Non-fungible tokens, better known as NFTs, have taken cyberspace by storm. From allowing people to trade, breed, and sell virtual kittens, to the creative design of apes experiencing ennui that have amassed a cult-like following, this blockchain-based technology has no doubt revolutionized the creative industry at large.
Once the playthings of people who have amassed crypto holdings but now squarely in mainstream discourse, NFTs are being capitalized by companies of every stripe, all hoping to see high returns. One industry that is taking part in the trend is the world of fashion.
What are NFTs, and how do they work?
For the uninitiated, NFTs utilize blockchain technology to ascertain the legitimacy and ownership of digital content. Every token has its own distinctive and non-interchangeable data recorded on an online blockchain ledger, which helps to prove ownership. Hence, no two NFT works can be the same even if they look visually identical, which is why they are “non-fungible.”
With the rising popularity of blockchain and cryptocurrency in recent years, NFT technology has given some digital artists, creators, and corporations a far more financially rewarding market to create and sell their works than ever before.
Fashion’s foray into NFTs
Most NFTs on the market today take the form of visual media or music, with bands such as American rockers Kings of Leon earning over USD 2 million after selling their latest album, “When You See Yourself,” as an NFT collection.
However, fashion and apparel brands from Nike to Balmain are now on board, hoping to take fashion beyond the physical realm. In October 2021, Dolce & Gabbana made over USD 6 million after auctioning off a nine-piece collection of fashion and couture NFTs. In a tweet following the online auction, the Italian fashion house called the event “the most successful digital fashion drop ever.”
Earlier last year, virtual luxury fashion collective RTFKT Studios made headlines in the crypto fashion world after selling 600 pairs of virtual sneakers as part of a collaborative project with 19-year-old digital artist Fewocious. The collection sold out in under seven minutes, raking in USD 3.1 million for the company.
Since then, the studio has gone on to collaborate with bigger names, such as Japanese contemporary artist Takashi Murakami. Under the latter’s artistic direction, the highly anticipated CloneX project released 20,000 unique 3D avatars, each donning a random combination of accessories. The avatar-based NFTs carried a starting price of ETH 3 each, roughly USD 14,000 at the time.
You might be wondering: what is fashion without the physical element? What’s the point of having a one-of-a-kind piece of clothing if I can’t wear it?
Well, you can—your virtual self can. In partnership with Snapchat, RTFKT gave customers the ability to “wear” their digital apparel by using the app’s augmented reality filters.
British luxury house Burberry made moves into the NFT space in June 2021, designing an exclusive collection of digital wearables for Blankos Block Party, a play-to-earn game by Mythical Games. The game also functions as a marketplace, where players can collect, sell and customize their “blankos” as NFTs.
At this intersection of technology, fashion, and video games, the concept of character customization is expanded upon with in-game NFTs. Not only will players be able to have better control over how their characters look, they will also have ownership over in-game possessions, which can be traded at out-of-game NFT marketplaces for profit.
Because they can be scarce by design, NFTs can also function as tokens that offer access to events where attendance is meant for a limited few, as Karl Lagerfeld did with the KL7xEndless NFT collection. Seven buyers who managed to get their hands on the limited edition pieces were invited to an exclusive cocktail party in June 2022, which will feature a performance by London-based artist Endless.
But this is not inherently a function that is unique to fashion-based NFTs, with regular NFT projects such as Crypto Baristas promising buyers perks that include discounts to all future cafe spaces, and partial control over future projects.
Due to open market forces, fashion NFTs even have the potential to exceed the prices of their physical counterparts. But detractors scoff at the long-term prospects of fashion-based NFTs, criticizing the medium’s lack of real-world utility and brushing it off as just another plaything for the wealthy.
Though luxury fashion brands have only begun dipping their toes into the NFT space, this collaborative trend is poised to continue with the growing proliferation of NFTs. According to a 2021 report on the metaverse done by Morgan Stanley, luxury fashion NFTs are expected to be a USD 25 billion segment of a USD 300 billion NFT market by 2030.
But since the concept and its applications are still being refined, including real world functionality and the potential environmental impact of NFTs, what may be a fad now can offer yet to be imagined developments in the future.