On Monday, December 13th, Nike announced their acquisition of RTFKT, a unique company known for drops of digital sneaker NFTs with the option for buyers to create physical editions. These sneaker drops established RTFKT as a leading agency in the growing trend to develop digital wearables as NFTs. Additionally, with corporations and media companies increasingly drawn to the concept of the metaverse, RTFKT seems to be successfully making the move from ‘Digital Supreme’ to ‘Supreme of the Metaverse.’
A Brief History Via Instagram
Many people first found out about RTFKT on February 5th, 2020, when they posted a pic of Elon Musk wearing RTFKT’s Cyber Sneakers, which were based on Tesla’s Cybertruck design. Though many thought it was real, the image was actually what one might call ‘lightfake’ media, with the sneakers added to a photo of Musk in post-production.
More such moments are shared on RTFKT’s Instagram account which is currently one of the few sources that give one a sense of RTFKT’s arc to date. To a total outsider, it seems to be the Instagram account of a sneaker company which creates both physical and digital projects, often involving influential creators, that suddenly pivoted to head and shoulders shots of unique figures that look like possible designs for vinyl toys.
Throw in the term ‘NFT,’ and you’ve got what could be a confusing situation for a newcomer that looks interesting but will probably sort itself out on its own soon enough.
Yet, from the perspective of those embedded in the worlds of gamers, sneaker freaks, streetwear enthusiasts, skaters, digital artists, meme makers, and, most recently, NFT creators, these moments tell a very different story.
The Supreme of the Metaverse
RTFKT’s initial series of sneaker releases, often combining digital art as NFTs with the option to “forge” physical editions, established the company as one that understood the landscape stretching from physical streetwear to digital fashion. RTFKT’s initial drops blurred the divide between physical and digital worlds while claiming an identity as the ‘Digital Supreme.’
If we think of the metaverse as the endgame for the meeting of digital fashions and NFTs, one could even call RTFKT the ‘Supreme of the Metaverse’ given that it draws together the cultural elements Supreme now signifies with the ability to create products that are wearable and tradable in virtual worlds. In images, such as that of Elon Musk mentioned above, as well as a “Sneaker Battle” between Kanye West and DJ Khaled, we gain an early glimpse of how such fashions might function within the context of the metaverse.
Building Via Collabs
These early sneaker releases, prior to the recent release of Clone X, also helped establish RTFKT’s brand through collabs with creators. These projects are represented in various ways on RTFKT’s Instagram account. Collaborations include work with FNMeka, The Fabricant, Jeff Staple, Atari (multiple artists), and Lexus.
Any of these projects are worth taking a closer look at but, if you’re interested in the connection to NFT culture, RTFKT’s projects with Fewocious and with CryptoPunks show a deep understanding of how to link the land of Supreme with the virtual worlds to come via NFTs.
A Rough Birth for CloneX
CloneX is RTFKT’s latest effort, an avatar project including rare elements created by Haruki Murakami, which got off to a rocky start. As nairb621 summed it up cheekily on Twitter:
- Dutch auction didn’t sell out so team paused mint
- Mint resumed next day at 2 ETH flat
- Announces commercial IP rights AFTER mint
- Announces team reserved the most rare Clones AFTER mint
- Deal with Nike
- Insider trading
Did I miss anything?”
Adrien Be’s deeper dive goes into a lot of the details of this highly successful drop that ran into a lot of problems. Despite those issues, DappRadar notes that the initial launch was an outstanding financial success while early secondary sales were impressive.
As of this writing, CloneX is the top NFT collection on OpenSea, and the CloneX Mintvial collection of unminted Clones is second.
Plus, the art is certainly well worth a look!
But the CloneX project is much bigger than a collection of avatars. As RTFKT co-founder Benoit Pagotto puts it:
“CloneX is the start of a full ecosystem for RTFKT, an evolution of our Brand that we think will redefine how you think of fashion brands, going beyond ‘clothes.’ We envision a new kind of relationship forming between owners and 3D creators who will create bespoke content for the avatars. It’s a full ecosystem, being built live, and the avatars are just the tip of the iceberg.”
Nike Sees The Big Picture
Clearly, the combination of phygital drops, hot collabs, high selling NFTs, cultural knowledge and metaverse leadership potential led to RTFKT’s acquisition by Nike.
The surprise reveal of the acquisition with CloneX barely released makes one realize how stretched RTFKT must have been in recent months. Now, success brings them the opportunity to work even harder as they continue to create, build their working relationship with Nike, and take a leadership role in metaverse fashion.
The shape of RTFKT’s future remains to be seen. Life in major corporations can be fraught with difficulties. Yet, RTFKT’s founders have shown they understand a world that is still emerging and can operate at the upper levels of that world, which gives them an edge.
Since Nike and RTFKT both offer experiences with custom sneaker drops, they do have common ground upon which to work. Given their combined resources, it will be exciting to witness the possibilities that this collaboration can yield beyond wearables into gaming and sports, regardless of the multiverse focus. As it stands, the range of possibilities for RTFKT are broad yet potentially quite exciting.
Featured Image: Screenshot of Nike’s Acquisition Announcement.
By: Clyde F. Smith