing in blockchain technology.”

This article was provided by Bloomberg News.

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