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‘Gamifying’ Fashion: The link between NFTs, Sneakers, and Streetwear

Image: RTFKT

This article was written for the Fractal and Pushas community scavenger hunt.

It’s no secret that high-fashion luxury brands have been turning their attention to the NFT space over the past few years. Notable movers include heavy-hitters like Gucci, Louis Vuitton, Burberry, and D&G. While Web3 savants are excited about this recognition, the movement (unsurprisingly) has left many in the mainstream fashion industry scratching their heads.

The truth? This is nothing new. 

Luxury brands are moving into NFTs, for the same reasons they shifted towards streetwear and sneaker-head culture. It was genius — pivot negative perception of ‘high snobiety’, exclusivity, and expensive eccentrics into a positive appeal to the mainstream market. The overlapping economies between in-game cosmetic items and the digitalization of mainstream fashion is only growing wider, and right at the intersection lie NFTs. This is the ‘gamification’ of fashion.

The fundamentals driving the streetwear and sneaker culture and the NFT landscape are uncanny. Combine highly demanded items, synonymous with status and self-expression, with artificial constraints on supply and distribution channels. The result? You get the craze for the assets you see today.

Same Same But Different

The definition of streetwear is slippery. As the adage goes, ‘you’ll know it when you see it.’

Its history draws upon so-called counter-cultures, a “cross pollination between fashion, music, art and design from graffiti, skate culture.” (Stanley, 2022)

The story of streetwear has shifted dramatically from its fringe, rebellious, ‘f*ck-you’ roots, towards cementing itself into the fabric of mainstream culture. Similarly, in the last couple of years, the crypto world has curated a counter-culture of fringe rebellion against institutional powers. And just like streetwear, fringe has now ironically become mainstream. Nearly everyone has heard of the Bored Apes Yacht Club project, whether you’re an NFT-head or not.

The 90’s rocketed Hip-hop to the moon alongside Michael Jordan’s deity-like status. The Jordan brand single-handedly put the collectible shoe market on the map, propelling streetwear and sneaker-head culture to the forefront of popularity. Everyone wanted (and still wants) to ‘Be Like Mike.’ 

The global sneaker market was valued at approximately US$79 billion in 2020 and is predicted to reach US$120 billion by 2026. The Jordan effect changed the world beyond selling a ton of sneakers. He revealed how powerful professional athletes can become by becoming pop-cultural tastemakers. It’s no wonder the athletes of today have developed a fondness for NFTs, crypto, and the gaming economy. 

Superstar wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. opted to receive half of his $13 million salary in Bitcoin last season becoming the first professional athlete in a major U.S. sports league to receive a salary in cryptocurrency.

When he’s not dropping a casual 50 bomb on the basketball court, Devin Booker of the Phoenix Suns moonlights as a Twitch streamer. LeBron James stars in advertisements for cryptocurrency trading platforms like crypto.com.

 

Fractal and PUSHAS are marketplace makers for this overlap between fashion, NFTs, and games. The similarities are hard to ignore. 

NFT projects and their fans live natively on Discord. So do sneaker-head and fashion enthusiast communities.

Streetwear enthusiasts are collectors, speculators, and investors in cultural capital at heart. So are NFT-heads.

NFT projects build hype and exclusivity by rewarding their most loyal early supporters with limited drops, and build economies around trade through secondary markets. The sneaker community has been doing this for the better part of two decades.

The most valued members in sneaker-head communities are the ones who are the most engaged, well-connected and have access to inside knowledge and scoop on upcoming releases. Early adopters who leak ‘alpha’ (as its called in the web3 world) are similarly coveted on crypto-Twitter. 

To both communities, ownership of certain assets represent something beyond monetary value. It reveals something deeper about cultural belonging and status. 

“As a status symbol, NFTs are metaverse fashion identifiers…” — Bobby Hundreds (What NFTs Can Learn from Streetwear, 2021). 

“NFTs are bigger than just streetwear. For the past 20 years, people have been buying physical items to show their status and now you can have a (Crypto)Punk which is a digital Lamborghini.” — Steven Vasilev, co-founder of RTFKT (from What NFTs Can Learn from Streetwear, 2021).

NFTs x Streetwear

The cultures of streetwear and sneakers are not only running on parallel tracks with NFTs and web3, they are converging. 

While we see countless areas in which the two movements are overlapping today, there is still so much more to come. As the market for in-game cosmetics (skins) continue to grow in popularity, it’s hard to argue how these assets won’t become viewed in the same way we view streetwear and fashion more generally. 

At the end of the day, the cultural representations of our emerging digital identities will become immensely valuable in a world where people become more renowned for their online personas than their real names (think creators like Pokimane, Shroud, Tfue, Ninja, Pewdiepie). Kicks aren’t just kicks, they mean something much more. NFTs aren’t just jpegs, they mean something much more.

This is the world that Fractal and Pushas is building slowly towards. It’s true that we’re working on separate tracks for the time being, but there’s no doubt that we’ll meet each other somewhere down the line as the metaverse continues to expand. We can’t wait to see what that world looks like. 

We’ll see you there :)

For our treasure hunters:

An image on our Instagram contains a hidden clue. Only the brightest will be able to expose it. Once you get it, why don’t you try entering it into the Fractal Discord server?

Hint: Screenshot and edit!

Make sure you’re following the PUSHAS instagram page in order to be eligible for the treasure hunt!

 

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