Ten years ago, Nike took a proverbial leap into the future of sneakers with the launch 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 entered sneaker folklore as one of the greatest productions of all time.
From the time the legendary ’80s hip-hop trio Run-DMC unified the crowd by elevating their Adidas shoes to the sound of “My Adidas”, to the debut of basketball’s most iconic garment – the notorious ” “Air Jordan – sneakers have become an important feature of fashion culture’s quest for esteem and reverence.
In these times of visual exuberance, it would have been absurd to suggest that by purchasing a shoe of this caliber, the buyer would not receive the real shoe.
And yet, fast forward to today, and that’s exactly where we are at.
What throughout history was conceived only as a tangible good that one can touch, wear and show off has undergone a cultural metamorphosis and is now entering virtual landscapes born on blocks and knots.
RTFKT Studios (pronounced “artefact”) is an ambitious project at the cutting edge of futuristic fashion in the metaverse.
The collective operated quietly for years, working with selective gaming companies and fashion brands until their unveiling in the public sphere in early 2020.
Founded by Chris Le, Benoit Pagotto and Steven Vasilev, RTKFT uses emerging technologies such as game engines, non-fungible tokens (NFT), blockchain authentication and augmented reality to create immersive virtual and physical sneakers, as well as augmented reality or AR, integrated collectibles.
The project experienced social growth over the past twelve months, with collaborations with Jeff Staples and Janet Jackson, as well as digital collectible drops in The Sandbox and Decentraland gaming metavers.
Besides, the team benefited from an $ 8 million fundraiser in May 2021 from notable figures Andreessen Horowitz, Galaxy Digital Mike Novogratz and Dapper Labs CEO Roham Gharegozlou, among others.
In addition to the virtual products, RTFKT executed two forges events or initiatives that offer holders the opportunity to redeem the physical reciprocal of their NFT possession.
For a behind-the-scenes look at RTFKT’s upcoming projects, as well as a perspective on the wider adoption of NFT fashion culture, Cointelegraph spoke with the co-founder and creative director of RTFKT Studios, Chris Le.
Prior to RTFKT, Chris’s career included game designs, graphic design work for music labels Def Jam and Sony, making music videos for artists such as Ty Dolla Sign and Anderson .Paak, and directing and editing credits for two Netflix films starring Danny Trejo.
This Zoom interview has been condensed to adapt to reading constraints.
Cointelegraph: Chris, thank you for joining us today. What is your current role at RTFKT and what projects are you focusing on?
Chris Le: I am co-founder and creative director at RTKFT. On a daily basis, I manage a team of artists and conceptualize sneaker designs. If I feel like getting my hands dirty, I’ll model the sneakers in 3D, do all the rendering and make NFTs of them.
To be honest, I don’t even consider myself a sneaker designer, I never had that ambition. The funny thing is when I fell into it I was incredibly happy because I was able to use my old skills from video games and the film industry: designing cosmetic items for Dota 2, skins weapons for Counter-Strike Global Defensive, visual effects for fantastic movies on Netflix and more.
Traditionally, sneaker designers are trained in the automotive industry. This is why many sneakers have stylish designs like cars. However, I feel like my background has given me a different perspective from other designers.
CT: You recently collaborated 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 capabilities and limitations of AR, and how do you see this space evolving?
CL: I’m a big fan of AR, VR, and XR. The engine’s capabilities are not yet developed for ultra-realism, but are starting to get there with virtual reality, and these engines will be able to translate into augmented reality.
Some of our filters allow you to wear the sneaker on your feet, or wear a jacket, but it’s not yet perfect. Right now, it’s the NFT native crypto enthusiasts who love AR and Snapchat and TikTok users who use face filters for content purposes.
Where we want AR to be widespread is in real utility. I don’t think this will become extremely common just yet, but it will. With 100% confidence I know we are going in this direction, it is inevitable. However, for us to do this, augmented reality must meet our most basic technological needs: navigation, phone calls, text and language translation.
CT: There is a well-established history between the fashion industry and the cultures of gaming, sports and hip-hop. Why is it important for RTFKT to collaborate with historic brands like Atari? What does it represent?
CL: The founders of RTFKT all come from the gaming industry. In my various roles, I have seen the game become adopted by the general public. It was the same for my two co-founders. Benoit came from luxury fashion, then he started working at Fnatic, one of the biggest esports teams in the world based in London, while Zaptio was a sneaker customizer.
We understand how fashion is one of the best ways to express yourself in this world, especially when everyone is concentrating on the internet. But we’ve always seen a slight disconnect between luxury, streetwear, and pop culture with gaming culture.
We wanted to be one of the first guys to really embrace the game aesthetic with streetwear and luxury. And that’s what we’ve done. It is always important for us not to collaborate with big luxury brands. We are the metaverse brand of luxury and streetwear, so our top priority must be to collaborate with the video game companies, which would always be number one on Dior, Supreme or whatever.
The Atari collaboration was truly amazing as they are one of the best known names in video game history, and it was sick to be well received.
CT: And you’ve also collaborated with musical artists, haven’t you?
CL: We decided that if we ever had to do a collaboration with a musical artist, it would be with someone incredibly legendary. That’s why we chose Janet Jackson. For now, he’s the only musical artist we’ll drop anything with until we decide to broaden our horizons in this area.
Related: NFTs Could Mark A Resurgence In Art Galleries
CT: Tell us about your Atari collectible at Decentraland.
CL: Yes, with the Atari collaboration, we have dropped 1,000 portable devices to Decentraland. To be honest, I think we almost crashed their servers. Haha!
There were plenty of people in the little kiosk where you had to press the button to get the drop, and everyone was jamming that sucker trying to get free RTKFT Akari sneakers!
And we plan to announce more things like this in the future.
We want to be the mark of the metaverse. We want RTKFT to be the most recognizable brand – not just in the physical realm, but in every universe and world that people will populate in the future. A person should be able to go into a VR game and see RTFKT, jump into an AR game and see RTKFT, then into a PC game and see us again.
CT: And would you consider creating a store / boutique in a metaverse like Decentraland?
CL: Yes, we intend to do that too.
CT: let’s talk about CloneX – the highly anticipated three-dimensional avatar profile image (PFP) project 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 new price of 0.05 ETH, while the other half will be opened at a Dutch public auction.
Are these avatars specially designed for the metaverse?
CL: Oh yeah, that’s the whole point. Everything we do always has some form of utility. Also, we always try to reward our RTFKT holders, and so if you have a previous RTFKT they will be usable on avatars.
You know how the Marvel Cinematic Universe again connects all the movies to the Avengers? It’s like that. If you were with us from the start, you will see that it all ended up here. You can wear all your RTFKTs on your character.
But, this is where it gets crazier. Imagine you have an avatar and he has a shirt, it is falsifiable. Imagine that he has a collar, also forgeable. Whatever the avatar wears, it’s a real physical good, just like we did with the Jeff Staples and Punk sneakers.
This is the craziest utility I have ever seen for a profile photo project. It comes down to our vision, we want to bring the general public closer to the physical realm where it currently exists to the digital metaverse game scene.
And these characters will be used in different metaverse like Decentraland with wearables and other stuff. Plus, we have a bunch of different partners that we haven’t announced yet. It will continue to grow and that is why there will be enormous use for this project.
CT: And finally, what does the future of RTFKT look like?
CL: One of our ambitions is to have our own metaverse, but it’s on the road. The first steps are to become the brand that lives in every metaverse and widely adopted across AR, VR, and physical.
We just want to be there. In all!