A decade ago, Nike leapt into the future of athletic footwear with the launch of the Nike Mag – a shoe with a fanciful concept inspired by the movie Back to the Future Part 2.
The limited edition 1,500 was so revered for its unique self-lacing design that it has written itself into sports folklore as one of the greatest products of all time.
From the moment the legendary ’80s hip-hop trio Run-DMC united the crowd in raising their Adidas shoes to the sound of “My Adidas,” to the debut of the most iconic basketball apparel – Air Jordan – “infamous” – Sneakers have become a prominent feature in the fashion culture’s pursuit of respect and reverence.
In these times of visual exuberance, it was odd to suggest that when purchasing a shoe of this caliber, the buyer would not get actual shoe.
However, fast forward to today, and that is exactly what we find ourselves in.
What was conceived throughout history only to be a tangible asset that one could touch, wear and display, is now undergoing a cultural transformation into virtual landscapes born on blocks and knots.
RTFKT Studios (pronounced “artifact”) is an ambitious project at the forefront of future fashion in the metaverse.
For years, the group quietly worked for select game companies and fashion brands, until it was revealed in the public domain in early 2020.
Founded by Chris Le, Benoit Pagotto, and Steven Vasilev, RTKFT uses emerging technologies such as game engines, non-perishable tokens (NFTs), blockchain authentication, and augmented reality to create immersive physical and virtual sneakers, as well as collectibles embedded in augmented reality.
saw the project Social growth over the past 12 months, boasting collaborations with the likes of Jeff Staples and Janet Jackson, as well as collectible digital dips at gaming bases The Sandbox and Decentraland.
In addition to, The team benefited from an $8 million fundraising in May 2021 from dignitaries Andreessen Horowitz, Galaxy Digital from Mike Novogratz, and Dapper Labs CEO Roham Gharegozlou, among others.
In addition to virtual products, RTFKT also implemented two counterfeiting Events, an initiative that gives owners the opportunity to redeem the physical reciprocity of their NFT possession.
For a behind-the-scenes look at upcoming RTFKT projects, as well as a perspective on the broader adoption of NFT fashion culture, Cointelegraph spoke to RTFKT Studios’ co-founder and creative director, Chris Low.
Prior to RTFKT, Chris’ career included graphic design work for music companies Def Jam and Sony, and music video direction for artists such as Ty Dolla Sign and Anderson. Paak, directed, edited, and credits for the Netflix movie starring Danny Trejo, as well as gaming creatives.
This Zoom interview has been condensed to accommodate reading restrictions.
Cointelegraph: Chris, thanks for joining us today. What is your current role at RTFKT and what projects are you focusing on?
Chris Low: I’m the co-founder and chief creative officer of RTKFT. Day in and day out I manage a team of artists and conceptualize sneaker designs. If I feel like getting my hands dirty, I’ll 3D design the sneakers, do everything display and get the NFT out of them.
Honestly, I don’t consider myself a sneaker designer, I didn’t have that ambition. The funny thing is, when I fell for it, I was insanely happy to be able to draw on my previous skill sets from video games and filmmaking: designing cosmetic items for Dota 2, weapon skins for Counter-Strike Global Defensive, visual effects for fantasy films on Netflix and more.
Traditionally, sports shoe designers are trained by the automotive industry. This is why many sneakers have stylish designs like cars. However, I feel that my background gave me a different perspective from other designers.
CT: You recently teamed up with NZXT on augmented reality sneakers. Knowing that Facebook has just launched its first VR glasses with Ray-Ban and Snapchat working on a similar product, what do you think of the current capabilities and limitations of augmented reality, and how do you see this space evolving?
CL: I am a big supporter of augmented reality, virtual reality and XR. The capabilities of the engine aren’t quite there yet for hyperrealism, but they’re starting to get there with virtual reality, and those engines will be able to translate into augmented reality.
Some of our filters you can wear sneakers on your feet, or wear a jacket, but they’re not perfect yet. Right now, NFT fans are fans of augmented reality and Snapchat and TikTok users who use face filters for content purposes.
Where we want augmented reality to prevail is the realistic utility. I don’t think it’s going to become very mainstream yet, but it will. With 100% confidence, I know we’re headed in that direction, it’s inevitable. In order to get there, AR has to solve our basic technical needs – navigation, phone calls, text translation and language.
CT: There is a well-established history between the fashion industry, gaming cultures, sports and hip-hop. Why is it important for RTFKT to cooperate With old brands like Atari? What does that represent?
CL: The founders of RTFKT all came from the gaming industry. In various roles, I’ve seen the games become endorsed by the mainstream audience. This was the same for my two founding partners. Benoit came from luxury fashion and then started working for Fnatic – one of the largest esports teams in the world based in London, while Zaptio was a designer of sneakers.
We understand how fashion is one of the best ways to express yourself in this world, especially with everyone focusing their lives online. But we’ve always seen some slight separation between luxury, streetwear, and pop culture with gaming culture.
We wanted to be one of the first guys to truly embrace the gaming aesthetic through streetwear and luxury. And that’s what we did. It is always important for us not to cooperate with the big luxury brands. We are the metaverse brand for luxury/streetwear, and so our top priority should be to collaborate with video game companies, which will always be number one over Dior, Supreme or anyone else.
The Atari collaboration has been amazing considering it’s one of the most familiar OG names in gaming history, and it was exciting to be so well received.
CT: And you’ve collaborated with music artists too, right?
CL: We decided that if we wanted to collaborate with a musical artist, it had to be with someone insanely legendary. That’s why we chose Janet Jackson. As of now, this is the only music artist that we will be giving up something until we decide to expand our horizon in that area.
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CT: Tell us about the Atari collectible drop in Decentraland.
CL: Yes, through the Atari collaboration, we dropped 1,000 wearables at Decentraland. To be honest, I think we almost crashed their servers haha!
There were so many people in the little booth that you had to press the button to get the drop of water, and everyone was jamming that sucker trying to get free RTKFT Akari sneakers!
We plan to announce more things like this in the future.
We want to be the brand for the metaverse. We want RTKFT to be the most A brand that is known not only in the physical sphere, but in every world and world inhabited by people in the future. A person should be able to get into a single VR game and see RTFKT, jump into an AR game and see RTKFT, and then step into a PC game and see us again.
CT: And have you ever thought about creating a store/store in the metaverse like Decentraland?
CL: Yes, we have intentions to do that as well.
CT: Let’s talk about CloneX – the long-awaited 3D PFP that launched on the Ethereum blockchain in mid-October. There will be 20,000 unique avatars, half of which will be for pre-sale to existing RTFKT holders at a mint price of 0.05 ETH, while the other half will be auctioned off for sale at a Dutch auction.
Were these avatars designed specifically for metaverses?
CL: Oh yeah, that’s the point. Everything we do always has some form of utility. Also, we always try to reward our RTFKT holders, so if you have a previous RTFKT, it will be usable on avatars.
Do you know how the Marvel Cinematic Universe ties all the movies together again in Avengers? It’s like this. If you’ve been with us from the start, you’ll see that it all led to this. You can wear all your RTFKT on your character.
But here’s where it gets even crazier. Imagine you’ve got an avatar and they have a T-shirt, which can be forgiven. Imagine that it has a contract, which can also be forgiven. Whatever your avatar wears can be tolerated as a true physical good just as we did with Jeff Staples and Punk sneakers.
This is the craziest and craziest tool I’ve seen in a profile picture project. It comes down to our vision, we want to connect the mainstream audience from the physical realm where it is currently located, to the digital landscape of metaverse games.
These characters will be used in different metaverses such as Decentraland with wearables and other things. Also, we have a bunch of different partners that we haven’t announced yet. It will continue to grow and that is why this project will be of great benefit.
CT: And finally, what does the future of RTFKT look like?
CL: One of our ambitions is to have our own metaphysics, but that’s for the future. The first steps are to become a brand that lives in every metaverse and is widely adopted in AR, VR, and physics.
We just want to be present. In everything!