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Nike just bought a virtual shoe company that makes NFTs and sneakers ‘for the metaverse’

Nike just bought a virtual shoe company that makes NFTs and sneakers ‘for the metaverse’

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RTFKT makes shoes too, except these only exist digitally

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RTFKT made these A16Z sneakers to celebrate a round of venture capital funding
RTFKT made these A16Z sneakers to celebrate a round of venture capital funding
Image: RTFKT

One comparison I’ve heard repeatedly over the last year is that buying NFTs to “flex” on people in the metaverse is just like collecting sneakers, and now Nike is apparently trying to make sure it’s ready for the literal version of that possibility. The apparel giant just announced the acquisition of RTFKT Studios, which it calls “a leading brand that leverages cutting edge innovation to deliver next generation collectibles that merge culture and gaming.”

RTFKT claims that in February, a collaboration with teenage artist FEWOCiOUS to sell real sneakers paired with virtual ones managed to sell some 600 pairs/NFTs in just six minutes, netting over $3.1 million at the time. This was around the same early spring period when most of us were hearing about NFTs for the first time, as Grimes sold some $6 million worth of digital artwork on March 1st. It’s not clear if any of these digital items are worth as much now; looking at OpenSea and Nifty Gateway right now, I see a number of them are either listed for or have recently sold for less than their original prices.

But forget the past — and that time it photoshopped a pair of its sneakers onto Elon Musk — RTFKT is moving forward, and just yesterday the A16Z-backed startup launched the Clone X NFT collaboration with Japanese artist Takashi Murakami, offering up a number of metaverse-ready digital avatars styled with various collectible traits.

What’s an NFT?

NFTs allow you to buy and sell ownership of unique digital items and keep track of who owns them using the blockchain. NFT stands for “non-fungible token,” and it can technically contain anything digital, including drawings, animated GIFs, songs, or items in video games. An NFT can either be one of a kind, like a real-life painting, or one copy of many, like trading cards, but the blockchain keeps track of who has ownership of the file.

NFTs have been making headlines lately, some selling for millions of dollars, with high-profile memes like Nyan Cat and the “deal with it” sunglasses being put up for auction. There’s also a lot of discussion about the massive electricity use and environmental impacts of NFTs. If you (understandably) still have questions, you can read through our NFT FAQ.

The company’s website immediately asks visitors to link their Metamask wallets, which is one of the ways NFT owners can verify their purchases, with the idea that at some point in the future you’ll play games or enter other sorts of VR spaces where your items can materialize, once those spaces have read the blockchain to assess which items you own the rights to.

This is the kind of vision that Nike is buying into, crediting the company’s founder Benoit Pagotto, Chris Le, and Steven Vasilev with leveraging “the latest in game engines, NFTs, blockchain authentication and augmented reality to create one of a kind virtual products and experiences.”

While announcing the deal — without revealing how much it spent — Nike positioned RTFKT’s lightning bolt-style logo alongside its own iconic swoosh, Jumpman, and Converse marks. Those brands have decades of history, built on high-level athletic endorsements, distinctive designs, and a grassroots culture that actually exists in the real world. RTFKT, meanwhile, was founded in January 2020. It says that “the human development in consciousness has accelerated faster than anticipated. We are here to accelerate our digital future now.”