A decade ago, Nike took a proverbial leap into the future of sneakers with the introduction of Nike Mag – a fictional concept shoe inspired by the movie Back to the Future Part II.
The 1,500-limited edition was so revered for its idiosyncratic self-lacing design that it inscribed itself in sneaker folklore as one of the greatest productions of all time.
From the moment the legendary hip-hop trio Run-DMC from the 80s united the crowd by lifting their Adidas shoes to the sound of “My Adidas” to the debut of the most iconic basketball apparel – the “Notorious” Air Jordan – Sneakers have become a prominent feature of the fashion culture’s pursuit of appreciation and awe.
In these times of visual exuberance, it would have been absurd to claim that when buying a shoe of this caliber, the buyer does not the actual shoe.
And yet, fast forward to today, and that’s where we are.
What in the course of history was only intended as a tangible, portable and presentable object has undergone a cultural metamorphosis and is now entering virtual landscapes that were created on blocks and nodes.
RTFKT Studios (pronounced “Artifact”) is an ambitious project at the forefront of futuristic fashion in the Metaverse.
The collective worked quietly for years, working with select gaming companies and fashion brands until it was unveiled to the public in early 2020.
Founded by Chris Le, Benoit Pagotto, and Steven Vasilev, RTKFT leverages emerging technologies like game engines, non-fungible tokens (NFTs), blockchain authentication, and augmented reality to create immersive virtual and physical sneakers, as well as augmented reality, or AR, built-in collectibles .
The project has experienced social growth over the past twelve months, with collaborations with the likes of Jeff Staples and Janet Jackson, and digital collectibles in the gaming metaverse The Sandbox and Decentraland.
Additionally, The team benefited from $ 8 million in fundraising in May 2021 from notable personalities including Andreessen Horowitz, Mike Novogratz ’Galaxy Digital and Dapper Labs CEO Roham Gharegozlou.
In addition to virtual products, RTFKT has held two blacksmithing events or initiatives that give owners the opportunity to redeem the physical equivalent of their NFT ownership.
For a behind-the-scenes look at RTFKT’s upcoming ventures and perspective on the wider adoption of NFT fashion culture, Cointelegraph spoke to RTFKT Studios Co-Founder and Chief Creative Officer Chris Le.
Chris ‘career prior to RTFKT included gaming designs, graphic design work for music labels Def Jam and Sony, music video directing for artists such as Ty Dolla Sign and Anderson .Paak, and directing and editing credits for two Netflix films with Danny Trejo.
This Zoom interview has been compressed to accommodate reading restrictions.
Cointelegraph: Chris, thank you for joining us today. What is your current job at RTFKT and which projects are you concentrating on?
Chris Le: I am the co-founder and chief creative officer of RTKFT. Every day I lead a team of artists and create sneaker designs. When I feel like getting my hands dirty, I model the 3D sneakers, do all of the rendering, and make the NFTs out of them.
To be honest, I don’t even consider myself a sneaker designer, I never had that ambition. The funny thing is, I was insanely happy when I fell for it because I was able to use my previous skills from video games and the film industry: designing cosmetics for Dota 2, weapon skins for Counter-Strike Global Defensive, visual effects for fantasy films on Netflix and more.
Traditionally, sneaker designers from the automotive industry are trained. That’s why many sneakers have a slim design like cars. However, I feel that my background gave me a different perspective than other designers.
CT: You recently worked with NZXT on an augmented reality sneaker. Knowing that Facebook has just launched its first VR glasses with Ray-Ban and Snapchat is working on a similar product, what do you think are the current possibilities and limitations of AR and how do you see the development of this area?
KL: I’m a huge supporter of AR, VR, and XR. The engine capabilities are not fully developed for ultra realism, but they start with VR, and these engines will be able to translate into AR.
Some of our filters let you wear the sneaker on your foot or wear a jacket, but it’s not perfect yet. Right now it’s NFT-native crypto enthusiasts who are interested in AR, and Snapchat and TikTok users who are using face filters for content purposes.
Where we want AR to go mainstream is the real benefit. I don’t think it’s going to be extremely mainstream now, but it is. With 100% confidence I know we are going in this direction, it is inevitable. However, in order for us to get there, AR must meet our most basic technical requirements – navigation, telephoning, text and voice translation.
CT: There’s an established history between the fashion industry and the cultures of gaming, sports, and hip-hop. Why is it important for RTFKT work together with legacy brands like Atari? What does that represent?
KL: The founders of RTFKT all came from the gaming industry. In my various roles, I’ve seen games be adopted by mainstream audiences. That was also the case with my two co-founders. Benoit came out of luxury fashion and then started working at Fnatic – one of the world’s largest esports teams based in London, while Zaptio was a streetwear entrepreneur.
We understand that fashion is one of the best ways to express yourself in this world, especially when everyone’s life is focused on the internet. But we’ve always seen a slight discrepancy between luxury, streetwear, and pop culture with gaming culture.
We wanted to be one of the first to really take on the gaming aesthetic with streetwear and luxury. And that’s what we did. It is always important to us not to work with big luxury brands. We are the luxury / streetwear Metaverse brand and so our top priority must be working with video game companies who would always be number one ahead of Dior, Supreme or whoever.
The Atari collaboration was amazing as they are one of the most recognizable OG names in gaming history and it was sick to be well received.
CT: And you’ve worked with music artists too, haven’t you?
KL: We decided that if we were ever going to work with a music artist, it had to be someone insanely legendary. That’s why we chose Janet Jackson. As of now, this is the only music artist that we let go of something with until we decide to broaden our horizons in this area.
Similarly, NFTs could spell a resurgence in art galleries
CT: Tell us about your Atari collector’s item in Decentraland.
KL: Yes, with the Atari collaboration we dropped 1,000 wearables in Decentraland. To be honest, I think we almost crashed their servers. Haha!
There were loads of people in the little kiosk where you had to push the button to get the drop and they were all jamming that fool to get free RTKFT Akari sneakers!
And we plan to announce more such things in the future.
We want to be the brand of the metaverse. We want RTKFT to be the best recognizable brand – not just in the physical area, but in every universe and in every world that people will populate in the future. A person should be able to go into a VR game and watch RTFKT, jump into an AR game and watch RTKFT, and then go into a PC game and see us again.
CT: And would you ever consider opening a store / shop in a metaverse like Decentraland?
KL: Yes, we plan to do that too.
CT: Let’s talk about CloneX – the highly anticipated three-dimensional avatar profile picture (PFP) project that will be launched on the Ethereum blockchain in mid-October. There will be 20,000 unique avatars, half of which will be allocated to pre-sale for existing RTFKT holders at a coin price of 0.05 ETH, while the other half will open in a Dutch auction.
Were these avatars specially designed for the Metaverse?
KL: Oh yeah, that’s the whole point. Everything we do is always useful. Also, we always try to reward our RTFKT owners. So if you have a previous RTFKT they can be used for the avatars.
Do you know how Marvel’s cinematic universe is putting all of the films back together into the Avengers? It is like it is. If you’ve been there from the start, you’ll see that it all led to it. You can wear all of your RTFKTs on your character.
But here it gets even crazier. Imagine you are given an avatar and he has a t-shirt that can be faked. Imagine it has a necklace that is also counterfeit. Whatever the avatar is wearing can be counterfeited as a real physical asset, just like we did with the Jeff Staples and punk sneakers.
This is the craziest, craziest utility I’ve ever seen for a profile picture project. It goes back to our vision that we want to bridge the mainstream audience from the physical realm where it currently exists to the digital metaverse gaming scene.
And these characters are used in various metaverse like Decentraland with wearables and other stuff. We also have a number of different partners that we haven’t announced yet. It will keep growing and therefore this project will be of tremendous benefit.
CT: And finally, what is the future of RTFKT?
KL: One of our ambitions is to have our own metaverse, but that is the future. The first step is to become the brand that lives in every single metaverse and is widely used in AR, VR and Physicals.
We just want to be present. In particular!