RTFKT Studios has certainly made a name for itself in the budding metaverse space. As one of the leaders setting the parameters of what’s possible, fashion house Web3 provides the tools and resources designers need to find that “next level” of creativity. Launched in 2020 by founders Chris Le, Benoit Pagotto and Steven Vasilev – all from diverse tech backgrounds – the group is as mysterious as it is innovative, and in two years the triptych has redefined the boundaries of value physical and digital. Using game engines, augmented reality, blockchain authentication, and NFTs, RTFKT (pronounced “artifact”) released “next-gen collectibles,” including the $3.1 million sale of 600 physical-virtual sneakers in collaboration with NFT artist Fewocious, as well as the Clonex NFT Avatar Project. Acquired by Nike in December 2021, RTFKT has helped accelerate its digital transformation beyond just a “sneaker” business ever since, opening the doors to a truly personalized sport x gaming x tech culture. From AR hoodies and digital sneakers to NFC chips and blockchain authentication, RTFKT is setting and resetting the standard for what it means to bring legacy fashion into the Web3 space.
Can you reveal your creative story, beyond the many superficial conversations you may have had before when you were asked the same question?
Benoit Pagotto: We created RTFKT to be the open source model for brands of the future, designed by creators and for creators. I met Chris and Zaptio while on the Fnatic esports team, where we aligned our vision for a new kind of brand with no legacy or business model to hold it back, in an age where gaming is the predominant culture.
Zaptio: It all started with the creation of an Instagram account, where we created content using Chris’ 3D skills.
Chris Le: I was designing skins for CS:GO [and] DOTA 2, which ultimately led me to designing video game skin sneakers. When the Fnatic League of Legends (LOL) team was invited to the annual LOL World Championship, we decided to make the sneakers look real, so they could be worn in the finals. The rest was history.
How would you define Web3 in terms of what RFKT stands for?
BP: Web3 is the start of a truly digital, borderless, alternative and weird version of the world powered by a fully transparent economy. In these alternate reality stories, we all create, share, and earn income and tokens.
Z: It’s the natural evolution of the Internet generation and social media. We are the first generation to have this level of technology, which allows us to be more aware of how brands, companies, platforms and economies work. We are big proponents of open procurement tools and opportunities for the community to create their own public services and revenue opportunities.
CL: This is the real start of a sustainable future, where consumerism goes online, giving our planet some respite. Humanity will begin to consume less in the physical world, while many habits of buying and collecting unnecessary things will now take place in the metaverse.
How did the acquisition of Nike change RTFKT’s infrastructure by leveraging legacy fashion with virtual sneakers?
Z: It strongly reinforced our vision to expand digital and physical collectibles through our inspiration and love for Nike sneakers.
BP: It also sent a clear message around the world: Web3 is the future and everyone should take it seriously.
CL: It was inevitable that the world would go in this direction. Coming from the gaming and skin industry, I’ve noticed patterns of gamers showing they place more value on digital assets.
Z: The cultural and collectible sneakers created by Nike forever changed the industry and the culture of physical collecting. The acquisition allowed us to maintain a level of independence, where we are able to pursue our same vision.
“We are misfits, nerds and go-getters. We always try to stay ahead of these cultures and worlds by figuring out how to merge them to create something new for the brand. —Chris Le
What drives your conversations about the true “disruption” and uniqueness that newcomers to this space should pay attention to?
CL: Internet and gaming culture is part of our backbone. As three co-founders, we’re misfits, nerds, and go-getters. We always try to stay ahead of these cultures and worlds by figuring out how to merge them to create something new for the brand. We leverage our expertise in video game mod culture and help the creator community be more creative.
Z: RTFKT is more than a brand. We are building a new culture and community is the backbone of our brand.
BP: We just do what we think is right and what we like. There is no secret formula, because everything we do here is new to the NFT world, and you can never know what the real outcome will be. That’s what makes it exciting: you can really create concepts, products and ideas with the best team and the best community.
What additional added value is RTFKT currently working on with some of its other projects?
Z: Everything we do goes through a step-by-step process. All of our projects stem from grand overarching visions of the potential future that we envision. We are able to break traditional norms and be innovative.
BP: We’ve curated key brand collaborations with some of our favorite brands and people that will extend the RTFKT forging mechanic to create NFTs and physical collectibles, opening up new wearable categories for clones and our avatar ecosystem .
Z: We have recently been working on creating a bridge between digital and physical products with the use of NFC technology mixed with NFTs. We have several drops that set the tone for how we see fashion evolving in this Web3 environment.
CL: In addition to these upcoming innovative projects, we always go back and continue to build on our old projects. These are all important IP addresses! Just like video game studios, we also go back and update and add new features to all our past drops and make sure everything connects.
“There are no boundaries in the metaverse. People and the market will decide whether you are successful or not. – Benoit Pagotto
What do you consider a “reasonable boundary” to allow legacy fashion to enter the Web3 space, while simultaneously protecting native Web3 brands and artists who want to build without restriction?
CL: Be indulgent with the creators! Creators are there to help you grow your brand, and you should feel like the brand and the creator co-exist. In other words, let them use the IP to create their own brands and products within the ecosystem. By learning to adapt, these legacy marks can help creators build. You help them, they help you.
BP: As long as traditional fashion brands understand that from now on, it’s not just about them and their quarterly results, but about empowering your community for real, it will be good for the ecosystem. overall. There are no borders in the metaverse. People and the market will decide whether you are successful or not.
What do you think is the biggest challenge that RTFKT is currently facing and striving to overcome?
BP: The main challenge is keeping up with the scale of the business and the hype we generate while keeping the team relatively small. RTFKT is a new kind of brand, and Web3 is a whole new way of thinking about the union of creativity, community and business. This requires us to maintain a team of very different types of talent from different industries and backgrounds – from gaming, hospitality and collection services to industry economist. It’s a challenge in itself to train, assemble and grow our team of misfits, but it’s also one of the best parts.
What do you think the fashion industry is still missing when it comes to the “virtual sneaker” market?
Z: Similar to traditional sneakers and fashion, I think it comes down to utility swapping. Brands that don’t embrace culture or changing customer desires die. With RTFKT, we build on our experiences in traditional sneaker and fashion circles. However, we are reimagining the process from start to finish in a way that matches our vision for the future.
CL: A lot of other projects are just FOMO seeing a lot of publicity around Web3. They don’t want to look old fashioned compared to everyone else, and they mindlessly jump in and try to get some media coverage. These companies need to study and understand gaming culture, internet culture and really figure out how to innovate differently in the space. It is very early; there is room for lots of cool ideas. For a very long time, the industry needed something new, cinema, music and fashion. Web3 is this new opportunity for all of these industries to come in and really build something new together, and there’s a lot of time to build.
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