RTFKT Studios Web3 fashion house Interview

RTFKT Studios has certainly made a name for itself in the nascent space of the metaverse. As one of the leaders shaping the parameters of what is possible, the Web3 fashion house offers the tools and resources necessary for creators to find the “next level” of creativity. Launched in 2020 by founders Chris Le, Benoit Pagotto and Steven Vasilev – all with diverse backgrounds in the tech space – the group is as mysterious as it is innovative, and in two years, the tryptics have redefined the boundaries of physical and digital value. Using game engines, augmented reality, blockchain authentication, and NFTs, RTFKT (pronounced “artifact”) has released “next-generation collectibles,” including the $3.1 million sale of 600 physical-virtual sneakers in collaboration with the 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” company since, opening the doors to a truly custom sports x gaming x tech culture. From AR hoodies and digital sneakers to NFC tags and blockchain authentication, RTFKT is setting and resetting the standard for what it means to bring vintage fashion into the Web3 space.

Can you spill the beans on your startup story, beyond the many surface-level conversations you may have had in the past when you were asked the same question?

Benoit Pagotto: We started RTFKT to be the open source blueprint for the brands of the future – made by creators and for creators. I met Chris and Zaptio while at esports team Fnatic, 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 dominant culture.

Zaptio: It started with the creation of an Instagram account, where we created content using Chris’s 3D skills.

Chris Le: I designed skins for CS:GO [and] DOTA 2, which eventually 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 real so they could be worn during the finals. The rest was history.

How would you define Web3 in terms of what RTFKT represents?

BP: Web3 is the start of a truly digital, borderless, alternative and strange version of the world powered by a completely transparent economy. Within these alternate reality narratives, we all create, share and earn revenue and tokens.

Z: It is the natural evolution of the Internet and social media generation. We are the first generation to have this level of technology, which allows us to be more aware of how brands, communities, platforms and economies work. We are big believers in open source tools and opportunities to empower the community to create their own tools and income opportunities.

CL: It is the true start of a sustainable future, where consumerism is placed online, giving our planet some breathing room. Humanity will begin to consume less in the physical world, while many habits of buying and collecting useless things will now be done in the metaverse.

How did Nike’s acquisition change RTFKT’s infrastructure by leveraging older fashion with virtual sneakers?

Z: It strengthened our vision to expand digital and physical collectibles through our inspiration and love of 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 video game and skin industry, I noticed patterns of players showing that they attributed more value in digital assets.

Z: The cultural and collectible sneakers that Nike created changed the physical collectibles industry and culture forever. The acquisition has enabled us to maintain a level of independence where we are able to pursue our same vision.

“We’re misfits, geeks and go-getters. We’re always trying to stay ahead of these cultures and worlds by figuring out how to merge them to create something new for the brand.” – Chris Lee

What drives your conversations about true “disruption” and uniqueness that newcomers to this space should pay attention to?

CL: The internet and gaming culture are part of our backbone. As three co-founders, we are misfits, geeks 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 from video game counterculture and help the creator community to 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 simply do what we feel is right and what we love. There is no secret formula as everything we do here is new to the NFT world and you can never know what the true outcome will be. That’s what makes this exciting: You can really develop concepts, products and ideas with the best team and the best community.

What added value is RTFKT currently working on with some of its other projects?

Z: Everything we do is through a step-by-step process. All of our projects stem from large overarching visions of the potential future we envision. We are in a position to break traditional norms and be innovative.

BP: We’ve curated key brand collaborations with some of our favorite brands and people that will expand RTFKT’s forging mechanics 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 the bridge between digital and physical products using 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. They are all important IPs! Just like video game studios, we also go back and update and add new features to all of our previous drops and make sure everything ties together.

“There are no boundaries in the metaverse. The people and the market will decide whether you make it or not.” – Benoit Pagotto

What would you consider a “reasonable limit” to enable legacy fashion to enter the Web3 space while protecting native Web3 brands and artists who want to build without limitations?

CL: Be gentle with the creators! Creators are there to help build your brand, and it 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 brands can help creators build. You help them, they help you.

BP: As long as legacy fashion brands understand that from now on, it’s not just about them and their quarterly results—but about truly empowering your community—it will be beneficial to the overall ecosystem. There are no boundaries in the metaverse. The people and the market will decide whether you make it or not.

What do you feel is the biggest challenge facing RTFKT right now that it is working 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 completely new way of thinking about the alliance between creativity, community and business. This requires us to maintain a team of very diverse types of talent from different industries and backgrounds – from gaming, hospitality and collector services to the industry economist. Shaping, assembling and growing our team of misfits is a challenge in itself, but it’s also one of the best parts.

What do you feel the fashion industry is still missing when it comes to the “virtual sneaker” market?

Z: In the same way as traditional sneakers and fashion, I think it comes down to the consumer market. Brands that do not embrace culture or evolving customer desires die down. With RTFKT, we build based on our experiences within traditional sneaker and fashion backgrounds. However, we are reimagining the final process in a way that fits with our vision of the future.

CL: A lot of the other projects are just getting FOMO’d after seeing a lot of publicity around Web3. They don’t want to look out of date compared to everyone else and they recklessly jump in trying to get press coverage. These companies need to study and understand game culture, internet culture, and really figure out how to innovate in a different way. It is very early; there is room for many cool ideas. For the longest time, the industry needed something new – from film, music and fashion. Web3 is the new opportunity for all these industries to come in and really build something new together, and there’s a lot of time to build.

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