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Virtual Sneakers: A Guide to the Emerging Digital Trend

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Getty Images / Graphic by ONE37pm

The fashion industry is quickly advancing into digital territory as it piques the interest of creators, celebrities and collectors around the world. From streetwear moguls like Bobby Hundreds and Jeff Staples to fashion giants such as Nike, Adidas, and Gucci, the digital frontier is ripe for innovation to push the boundaries of fashion. These innovations coincide with the expansion of sneaker culture, with highly-sought-out exclusive digital collectibles boasting record-breaking sales of over $100,000. Thus, virtual sneakers have become a major player in the future of digital fashion.

So What Exactly Are Virtual Sneakers?

Virtual sneakers often come in the form of NFTs, or non-fungible tokens that operate using blockchain technology. This means that each pair is unique and has a digital keychain that verifies its authenticity—like a StockX tag, but permanently documented on the blockchain. They can be worn either as digital wearables for your avatar in virtual spaces like Decentraland and Roblox, or they can be seen through augmented reality filters using apps like Snapchat. 

Brands Creating Virtual Sneakers

2. Steph Curry x Under Armor: Genesis Curry Flow

In celebration of Stephen Curry’s record achievement of surpassing the all-time three-point NBA record, a virtual sneaker collection in collaboration with Under Armor made its way to the metaverse titled the “Genesis Curry Flow.” The sneakers are digital renditions of the shoes that the Golden State Warriors point guard donned during the game that he smashed the record and only 2,974 exist to honor the achievement.

The NFTs dropped in December 2021 and collectors were able to buy the memorabilia for $333 using a credit card instead of cryptocurrency. Steph Curry and Under Armor’s first foray into the NFT space sold out within minutes. These collectibles can be found on the NFT secondary market and are compatible to be worn in Gala Games, Decentraland, and Sandbox.

3. Gucci Virtual 25

For as low as $9, you can own a package of 25 pairs of Gucci sneakers from the Gucci Virtual 25 collection. This collection was released last year in collaboration with Wanna, an app that uses AR functionality allowing users to try on each pair on feet through their filters.

This collab came after Gucci and Wanna previously allowed users to use the same AR functionality to try on sneakers before purchasing them physically. The Gucci Virtual 25 launched at the shift of revelation that there is value simply in buying virtual sneakers themselves. The sneakers are compatible with partner apps VRChat and Roblox, and are fully customizable in the Gucci Sneaker Garage for users to create personalized designs. 

5. RTFKT x Nike CryptoKicks

The most notable release of virtual sneakers is from none other than Nike, who recently acquired the aforementioned digital collectibles company, RTFKT Studios. Together, they airdropped 20,000 mysterious digital boxes called MNLTHs for free to collectors of RTFKT’s NFT avatar collection, Clone X. The contents of these mysterious boxes were later unboxed to reveal yet another MNLTH box, a skin vial, and a pair of Crypto Kicks. This drop marked Nike’s first-ever virtual sneaker NFTs. 

Collectors have the opportunity to participate in customizing their sneakers by using the skin vials. However, some sneakers proved to need no modifications at all. Upon reveal, a small number of collectors were surprised with the limited-edition Takashi Murakami collaboration which has now sold for upwards of more than $100,000 dollars. These are expected to be compatible and wearable in Nike’s upcoming 3D virtual space, Nikeland. 

What's Next for Virtual Fashion

As this virtual landscape continues to evolve, more and more people will be drawn to the space and consider the idea of digital fashion collectibles. NFTs provide a unique angle for companies to innovate product, connect with their communities, and enhance their brand experience.The technology introduces a new level of ownership and authentication that will attract collectors to curate their own collections of valuable and unique digital assets in this market. Ultimately, as the physical and virtual realms converge, novel ways of forging identity and immersing in experiences will be created and shape the future of culture. 

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