Fashion brands have embraced web3 in recent years, with Puma, Adidas, and Gucci all experimenting with non-fungible tokens (NFTs) as membership programs for perks, freebies, and exclusive access to new product launches. Nike seems to have been eyeing it since at least 2019 when it secured a patent for blockchain-linked sneakers called CryptoKicks. The sportswear giant acquired RTFKT—the virtual fashion maker founded by Benoit Pagotto, Chris Le, and Steven Vasilev—two years later, making Nike’s investment the largest of its peers.
Besides launching NFT footwear such as the Nike Dunk Genesis CryptoKicks with RTFKT, Nike has been fairly quiet about its web3 projects. That changed earlier this week when the brand announced the new virtual platform Swoosh. Though Nike’s plans are still largely under wraps, it teased something called “creator challenges” that will award winners with the opportunity to collaborate with Nike’s creative team to design virtual collections and earn royalties from sales. Another potential feature is a safe and reliable resale market that protects against some of the fraud seen on exchanges like OpenSea. The new offering is aimed at the “web3 curious” rather than those with a foothold in the space.
“We see a [virtual] shoe that one day unlocks access to a pre-order of a physical shoe, or one day unlocks access to a token-gated chat with our designers where you can help shape certain decisions around what colorway we launch with,” Ron Faris, the general manager of Nike Virtual Studios, told Business of Fashion. “Or another day where you could unlock the wearable version in your favorite game or immersive experience.”
Nike anticipates consumers on the periphery of web3 may be enticed by preorders for physical sneakers in the form of virtual ones. The digital releases will at first be wearable on RTFKT’s CloneX avatars, but eventually expand to other video games—much like when it launched Air Jordans for Fortnite in 2019. First up, however, is a month-long education session to demystify web3 for the uninitiated. “We’re not gonna sell stuff right away. We really want to be careful and thoughtful about how we invite the community in,” Faris told Complex. “What we really want to do is broaden the definition of what a creator can be.”
Education is a major reason why Nike held off on debuting Swoosh sooner. According to Faris, the brand opted for a slow and steady approach for entering web3 given the space’s relative volatility as seen in the dramatic downturn in cryptocurrency values, waning interest in NFT trading, and the catastrophic FTX collapse. But a recent Accenture study suggests the global video gaming industry is outpacing the music and film industries combined, which Nike doesn’t anticipate will slow down anytime soon. “We’re building for a long-term future,” Faris says. “We’re here to stay in this space.”