Fashion, NFTs, & The Metaverse—Oh My!
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Earlier this month, Reese Witherspoon tweeted something creators and marketers already know.
I scrolled through the comments and was shocked at how much criticism Reese (we’re on a first-name basis) received for her *spot-on* tweet.
This article will dive deeper into why Witherspoon’s tweet is on point. Specifically, I’ll speak to how fashion brands leverage NFTs and other digital goods to engage virtual communities and build brand recognition in the metaverse.
Quick Review: What is an NFT? What’s the Metaverse?
The digital world is innovating at lightning speeds, so reviewing some of the latest terminologies never hurts. If you’re a Web3 pro, feel free to skip forward. If not, read on.
What are NFTs?
NFT stands for non-fungible token.
A more descriptive name would have been “a 100% unique, non-replaceable digital asset recorded and authenticated on computer databases,” but that’s too long.
So, let’s stick with “non-fungible token” and break it down.
Token: A token is a digital asset (e.g., image, gif, video, a digital object in a video game, etc.) that lives on the blockchain.
Non-fungible: Each token (asset) is non-fungible, which is fancy talk for saying it’s 100% unique. For example, physical art is non-fungible. Da Vinci’s “Mona Lisa” is non-fungible. Michelangelo’s “David” is non-fungible. Van Gough’s “Starry Night” is non-fungible. If you’re an art collector, you could trade one masterpiece for another—but you couldn’t replicate the Mona Lisa or David. There is only one of each and will always only be one. You could have a picture of the Mona Lisa, but it’s not the actual Mona Lisa.
The blockchain: The blockchain is a shared, and decentralized database that stores information electronically. So, the Mona Lisa lives in The Louvre, but all the Bored Apes live in the nodes of a shared computer database—the blockchain.
What is the metaverse?
Did you read the book or see the movie, Ready Player One? That’s the metaverse on steroids.
Essentially, the metaverse is a network of fictional digital worlds that allows people to game, connect, chat, conduct meetings, and hang out in 3D via avatars (like Reese said).
The Oculus Quest 2 is an example of a virtual reality tool that connects people in the metaverse. Roblox is another example. So is Fortnite.
What does retail have to do with the metaverse?
The metaverse is the intersection of the physical and digital worlds, and stats show millions of consumers and their complementary avatars are spending hours a day in these virtual worlds.
So, what does retail have to do with the metaverse?
Wherever consumers go, brands follow. And, retail brands are flocking to the metaverse with new takes on NFT projects.
In the past year alone, leading fashion retailers like Nike, Balenciaga, Adidas, H&M, Burberry, and more have launched NFT projects and/or digital goods that are functional in the metaverse.
Let’s look at some of the most creative projects and how these brands are building awareness and engaging virtual communities.
5 brands that are entering the metaverse in innovative ways
1. Nike + Roblox
Nike is one brand that’s fully leveraging the metaverse to boost brand awareness. As a result, Nike is ahead of its time and one of the original metaverse brand trendsetters.
Nike's major show of leadership in this new space was when Nike acquired RTFTK in December. RTFTK was fully formed in the metaverse and creates digital collectibles that merge pop culture, creativity, and gaming.
As you can guess, Nike uses this partnership to leave its digital mark and brand influence on the metaverse.
This is where Nikeland & Nike’s sneaker NFTs come into play.
Nikeland is a virtual world within Roblox where gamers can play the floor is lava mixed with parkour, swim in Lake Nike, race friends on the Nike track, and more.
But, Nike had much more in mind than entering the gaming world when it created Nikeland. Nikeland isn’t only about gaming; it’s about gaming in style—Nike style.
Nikeland players can buy Nike NFTs and adorn their avatars with cool, fashionable, and unique digital gear.
While Nike NFTs aren’t physically tangible, they are as real as rain in the metaverse, highly coveted, and lend gamers clout.
Nike’s foray into the metaverse is also a brilliant branding move. If you take a peek at Nikeland, you’ll see Nike’s recognizable branding everywhere.
I wanted to test out whether or not the branding was impressionable, so I asked my 6-year-old son what he thought of Nikeland.
He immediately pointed out all the different places where he saw the Nike logo. Then, he asked if he was old enough yet to play Roblox (no) and if we could buy this game (also no). So, I guess what Nike is doing is working.
Nike is leading in the metaverse presence development space. Its creative initiatives boost Nike’s brand image across the digital gaming world, promote its tangible retail products, and drive scalable consumer traffic back to its online stores.
Other brands are following in Nike’s footsteps (nice pun).
2. Under Armour + Steph Curry
Under Armour recently tore a page out of Nike’s metaverse presence development playbook by introducing Steph Curry NFT sneakers.
These sneakers are digital replicas of the shoes (Under Armour’s Curry Flow 9) Steph Curry wore when he broke the NBA record for three-point shots.
Here’s what the real-life sneaks look like:
And, here are what The Genesis Curry Flow NFT collection shoes look like:
Under Armour hyped up the release of these limited NFTs by taking the popular streetwear drop approach. In other words, Under Armour made its fans wait patiently to get their hands on an NFT by dropping them on Dec. 21, 2021, at 8 PM.
I know this date and time well because I waited for hours to try and spend more money than I’ve ever spent on a physical shoe to buy one of the 2,974 NFTs.
Unfortunately, I couldn’t click “buy” quickly enough, and the NFTs sold out immediately. Subsequently, many of the NFTs were also instantly re-auctioned off on OpenSea for hundreds to thousands of dollars more than the original sale price.
While Nike and Under Armour both sell digital sneaker NFTs, how these digital shoes function in the metaverse varies.
Nike has a partnership with Roblox. Under Armour has partnerships with three of the biggest metaverse gaming apps—Gala Games, The Sandbox, and Decentraland.
This means the Genesis Curry Flow NFT is the first cross-platform sneaker NFT within the metaverse, which is pretty cool. I really wish I could have purchased one.
3. Adidas + Bored Ape Yacht Club, gmoney, & PUNKS Comic
Adidas is another sportswear brand worth mentioning when discussing how brands leverage NFT drops to build brand awareness and community.
Adidas recently partnered with three of the most popular NFT community projects—Bored Ape Yacht Club, gmoney, and PUNKS Comics.
The Adidas Originals: Into The Metaverse NFT project is already one for the books, even though it’s still in Phase 1 of 4.
Rather than focusing on selling a digital good that functions to dress an avatar within a popular gaming platform, owning an Adidas Original NFT is more about securing physical goods and buying into an elite community.
It makes sense considering Adidas partners are three of the most coveted online communities.
When consumers purchase Adidas Originals Into the Metaverse NFTs, they gain access to digital privileges (e.g., community and virtual land experiences).
And, here’s the main brilliance of the project.
The NFT also grants owners access to trade in their NFT in exchange for elite and limited physical merch, including the following:
- Adicolor Firebird tracksuit
- A Punks Comic #2 graphic hoodie
- gmoney’s physical orange beanie
When an NFT owner claims the physical merch, Adidas burns the NFT, sends the customer the physical product, and then issues a replacement NFT for the next phase of the project. And rinse and repeat until all four stages are complete.
The NFT project is a smart marketing ploy for several reasons. It:
- Capitalizes on the growing fashion trend of elite merch drops
- Builds brand authority through collaborative merchandise
- Engages participants via a popular cultural trend and digital utility
- Keeps consumers actively coming back for more with its phases
- Builds a thriving online community of loyal repeat consumers
Adidas is doing a lot right and it will be interesting to see how phases 2-4 pan out for the brand.
4. Ralph Lauren + Zepeto
Zepeto is a South Korean social network and studio with over 200 million users. But, Zepeto goes above and beyond the traditional 2D social and gaming networks we’re used to.
Users interact in any of their favorite 3D worlds with their virtual avatar. In addition, they can customize their 3D avatar and meet up with other avatars anywhere within the Zepeto network.
Zepeto is for creators as well and already has 1.5 million active creatives. Creators can create virtual fashion items for avatars, grow their network within the platform, and sell these items to fans.
Zepeto creators aren’t limited to making virtual goods. They can also create virtual worlds for other users to explore, meet up, and play games.
As with other new metaverse platforms, there is endless opportunity for creators and brands to create, build, and promote products.
And, this is where Ralph Lauren enters the picture.
Ralph Lauren has already seized the opportunity and partnered with Zepeto to sell virtual versions of its clothing to active members of one of its primary markets—Asia-Pacific’s metaverse.
As of now, Zepeto users can buy over 12 Ralph Lauren looks and mix and match 50 different items, including vintage wear, sunglasses, madras shirts, Polo bear sweaters, hats, and more.
But, Ralph Lauren hasn’t limited its digital presence within Zepeto to virtual clothing. The brand also has:
- Built virtual versions of its most popular real-life locations
- Created a Ralph’s Coffee coffee shop location where avatars can meet and sip some ones and zeros
- Constructed a quest for users to explore
Of the many Ralph Lauren and Zepeto collaborations, their virtual concert featuring popular K-pop band, Tomorrow x Together (TXT) is my favorite.
TXT’s avatars performed in the metaverse wearing—you guessed it—items from Ralph Lauren’s virtual collection. The TXT avatars also took shareable virtual selfies with their fans' avatars.
It’s everything a fan could dream of happening in person—but it all takes place via avatars in the virtual world. Now is a good time to remember Reese’s Twitter comment.
It’s also worth noting Ralph Lauren isn’t the only brand that has partnered with Zepeto.
Gucci sells its House collection and admits users to the 3D Gucci Villa. Avatars drive Hyundai’s cars on virtual roads. Even Disney has a strong presence.
My favorite Zepeto use case for engaging a virtual community didn’t come from a brand but a politician. Back in June, Andrew Yang campaigned virtually inside the platform. Yang’s bold move shows how many creative opportunities still exist within the metaverse to engage audiences.
Partnerships like Ralph Lauren and Zepeto certainly promote creativity, boost revenues, and engage a new generation of consumers, but that’s not all they do for brands.
Engaging consumers in the virtual world is also a new way to capture relevant data on loyal consumers. Brands can track metrics within the metaverse to see what NFTs are performing and how customers are interacting within the platform.
Brands can then use this data to fine-tune their digital and real-world marketing strategies.
So, once again—Reese Witherspoon is right. We already live in a world where people have parallel identities and where brands sell highly valued digital goods.
5. Burberry + Blankos Block Party from Mythical Games
Burberry’s collaboration with Blankos Block Party from Mythical Games is another notable NFT project from a fashion brand with a fun twist.
If you’re not familiar with Blankos Block Party, it’s a multiplayer game featuring digital vinyl toys called Blankos.
These NFT toys live on the blockchain. Game players can purchase, collect, and adorn Blankos NFTs, go on solo quests, compete in block party mini-games, and can even create their own games within the platform.
So, what does Burberry's luxury brand have to do with Blankos?
A few months ago, Burberry launched its first NFT, a limited-edition, limited-quantity Blankos toy named Sharky B.
Sharky B is decked out in Burberry’s new TB Summer Monogram. Like any other NFT, users can buy Sharky B, upgrade it, and resell within the Blankos Block Party marketplace.
Sharky B isn’t Burberry’s only NFT for Blankos Block Party. Burberry also introduced in-game NFT Burberry accessories like shoes, armbands, and jetpacks—that gamers can purchase and add to any other Blanko they own.
Another twist—players can train Sharky B to obtain powers within the game, making the NFT more powerful, unique, and rare.
The idea is similar to other NFT projects within the fashion world—create a branded NFT that functions in the metaverse.
However, Burberry boasts of using this NFT project to form bonds with customers and create lasting connections with its community.
Rod Manley, Burberry Chief Marketing Officer, explains the project as a way to move into spaces where its community exists and engage them there. Manley says:
Sharky B and Burberry accessories within Blankos Block Party are the first digital items released as part of Burberry’s B Series. Users can expect more limited-edition NFT drops in the future.
What’s next for the retail metaverse?
NFT releases in the fashion world are a relatively new and low-cost way for brands to capture the attention of tech-savvy consumers heavily involved online—in communities, in the gaming world, and all around the metaverse.
We’re already seeing droves of brands hop on this trend. Yes, some projects are cash grabs. However, others are creative, thoughtful, and provide responsive solutions to how a new generation of consumers like to engage with brands online.
Looking forward, the retail world will see more NFT projects that introduce digital replicas of IRL fashion items. The most successful of these NFT projects will likely have dual functionality in the metaverse, especially in the gaming world.
Now, I, for one, can’t wait to dress my freelance writing metaverse avatar in some high-class sweatpants. I’d also be pleased to add a dash of mascara and a bit of balmy lip gloss.
I’m looking at you, Target & Glossier. I’m waiting…