Nike has solidified its frontrunner position in the race to dominate the metaverse with its acquisition of non-fungible token (NFT) studio RTFKT on Monday. Following its recent trademark applications to sell virtual goods in online environments, the move places Nike on a trajectory to being the biggest brand in both real world and virtual environments. “This acquisition is another step that accelerates Nike’s digital transformation and allows us to serve athletes and creators at the in
the intersection of sport, creativity, gaming and culture,” John Donahoe, Nike’s president and CEO, said in a statement. Nike has made several significant moves to ensure it is ready for Web 3.0 and the metaverse. In December 2019, the brand patented Cryptokicks, a blockchain-enabled system that assigns NFTs to physical sneakers to verify their authenticity and ownership. It also has collaborated with Fortnite and Roblox. But Donahoe called the RTFKT acquisition “pivotal”, noting that it includes “a very talented team of creators with an authentic and connected brand. Our plan is to invest in the RTFKT brand, serve and grow their innovative and creative community and extend Nike’s digital footprint and capabilities.” What is RTFKT? Launched in 2020 by Benoit Pagotto, Chris Le and Steven Vasilev, RTFKT Studios creates virtual sneakers and streetwear collectibles for the metaverse. It has risen to the top faster than other NFT brands by uniquely leveraging cutting-edge game engines, blockchain technology and augmented reality. In the past year, RTFKT has released several major NFT drops, including collaborations with crypto artist FEWOCiOUS, designer Jeff Staple and old-school video game-maker Atari to create a futuristic digital sneaker. The most recent and noteworthy collaboration was with contemporary Japanese artist Takashi Murakami. Called CloneX, it involved a limited release of NFT avatars designed in Murakami’s internationally recognised artistic style. “This is a unique opportunity to build the RTFKT brand and we are excited to benefit from Nike’s foundational strength and expertise to build the communities we love,” Pagotto said in a statement. “Nike is the only brand in the world that shares the deep passion we all have for innovation, creativity and community, and we’re excited to grow our brand which was fully formed in the metaverse.” By acquiring RTFKT, Nike has moved to the forefront of the nascent NFT industry. It’s an incredibly smart and efficient way to gain innovative knowledge and intellectual property at speed, particularly given the current pace of technological advancement. And it says a lot about Nike’s future products and how it imagines they’ll be used. When will the metaverse arrive? The metaverse is not mainstream, yet. It could be years before digital platforms are fully interoperable and decentralised, and many aspects of existing technology and infrastructure will require major improvements, such as access to a stable internet connection, faster load time between applications and seamless integrations with digital wallets. However, as more companies of all sizes build businesses for this new digital economy, the transition to virtual worlds will happen organically. We’re already seeing greater transparency with fashion brands implementing systems for verifying authenticity and traceability across the supply chain, and interactive experiences are commonplace, bridging the gap between physical and digital via augmented reality filters. While it’s hard to imagine what the metaverse will look and feel like, the movement to build it is underway and worth its weight in virtual gold. According to digital currency investor Grayscale, it’s anticipated that the global market for goods and services in the metaverse will soon be worth $1 trillion. A boon for NFT start-ups While the acquisition is a boon for RTFKT, especially since it is such a new business, it also highlights the importance of understanding digital products and NFTs more broadly as people look to invest in NFT fashion, art and experiences. The other movers and shakers in this space will be closely watched, and more brand collaborations with digital fashion houses are to be expected, as they develop a greater understanding of how to produce NFT goods. One of the first on the scene was Dutch digital fashion house The Fabricant. It has since become the go-to studio for international collaborations, such as the activation with Toni Maticevski at Afterpay Australian Fashion Week this year. Other partnerships include Under Armour, Puma, Tommy Hilfiger and Buffalo London. Digital Rags Studio in St Petersburg specialises in digital fashion for 3D modelling, digital design and augmented reality technologies. The Russian studio has worked with major companies such as Rebecca Minkoff and Vogue Italia. Closer to home, tech-luxe digital fashion house Myami Studio led by Brad Morris stands for the democratisation of fashion through blockchain technology and digital ownership. It creates digital fashion that can be used and traded in virtual realities. As technology evolves and the quality of graphics advances, there will come a time when it’s hard to remember life before digital products, just as it’s hard to imagine life before smartphones and apps now. Nike’s acquisition of RTFKT is proof again that our future will be lived in both physical and virtual environments.