Nike Mag, a fictional concept shoe that was inspired by Back to the Future Part II, launched a decade ago.
This limited edition of 1,500 sneakers was so beloved for its unique self-lacing design that it is now considered one of the most important productions ever.
The moment Run-DMC, a legendary 80’s hip-hop trio, united the crowd by raising their Adidas shoes to the sound “My Adidas,” to the launch of basketball’s most famous apparel — the “notorious Air Jordan”, sneakers have been a key part of fashion culture’s quest for respect and esteem.
It would be absurd to suggest that a buyer who purchases a shoe of this quality will not get the actual shoe.
Yet, we are still here today.
What was once a tangible asset that one could touch, wear, and display throughout history is now undergoing a cultural transformation into virtual landscapes built upon blocks and nodes.
Photo of the RTFKT/NZXT sneaker collaboration. Source: RTFKT.
RTFKT Studios, pronounced “artifact”, is an ambitious project that represents futuristic fashion in the metaverse.
The collective worked quietly for years to select gaming companies and fashion labels, before being revealed to the public in 2020.
RTKFT was founded by Chris Le, Benoit Pavgotto, and Steven Vasilev. It uses emerging technologies like game engines, blockchain authentication, and nonfungible tokens, and augmented reality to create immersive, virtual and physical sneakers.
The project has seen social growth in the last twelve months. It boasts collaborations with Jeff Staples, Janet Jackson, and digital collectible drops into gaming metaverses The Sandbox, and Decentraland.
The team also received an $8 million funding boost in May 2021, which was provided by notable figures Andreessen Horowitz and Mike Novogratz of Galaxy Digital, as well as Roham Gharegozlou (CEO Dapper Labs), among others.
RTFKT has also created virtual products. RTFKT has also conducted two forging events. This initiative allows holders to redeem their NFT possession’s physical reciprocal.
Cointelegraph interviewed Chris Le, co-founder and chief creativity officer of RTFKT Studios for a behind-the scenes look at RTFKT’s future ventures.
Chris’s career pre-RTFKT included graphic design work at music labels Def Jam, Sony, music video directing of artists such as Ty Dolla Sign, Anderson.Paak and directing and editing credits in two Netflix movies starring Danny Trejo.
Zoom Interview condensed to fit reading limitations
Cointelegraph: Chris. Thanks for joining us today. What is your current role at RTFKT? And what are your priorities for the future?
Chris Le: I am the co-founder of RTKFT and its chief creative officer. My day-to-day responsibilities include managing a team and designing sneaker designs. If I feel like working with my hands, I will model and render the sneakers in 3D.
Since I have never wanted to be a sneaker designer, I don’t consider myself a sneaker design. Funny thing is, when I found it, I was so happy. I could use my previous skills from the video game industry to design cosmetic items for Dota 2, weapons skins for Counter-Strike Global Defensive and visual effects for fantasy movies on Netflix.
Sneaker designers have traditionally been trained in the automotive industry. Many sneakers look like cars. My background has given me a unique perspective that is different from other designers.
CT: Recently, you collaborated with NZXT to create an augmented reality sneaker. You know that Facebook just launched its first VR glasses. Snapchat and Ray-Ban are currently working on similar products. What do you think about AR’s current capabilities and limitations? How do you see the space evolving?
CL: I am a big supporter of AR and VR. Although the engine capabilities aren’t yet sufficient to achieve ultra-realism with VR, they are getting closer to that with AR.
You can wear some of our filters on your feet, while others require you to wear a jacket. NFT-native crypto enthusiasts are interested in AR, and TikTok users who use face filters to create content.
AR should be mainstreamed in real-life applications. It may not be mainstream yet, but I believe it will. It’s inevitable, I have 100% confidence that we are moving in this direction. AR must solve our most basic tech problems, including navigation, phone calls, and translation.
Chris’ concept design of the Atari sneaker. Source: RTFKT
CT: There is a long history of collaboration between fashion and gaming, sports, and hip-hop cultures. RTFKT should collaborate with legacy brands like Atari. What does this mean?
CL: RTFKT’s founders all hail from the gaming industry. Through my many roles, I witnessed gaming becoming mainstream. My co-founders saw the same thing. Benoit is a luxury fashion designer and joined Fnatic, one of the largest esports teams in the world. Zaptio was an expert on sneaker customization.
Fashion is a great way to express yourself, especially when everyone lives online. We always noticed a disconnect between pop culture, luxury, and streetwear.
We wanted to be the first to embrace the gaming aesthetic through streetwear and luxury. We did it. We don’t want to work with large luxury brands. Our luxury/streetwear brand is the metaverse’s flagship brand. Therefore, our top priority must be to collaborate with videogame companies.
The Atari collaboration was amazing, as they are one of the most recognizable names in gaming history. It was also well-received.
CT: You’ve also collaborated with musicians, right?
CL: If we ever wanted to collaborate with a musician, it would have had to be with someone incredibly famous. Janet Jackson was our choice. That’s all we have for now. We’ll continue to explore that area.
Related: The resurgence of art galleries could be attributed to NFTs
CT: Let us know about your Atari collectible drop at Decentraland.
CL: Yes, we dropped 1000 wearables in Decentraland with the Atari collaboration. We almost crashed their servers, to be honest!
The kiosk was crowded with people trying to get RTKFT Akari sneakers for free.
We plan to continue to announce such things in the future.
We want to be the brand for the metaverse. RTKFT should be the most recognizable brand in all universes and worlds that people inhabit in the future. One person should be able see RTFKT in VR, then see RTKFT in AR, then see us again in a PC game.
CT: Would you ever think of opening a shop/store in a metaverse such as Decentraland?
CL: Yes, that’s what we intend to do.
CloneX image of unreleased avatar Source: RTFKT
CT: Let’s discuss CloneX, the highly anticipated three-dimensional avatar PFP Project launching on Ethereum in mid-October. There will be 20,000 unique avatars. Half of them will be available for pre-sale to existing RTFKT holders at an ETH mint price of 0.05 ETH. The other half will go on sale in a dutch public auction.
These avatars were they specifically created for the metaverse?
CL: That’s it. Every activity we do has some utility. We always reward RTFKT holders. If you have an RTFKT in the past, it will be available on the avatars.
Do you know how Marvel’s cinematic universe links all of the movies together into the Avengers? It works like that. You’ll be able to see how it all came about if you were there from the beginning. All your RTFKT’s can be worn on your character.
Here’s the fun part. Imagine that you have an avatar with a shirt. It’s forgeable. It might also have a necklace that is forgeable. The avatar’s costume is also forgable and can be used as a physical good, just like the Jeff Staples sneakers or the Punk sneakers.
This is the most crazy, insane utility I have ever seen for a profile picture project. This is our vision. We want to connect the mainstream audience to the digital metaverse gaming scene.
These characters will be used in various metaverses, such as Decentraland, with wearables and other stuff. We also have many other partners that we have yet to announce. It will continue to grow and this is why it’s going be so useful.
CT: Finally, how does RTFKT’s future look?
CL: We have a goal to create our own metaverse. But that’s a long way off. First, we need to be the brand that is widely accepted on AR, VR, and physicals.
We want to be there. We want to be present in everything.