Contrary to popular belief, NFTs aren’t just expensive JPEGs. Have you seen The Matrix? You know how Neo enters a virtual world of exploding subway stations and serene martial arts dojos, but behind the façade is a green scaffolding of 1’s and 0s? NFTs are kinda like that. The digital asset – whether it’s a colorful photograph, a piece of writing, or a virtual parcel of land in a video game – is fastened to a boring string of letters and numbers. That code, that data – that token minted on a universal contract called the blockchain – is the NFT.
[I’m gonna skip ahead a few steps here and assume your head is partially wrapped around the concept of NFTs. If not, you can read my essay from February on The Next Internet.]
Although NFTs have been around for years, it wasn’t until 2021 that they became topical. There are countless theories as to why this is happening and I’m fascinated by the social psychology around this movement. Sometimes, I think NFTs and the metaverse are filling the cultural void that the Trump presidency left behind. Twitter is evidence of that. This time last year, the social app was a deluge of the former President’s tweets and the polarized reactions around them. Today, Twitter is an NFT workshop, where crypto whales, budding artists, and tech bros are working on the puzzle together. I used to wonder how much productivity was lost because of the distractions of disinformation and the ensuing chaos. Witnessing rapid NFT innovation over mere months and how disruptive the technology has been to institutions and industries, I cringe at how far we were set behind by trash news.
There’s a larger essay here for another day, but I also think there’s a religious fervor around NFTs that is not unlike cult behavior. The world feels unstable and unpredictable and humans are searching for solid ground. There is a pursuit of singular Truth amidst distrust in the media and the state, the mystery of social algorithms, and even in the sense that your own friends have become brands, marketing deceit. In the metaverse – the spiritual realm – the blockchain would perhaps be represented as the Truth – the God figure. Twenty years ago, the rebuttal to God was, “I’ll believe it when I see it.” Today, nobody actually sees the physical money they own, whether fiat in a bank or crypto on Coinbase. The pandemic awakened us to the fact that much of our relationships and understanding of the world is virtual. I mean, we’ve all spent the last year and a half fighting a war against a wraithlike virus. NFTs made it very easy to assign value to invisible things.
People collect NFTs for various reasons because NFTs exist for various reasons.
At the start of the year, 1-of-1 original art was very popular with NFT collectors. This makes sense. Part of the artist’s role has always been to make complicated ideas digestible for the layman to understand. They take abstract notions of the world and distill them down to beautiful visuals. Artists see movements before they happen (This is also why they’re adept at gentrifying neighborhoods!). NFT artists helped to onboard large swaths of art collectors – from blue-chip auction buyers to casual shoppers looking to support the independent scene.
The most famous NFT artist in this genre is Beeple, but other talent quickly rose to the top of the leaderboard. Names like ThankYouX, Fewocious, Pak, and FVCKRENDER. Emerging artists like Sean Williams, Nicole Ruggiero, Latasha and Sophie Sturdevant. Photographers like Dave Krugman, Jeff Nicholas, and J.N. Silva. And the new NFT venues like Super Rare, Foundation, and Zora were there to act as galleries of sorts.
Currently, much of the NFT froth has shifted to collectibles (also known as avatar or PFP projects) and subsequently, secondary, re-sale marketplaces like OpenSea. CryptoPunks by LarvaLabs were not only the first NFTs in 2017, but the first collectibles. The creators uploaded 10,000 unique combinations of 8-bit-style punk rock faces. These are tiny, pixelated characters that carry traits like purple hats or red noses. LarvaLabs doled these images of Punks out for free while retaining a percentage of future sales. For the first few years, nobody cared much and traded them like sports cards. And then the point tipped with NFTs. Millions of people around the world are now trying to claim one of these 10,000 punks. Trying to get into the hottest nightclub in town. This is classic supply-and-demand, like any limited-edition release of a sneaker, toaster oven, or house in a neighborhood with a good school. As of this essay, the cheapest CryptoPunk for sale (of all 10,000) is $369,901 USD. The most expensive CryptoPunk sold in March for $ $7.58M.
At the beginning of the summer, as the hype around the 1-of-1 NFT art market cooled down alongside crypto, inciting much of “NFTs are dead” talk online, a collectibles project called Bored Ape Yacht Club released to the metaverse. There have been a bajillion collectible sets derived from the Punks – every adjective-animal you can imagine. 10,000, computer generated cats, koalas, geckos, even poops (A recent favorite of mine is called 0n1 Force – anime styled profiles). But, BAYC did a great job with the art, storytelling, community, and especially their roadmap. Their NFTs of bored apes blew out at launch for a few hundred bucks each. Today, the cheapest Ape on the secondary market could garner $166k. The most expensive Ape for sale just flipped for $1,681,370.74. In a matter of months, much of the Apes community has experienced transformative wealth (This past weekend, BAYC dropped Mutant Apes, making $90M in an hour).
The reason why NFT collectibles are called avatar projects is because the people who buy them like to feature their unique NFT as their profile picture. As much as the current NFT trend is spurred by flipping and making a quick buck, there is also a tribal aspect to this that is lightly reminiscent of political and social affiliations from the past several years. This time, however, the tribes are gathering and bonding in Discord servers, with the undercurrent of the conversation churning around their NFTs’ market value. You may recall something like this during the stonks uprising that played out simultaneously with the storming of the Capitol in January. While insurrectionists were waving American flags and Don’t Tread on Me snakes, stonks millionaires were doing their best to claim GameStop and AMC as their online clans. You can see why, through NFTs, it’s a lot easier to rally behind an icon of a of a pizza-eating monkey or a trippy duck over a corporate mall chain logo. In fact, NFTs are essentially fun stocks that you can see, trade, and identify with.
There are also people like me who collect NFTs because we are big believers in the metaverse. I won’t repeat points made in my last essay, but if our realities are going increasingly digital, then it makes sense to have ownership of more digital goods. These assets not only make our life’s experiences better, but buying them also supports emerging artists and brands in ways that weren’t possible before due to gatekeepers, lopsided systems, and lack of access.
Last week, we deployed 25,000 NFTs called Adam Bomb Squad. Adam Bomb Squad (ABS) consists of combinations of different Adam, Badam, and Madam Bombs and backgrounds of custom patterns we’ve designed over 18 years. First and foremost, the NFTs act as membership cards to the most exclusive wing of The Hundreds. Perks include early access to popular clothing releases and special drops just for ABS holders. There will be events – both virtual and physical – for the Squad. Our future roadmap points to finding new ways to change the relationship between brands and consumers, where – through the utility of NFTs – the clothing wearers in the physical world can share in the upside of the brand’s success.
Secondarily, ABS is a history lesson in the brand. We have almost two decades of stories to share, of thoughtfulness and talent invested into these works of art. Therefore, we are offering something different with our collectibles. The artwork depicted in each ABS NFT was not rendered by a computer. This is not a generative project where the same character is layered with Mr. Potato Head decorations. Illustrations were hand-drawn, watercolors were painted, patterns were assembled by human designers making unique bombs. Furthermore, all 25,000 NFTs were curated and considered by both Ben and I (Founders of The Hundreds) as well as our core team. This being our first NFT project of this magnitude, we wanted our fingerprint on these and I hope that translates in the overall feel of the project.
Most NFT collectibles like ABS automatically end up on OpenSea (an eBay or Craigslist for NFTs), whether you list it for re-sale or not. If you own one, you may notice that you’re getting buyers bidding on your bombs already. Currently, the floor (meaning the cheapest one for sale) is about 4 or 5 times the original price that we set the bomb for. So, quick flippers can unload their ABS NFTs to catch a nice profit. The majority of our holders, however, are sitting tight. After buying them blind and waiting for them to hatch, everyone is anticipating the “reveal” of their bombs to see which ones they got and more importantly, how rare they are.
Resale has always powered collectibles markets. When I was a kid, I read Beckett magazine, a pricing guide for baseball cards. These rookie and error cards rose up and down the pages like stocks, depending on how few were out there in the marketplace. When I got into sneakers and streetwear as a teenager, the same framework applied. There were only so many vintage Jordans and Dunks on store shelves – especially before Nike started retro’ing them – and as more enthusiasts piled into the culture, the prices rose. The brands eventually capitalized on these dynamics and categorized product as “limited edition,” leaning into the rarity level of a piece. NFT collectibles follow the same train of thought. What makes certain NFTs more expensive than others is how “special” they are according to the attributes. Those CryptoPunks wearing purple hats I mentioned earlier? There aren’t as many of them, so they re-sell for about $100,000 more than an average Punk.
Adam Bomb Squad is also loaded with rarities and scored by infrequent attributes. This was by design, but also inherent in the artwork. Again, ABS is a history lesson. The Hundreds and our generation of streetwear mastered the game of limited distribution and Veblen goods, marrying the mindset of luxury with street collectibles. Therefore, rarities are relatively affixed to how prevalent the bombs and backgrounds were over the brand’s timeline. There’ve been seasons where The Hundreds was confined to tighter sales channels and those bombs will respond accordingly. There was a time before functional e-commerce, before DTC opened up the brand to a wider audience. There have also been years as of recent where we clamped down harder on Adam Bomb iterations as the brand took a different creative direction. Plus, there are so many brand guidelines that any time that Adam, Madam, or Badam broke a rule in the past, it’s come back to haunt us in the NFTs as a scarce trait. For example, the bombs are always meant to face to the right. So, imagine what happens if you get Adam turned the wrong way?
When NFTs reveal, it’s a big day because not only do you get to see which designs you bought, but how rare your NFT is according to the metadata listing the traits. The secondary marketplaces like OpenSea immediately publish the characteristics alongside your NFT and sites like Rarity Tools calibrate how special your purchase is. Immediately, the trades, the dumps, and the wins begin as buyers come in to scoop NFTs with higher point value, sellers cash out, and investors hold for the long run.
We aren’t going to do that.
Yes, upon reveal, you’ll get what you paid for: your Adam Bomb Squad NFT. This is your membership card, but highest of all, it’s a piece of art. We want you to appreciate the drawing and gauge how you feel about the combination you received. For just a brief window of time, we want to encourage the community to mind the creative part of all of this. This is bound to annoy some flippers and opportunists who are here to turn and burn NFTs. And it also foils some of the savvier buyers who take advantage of less sophisticated participants, prying a valuable bomb from their hands without proper understanding of the game. If nobody knows how rare their bomb is according to an algorithm, they’ll either a) hold tight and wait, b) sell them off out of frustration, or c) buy and sell according to which ABS bombs speak to them. We’re praying for more of the latter, especially as this project has onboarded so many new collectors into crypto. For much of our camp, this is their first NFT and we want to continue educating and protecting them. Plus, our community is attracted to certain bombs because of personal memories. I guarantee you there’ll be someone out there collecting Watermelon Adams, whether they’re rated floor or ceiling.
In a few days, we will post everyone’s metadata. I’ve written exhaustive stories for every bomb and every background that we’ve been leaking in our Discord. There are attributes specified from artistic styles down to whether Adam’s spark is lit. And if you follow our Discord, you already know the Black Adam is the rarest of them all, tracing back to our legendary Black Adam T-shirt, the most exclusive physical item from The Hundreds. We are all about re-selling NFTs and the investment side of all of this. That is part of the thrill and theater. We just don’t want people to forsake the cultural and artistic facets of the movement and this is our celebration of what’s most meaningful.
If you couldn’t already tell, we are in this for the long haul (and by “we,” I don’t mean The Hundreds, but our community). I’m excited for short-term wins and if people make gains off this in the near future, more power to them. Branding, however, is about pairing that love with longevity. I call it, “Passion and Patience.” I literally wrote the book on building brands around community. We are now taking all those principles, all those hard-won lessons, and applying them to Adam Bomb Squad. At the end of the day, everybody wants something limited, but if you hold an ABS NFT, you’re only 1 in 6,500+ unique members to this clubhouse (as of this writing). There are 8 billion people in the world and in the next month, in the next year, and in the next decade, we believe hundreds of millions of new people will come knocking on that door.
Meanwhile, you’re here with us, already inside the green 1s and 0s. Let’s party.
If you’ve watched the Woodstock ’99 doc, you know it’s less an analysis of music festivals as it is about displaced male rage and the anxious social climate as we teetered on the new millennium. 1999 was an awkward time for the world; it very much felt like we were neither here nor there, nervous about what Y2K might bring (or take). Or maybe that was just me, as I turned 19 in the year 1999. Not quite ready for the responsibilities of my 20s yet feeling distant and removed from my youth.
That same year, a movie called The Matrix premiered in theaters, architecting a cyberpunk universe around virtual reality and a classical hero named Neo. Keanu Reeves plays an average dude who jacks into the simulation and is reborn a Christ figure. Once he acknowledges his departure from the physical world and embraces his standing in the green grid of 1s and 0s, the possibilities are limitless. At the time, with the dawn of the Internet, many young people shared Neo’s enthusiasm and ambition around this brave new world. We were graduating from AOL chatrooms and finding each other on ICQ. And then, a website called Blogger launched in the late summer of ‘99 and changed everything. Once again, maybe the entire planet didn’t feel the ground shake, but I certainly did.
“Blog” was short for “web log” and it was a means to broadcast loud messages and connect with a borderless audience. Blogger addressed a lot of the problems that plagued traditional media. For one, it was relatively free and decentralized (not governed by the Big 6 media strongholds). Blogging was also efficient, immediate, and lowered the barrier of entry for desktop publishers. After years of cutting, gluing, and pasting physical ‘zines at Kinko’s to distribute to 100 punks at my local music venue, I could now blog to thousands, and then millions, of strangers from Detroit to Indonesia. In fact, I saw so much inherent value and opportunity in Blogging, that when Ben and I started The Hundreds four years later, we framed our clothing brand with the technology. Throughout history, fashion had been storytold exclusively through product and advertising. Blogging (and its later iteration, social media) changed that, erasing the line between logos and lifestyle, design and narrative.
We were one of the first clothing companies in the world to capitalize on the power of a dynamic web. In the early 2000s, a startup T-shirt label from LA called thehundreds.com was attracting as many eyeballs as a Gucci HTML page. Most fashion designers used their websites to publicize a CONTACT US button or static lookbook. They rarely updated their dotcoms. Meanwhile, you could refresh The Hundreds’ front page 2-3 a day and be surprised with fresh material. The hyperactivity of our blog communicated streetwear’s galvanic energy to an impressionable new customer. This first generation of the Internet (Web 1) also granted independent brands the freedom and power to circumnavigate gatekeepers and media middlemen. In those days, it cost $10,000 USD to take out an ad in Complex Magazine. Through Blogs, upstart designers like The Hundreds without any connections, clout, or money could now tell their story in their own words and meet customers on their own terms*.
*I should clarify that the technology wasn’t the key component that brought The Hundreds to the world. For the Blog to work, it required a writer and a photographer and most importantly, someone who saw the benefits of tending to a community and cared enough to do it. Most technology can’t replace the creator’s ideas or intent. However, technology can accelerate an artist’s vision.
For the next ten years, Blogging and social media amplified and expedited our mission in streetwear. Then the rest of the brands caught up, thanks to centralized Web 2 applications like WordPress and Instagram. In the decade and a half since, this marriage of Blog and Brand has become Business and revolutionized how companies and commerce perform. Yet, there has been relatively low innovation otherwise with regards to both fashion and technology. On the tech side, the platforms swap out and e-commerce gets more sophisticated, but we’ve become complacent with the system and stagnant with the breakthroughs. We’ve acquiesced that this is the Internet in its final form when the truth is that Web 3 is just beginning. The next evolution of the Internet – NFTs, blockchain – is inspiring and stimulating me in a way I haven’t felt since Blogger launched twenty years ago. And a lot of that excitement has to do with, once again, a revised approach to fashion.
Although the concept has been floating around for some time, the science fiction writer Neal Stephenson coined the term “Metaverse” in his 1992 novel, Snow Crash.
“Hiro’s not actually here at all. He’s in a computer-generated universe that his computer is drawing onto his goggles and pumping into his earphones. In the lingo, this imaginary place is known as the Metaverse.”
Ever since, futurists and blockbuster movies alike have referenced the term for a reality that is tethered to both a digital and physical experience. In The Matrix, Neo is immersed in a fantasy world of red dresses and bending spoons while physically wired into a post-apocalyptic dentist’s chair. The metaverse is different from solely virtual reality and it’s not necessarily a game or an Internet thing. It’s this idea that there is a universe beyond (aka “meta”) the one we’ve known and participated in. In this metaverse, rules are being written, societies are being built, and new realities constructed.
“When Hiro goes into the Metaverse and looks down the Street and sees buildings and electric signs stretching off into the darkness, disappearing over the curve of the globe, he is actually staring at the graphic representations—the user interfaces—of a myriad different pieces of software that have been engineered by major corporations.”
The working theory is that we will build atop the tech to mirror our lives here in the physical world. There will be no hard line drawn between this reality and the next. One day it will hit us that we have already been living a full metaverse existence, one where our physical and digital lives are inextricable and unmanageable without the other.
For many of us, that awakening was the pandemic. It wasn’t just food delivery apps and streaming services that made the lockdown transition more seamless than it would have been mere years ago. While Zooms handily replaced meetings, our social relationships stayed intact because our friendships are hoisted up by digital rebar. There are many friends I haven’t seen in five months, ten years, or decades that I maintain an unbroken rapport with virtually. Some of these people, I’ve never met in person at all! And yet, we’ve shared deep conversations in forums, worked together over DMs, and built memories in groupchats like any other IRL relationship. It wasn’t long ago that we defined friends as online or “In Real Life.” Today, that distinction is evaporating.*
*Spike Jonze’s 2013 movie “Her,” in which Joaquin Phoenix’s character builds a romantic connection with an AI that he’ll never encounter in his physical life, doesn’t seem so outlandish in the year 2021.
Not only is our social life already grounded in the metaverse, so is much of our identity. Last year, we used filters to alter our appearances, posted black squares and blue stripes to declare our political stances, and farmed carrots in Animal Crossing to feel productive and purposeful in a flat and motionless season (all while binging Tiger King, prostrate on the couch in tie-dyed sweatpants by a DTC brand). In the metaverse, we can be whomever we want, unfettered by physical constraints, geography, even race, class, and gender. Video games allow unlikely athletes to be e-sports champions. Editing apps bless those with beauty. In Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One, Aech’s avatar in the OASIS is a white heterosexual male. In the physical world, Aech’s name is Helen Harris, a Black lesbian. As the world around us decays and grows more inhospitable – whether due to climate change, pandemics, political differences, or social collapse, the metaverse becomes more enticing as a refuge*.
*The thought leader Balaji Srinivasan talks about pseudonymity in the metaverse (the ability to commandeer multiple identities and profiles) as a foil to cancel culture. Whereby cancelling one of your pseudonyms doesn’t take down your entirety. You can simply pivot to another avatar and continue your life and livelihood.
If you can accept that we’re already steeped in the metaverse, that our bodies remain in the physical world while our brains are increasingly minding a digital life (are you having trouble concentrating on your dinner date, anxious to return to a developing conversation or situation on your phone?), then it only follows that there needs to be some type of protocol to establish ownership, goods, and property in cyberspace. The apt currency to trade in this galaxy of virtual worlds are crypto coins like Bitcoin, Cardano, and Doge. My sons call Ethereum my Star Wars money and it certainly sounds like something Watto barters for on Mos Espa. Planet Earth has been slow and cautious in accepting Jedi cash, so in the metaverse, NFTs are commodities and utilities to spend cryptocurrency and accrue value with digital investments. Even my grade-school sons appreciate how a fist full of Robux (Roblox) or V-Bucks (Fortnite) enhances their life over a $20 USD bill at Target.
Speaking of which, we should probably start by discussing why humans need to own anything at all. At some point, we went from cavemen with no possessions, to hunter-gatherers, to hoarders stashing sneakers and rare vinyl. We own some things for utility and survival. Then there are those items that are imbued with sentiment and fill an emotional need. We also own things to decorate our lives, to make our environment more tolerable or beautiful. And we hold onto much of our possessions because they express who we are. In his book Subculture*, Dick Hebdige talks about how punks upset the wardrobe with anti-establishment symbols** to fight the hegemony.
* If there was a bible upon which The Hundreds is spiritualized upon, it’s probably Subculture by Dick Hebdige. Although written in 1979, I didn’t discover the book until – you guessed it – 1999!
** “There was a chaos of quiffs and leather jackets, brothel creepers and winkle pickers, plimsolls and paka macs, moddy crops and skinhead strides, drainpipes and vivid socks, bum freezers and bovver boots – all kept ‘in place’ and ‘out of time’ by the spectacular adhesives: the safety pins and plastic clothes pegs, the bondage straps and bits of string which attracted so much horrified and fascinated attention.”
It’s hard to judge which pieces of property are essential. How do you weigh the necessity of an heirloom against an appliance? But you can debate their costs and detriments, especially when it comes to the environment.
Look around. Chances are that you have too much stuff. I’ve spent the last two weekends editing my closet of clutter and feel like I’ve barely made a dent. It’s a problem that weighs on my mind, considering the type of work that I do. I run a streetwear clothing brand here in Los Angeles. We’ve generated truckloads of T-shirts, denim, baseball caps, and jackets. And although we’re doing what we can to re-purpose apparel via a vintage program (Greatest Hits), incorporate recycled water and cottons in production, and employ sustainable materials, there is no doubt that we contribute to gratuitous waste. The sustainability question is a real thorn for the fashion industry because if you only look at the utility aspect of apparel – to protect us from the elements and insulate us from exposure – then we have enough clothing to last us a lifetime. No matter how environmentally conscious brands are with their manufacturing, the very existence of new fashion is problematic in an unforgiving, black-and-white world.
“Many are making it look as if the fashion industry are starting to take responsibility, by spending fantasy amounts on campaigns where they portray themselves as ‘sustainable,’ ‘ethical,’ ‘green,’ ‘climate neutral’ and ‘fair.’ But let’s be clear: This is almost never anything but pure green washing. You cannot mass produce fashion or consume ‘sustainably’ as the world is shaped today. That is one of the many reasons why we will need a system change.”
– Greta Thunberg, climate activist, Vogue Scandinavia, August 8, 2021
The type of clothing I design and make is especially prickly because it’s artistically, socially, and identity driven. I believe in the virtues of Art and Design and how fashion can make people feel happy, special, and part of a community. But, is there a way to accomplish these functions without taxing the environment and exacerbating the climate crisis?
This is an awkward re-entry point for the metaverse conversation as the computers that house simulated environments and mine cryptocurrency transactions devour energy at an alarming rate. Although bitcoin mining is starting to clean up its act and Ethereum is transitioning the blockchain to a proof-of-stake system, even Elon Musk rescinded his crypto co-sign earlier this year because of its environmental impact. Bitcoin’s network, according to Fortune, “uses more power per year than Pakistan or the United Arab Emirates.” Of course, there is the rebuttal that any and all computer activity harms the planet. “The average impact of a user on Instagram is 18.6 gEqCO2 / day, the equivalent of 166 meters traveled by a light vehicle.” And back to fashion, making one T-shirt eats “up to 120 liters of water per wear, and contributes 0.01 kilogram of carbon dioxide per wear, just from dyeing alone.” This, before you factor in the energy costs to print, the chemicals in the ink, and shipping and freighting these T-shirts between factories and to the end-consumer. Oh, and then there’s what happens to the T-shirt once it dies….
Since we’re ruminating on a fantasy world, let’s indulge a bit and imagine a future where crypto carries through with its promise to run cleaner. The metaverse could solve many of fashion’s environmental issues and maybe it already does. Consider the blue Verified check, a badge of distinction. The real-world equivalent might be something akin to a friends-and-family pair of AF1s, a Rolex watch, or a medal of honor. In 1974, Umberto Eco wrote, “not only the expressly intended communicative object . . . but every object may be viewed . . . as a sign.” Donning a graphical logo in your profile picture is not unlike hanging it on your back. They are both acts of affinity, announcing your association with a lifestyle to your friend group. Except one of these things projects and the other pollutes.
A “GOT ‘EM” screen-grab off Nike’s SNKRS app holds as much weight as wearing the sought-after shoes to a party. Most of us who are fashion-aware could tell you all about Kanye’s GAP “round jacket,” the levitating puffy coat having flooded our feed enough times to commit to memory. Yet, we’ve never seen one in “real life,” considering the actual jackets aren’t even made yet. Meanwhile, the coveted pieces are just as ubiquitous as illuminated pixels as they would be stretched across reams of nylon. Billboard-sized projections of the jacket are currently blasted onto the sides of buildings in New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles.
In a more direct and literal sense, brands are already designing clothing for the metaverse. The social status aspect of fashion is on the move from cotton to pixels. Video games have been doing this for years. My children are well-practiced in shopping for digital outfits in games like Fortnite, more conscious of their Valorant skins than the types of T-shirts they wear on the playground. Shops like BNV.me, artists like Stephy Fung, and sneaker brands like RTFKT are creating and selling metaverse fashion that run parallel to what you might find stocked at Dover Street Market. Virgil Abloh recently hinted that he is working on dressing you for the next world with the help of venture capitalist and essayist Matthew Ball. It’s only a matter of months before the social apps flip the switch on for NFTs. Just like you can pull a Disney princess filter over your face in Stories or Snapchat, you’ll be able to wear your favorite digital sweatshirt on TikTok. There will be an IG tab to showcase all the NFT art you’ve collected with the capabilities to trade them on the blockchain (NFT art can stand for everything from a motion graphic to a scan of an oil painting to a pair of Bode shorts).
THE FUTURE OF FASHION
Having said that, on the topic of metaverse clothing, what excites me the most is not the mirroring of physical garments in the virtual world. It’s thinking beyond the confines and constructs of logistics and tradition and norms. This is where I envision NFTs and the metaverse really changing the game. There are two prongs that will drive the future of fashion:
1) the reimagining of design and
2) the rethinking of brand and business
For as long as I can remember, I’ve kept a copy of the Codex Seraphinianus on my desk. Published in 1981, the Codex is a meticulously detailed encyclopedia of a fantasy world, illustrated and told by the artist Luigi Serafini. Included are colorful drawings of bizarre food eaten in this imaginary space, wedged between chapters of made-up ecosystems and fabricated science. Even the text is comprised of a fake language that Serafini distills down to an alphabet and vocabulary in the appendix. While the creatures and customs are reminiscent of our world, Serafini designs the plants and chemistry beyond the scope of our earthly limitations. In the fashion chapter, the garments could dress the cast of the Hunger Games or Alice in Wonderland. Flashlights project out from the chest, umbrellas are worn as hats, and shirt sleeves loop infinitely into themselves.
While fashion has been pinched and pulled for centuries, the useful innovation has stayed within the parameters of human anatomy, legal and ethical boundaries, and the laws of physics. In the metaverse, our avatars don’t have to play by any of these rules (Note: In Snow Crash, Stephenson stipulates that, “your avatar can’t be any taller than you are. This is to prevent people from walking around a mile high”). Not only can we identify with the gender and weight we feel most comfortable with, but we can also be cartoon trees, bored apes, or a foggy orb wrapped in bacon. If one of our pseudonyms is a purple duck, then physical-world shoe design won’t accommodate our webbed feet. A COVID face mask won’t fit our wide bill. And do pants go over or under our feathery tail? This sounds silly, but you can see how traditional fashion can quickly fall obsolete when the template for design centers around a slender, proportionate European male or female with two arms and legs. If you add a seventh arm or a second head, how does that impact the garment’s silhouette, where to draw emphasis, and the way the fabric drapes? Do you need to wear shoes or belts in the metaverse if gravity doesn’t apply? Do you need clothes at all if there are different thresholds of nudity? What if you aren’t a corporeal being?
Because exposure and weather are less of a dire concern for clothing in the metaverse, there is an accent on the social function of apparel and accessories. On the other side of the screen, fashion will be more about identity, tribalism, status, and self-expression than ever before. The difference is that those statements won’t be relegated to a T-shirt graphic, a red hat, or a pin on a lapel. Like a Plumbob in a Sims game, that signifier may come in an oscillating pink diamond hanging over your head. Fashion doesn’t have to just be dresses and jackets anymore. Fashion can be polka-dotted skin, 37 rabbits circling you like a hula hoop, or a liquid sweater that’s 11 miles wide.
THE FUTURE OF BUSINESS
While we’re rethinking fashion design, we should also take another look at the business behind it. As I write this, I’m wearing a pair of Brazil Dunks. The Nike swoosh is one of the rare logos I wear like a uniform, even though I am not friends with the founders or get paid by the company to promote for them. I believe that Nike executes superior design and aligns the best partnerships. Yet, my unquestioned loyalty to the swoosh sometimes makes me think back to wearing large skate logos on oversized T-shirts as a teenager.
“You look like a walking billboard,” my mom would remark. “Why do you want to advertise for some corporation that doesn’t care about you?”
Of course, the answer was nothing more than, “Because it’s cool, mom. You’ll never understand!” But the further explanation was that I felt like I was a part of a lifestyle and subculture by wearing that logo. A “Think” tag or “New Deal” graphic was a quick ID on a core, authentic skater. With my brand, The Hundreds, we’ve also sold a similar meaning behind our logo and mascot, Adam Bomb. Young people from around the world have proudly sported the cartoon to exhibit their ties to streetwear, love for Los Angeles culture, or empathy with The Hundreds’ point-of-view.
Beyond the usefulness or quality of a product, people commit to brand names because of 3 things:
3) Sense of Ownership.
Yet, while wearing Nike tells the world something about my identity, while dressing in The Hundreds offers our customers a community, neither of us retain any skin in the game. That disparity in ownership betrays a big disconnect in the brand-consumer relationship, one that until now has been dismissed because there was nothing to be done to fix it.
When I started delving into NFTs back in December, what most intrigued me was the postulate that social media companies have made 100% of the revenue off the creative content that its users publish on their platforms. This explains why these corporations have become the biggest — and their founders the wealthiest — in the world. Twitter generated $3.7 billion USD revenue in 2020, an 8.8% increase year over year. Meanwhile, Facebook’s advertising revenue was $84.2 Billion USD (they’ve more than doubled since 2017). Everyday creators know their work has value. They’ve just been convinced over the last decade that there isn’t a market for their art or ideas and that the clout associated with posting free content is just as valuable as currency.*
*Plus, there just weren’t many viable solutions on centralized platforms to be compensated for content (subscription sites like OnlyFans have experienced rapid growth in response).
Designers and clothing companies also hold a disproportionate relationship with their patrons in that the customers advertise brands without being compensated equitably. Travis Scott catches a check from Nike because the culture deems him an influential person. But, every time I wear the Check over Stripes, I’m a Nike influencer too. In fact, anyone who has a following – whether you have 600 people on TikTok or 3 people who admire your shoes at the barbershop – is an influencer. Nike shouldn’t pay us equal royalties for helping them move product (Travis sells millions of sneakers while I’ve maybe convinced my dad to grab a pair of Monarchs on sale), but if there was a device that could measure an influencer’s impact and grant them some of the upside in a brand’s success, then everybody wins. The consumer is incentivized to wear the company’s product because they now hold all 3 cards: Identity, Community, and Ownership. And the brand gains greater visibility in the marketplace.
ADAM BOMB SQUAD
Along with Blogger and the Matrix, there was one other seismic development in 1999: Napster. The peer-to-peer MP3 sharing software broke the music industry, which up until that point, bottled music in $12.99 plastic discs, distributed from behind a monolith of big box retail. Once the floodgates torrented open, the fans reclaimed the power in the label-listener balance. They dictated how music should be consumed: quality singles, instead of paying for 11 shitty tracks. Music became more discoverable and shareable. Napster’s greatest legacy, however, was in taking music online.
Whenever friends of mine have trouble grasping the intangible nature of NFTs, I point to music. As a borderline boomer, I still have trouble discarding my CD wallets and cartons of cassettes, even though there’s no stereo in my car or boombox at home to play them. I’m still emotionally bound to these jewel cases and liner notes, but it’s time that I accept that music has been invisible for twenty years. We don’t even store files anymore, we stream sounds off a cloud, whatever that means. Napster was instrumental in this paradigm shift – in how the business around music is conducted, but also in how music is received and enjoyed.
In the next few weeks, The Hundreds will be unleashing an NFT project titled Adam Bomb Squad, comprised of unique, 1-of-1 jpegs of characters. The bombs will only be available for a short window of time before what doesn’t sell “blows up.” There have been hundreds, if not thousands of NFT collections minted recently, inspired by the very first NFT, Larva Labs’ CryptoPunks. Some of the more popular “avatar” collectibles would be the Bored Ape Yacht Club, ArtBlocks, Cool Cats, Glue Factory Horses, and the Vogu Collective. Adam Bomb Squad shares a lot of the same principles as the other sets. Think of these NFTs as sports cards or sneakers with built-in rarities (a specific colorway, a special background) and the ability to buy, sell, and trade the bombs on the secondary market.
However, our project is different from the rest on multiple levels. First, it tells the 18-year-old story of The Hundreds. While every other NFT collectible is setting up a new universe, ours recalls a deeply ingrained history that has intersected with our community throughout their lives. Every single bomb and background pattern is pulled from a season between the years 2003 and 2021, corresponding with milestones and memories that our customers have cherished along the way.
As is customary, we will be anointing NFT holders with perks like exclusive merchandise and early links to drops. Our dreams are outrunning the infrastructure, but a major unlock with these NFTs will be in resolving that outstanding Ownership piece in promoting a brand. We are working on technology to allow Adam Bomb Squad NFT holders to 1) buy The Hundreds clothing featuring their bomb, and 2) be rewarded for the sales on the clothing to others. We want The Hundreds to win, but there’s no reason why our community shouldn’t also partake in the upside.
The first stage of Adam Bomb Squad begins as a digital mirroring of streetwear. Our community will pick up these JPEGs the way they would collect T-shirts. They’ll wear them as their avatars. They’ll deep-dive into the rarities and stories. The long-term goal, however, is that Adam Bomb Squad will institute a new way of conducting and consuming brands – streetwear, fashion, and beyond.
Like Napster changed how we engage with music, our mission is to onboard new users to the blockchain and NFTs and equip them for a future in the simulation. We’ve introduced many to streetwear over the generations (supported by Blog technology) and now we want to be the first to walk them into the metaverse (with the aid of NFTs). It’s not uncommon for fans to approach me in public and profess how they grew up reading thehundreds.com or discovered sneakers and Supreme because of The Hundreds. Years from now, I look forward to hearing, “You were the first NFT I owned” or even better, “You opened my eyes to the metaverse.”
In Snow Crash, Neal Stephenson’s metaverse is called The Street: “a grand boulevard going all the way around the equator of a black sphere with a radius… considerably bigger than Earth.” The author later clarifies, “the Street does not really exist—it’s just a computer-graphics protocol written down on a piece of paper somewhere—none of these things is being physically built.”
The world I come from, Streetwear, also traces its origins to a hypothetical street. Although we dawdled around the Lower East Side and lined up on Harajuku, even though we hang our hat(s) on the Rosewood corner of LA’s Fairfax District, the “street” in “streetwear” is code for the cultures and subcultures that fostered us. The “street” can take the form of a BMX track, a sunset wave, or a sneakerhead message board.
Before COVID took hold, there was a lot of discourse around the state of streetwear in end-of-decade editorial. The 2010s had witnessed an underground fashion movement seize the mainstream spotlight. Streetwear was Everywear: on everyone and everywhere. Louis Vuitton’s Virgil Abloh predicted in a Dazed interview that the party wouldn’t last: “Its time will be up. In my mind, how many more t-shirts can we own, how many more hoodies, how many sneakers?”
I kinda love the narrative that the first NFTs were Larva Labs’ CryptoPunks because the original UK punks circa 1979 also challenged and reshaped fashion’s definition. Eventually, punk style became too popular and played out, just like streetwear’s overexposure. If Hebdige were to concur with Virgil and re-write Subculture today, he’d suggest that it’s time to offer streetwear new meaning.
“Thus, as soon as the original innovations which signify ‘subculture’ are translated into commodities and made generally available, they become ‘frozen’. Once removed from their private contexts by the small entrepreneurs and big fashion interests who produce them on a mass scale, they become codified, made comprehensible, rendered at once public property and profitable merchandise.
Youth cultural styles may begin by issuing symbolic challenges, but they must inevitably end by establishing new sets of conventions; by creating new commodities, new industries or rejuvenating old ones.”
Greta Thunberg did call for a system change…
A couple weeks before Virgil’s quote in Dazed, I also proclaimed that streetwear was dead, but in the sense that it’s constantly culminating and renewing: “The streetwear generation is about regeneration.” The takeaway from this essay echoed my memoir, This Is Not a T-Shirt. Streetwear is boundless because the ethos exists beyond the clothing. It’s beyond the pavement and beyond… the physical. All things considered, at this juncture, doesn’t it make the most sense for streetwear to dress the metaverse?
“Streetwear transcends dress and music, just like rock n’ roll set the philosophical tone for an era. Streetwear defined a generational attitude toward art and commerce, brand-building, and financial autonomy. It was like punk, but about selling. It was like business, but not about selling out.
‘Streetwear.’ Over the next ten years, perhaps we’ll call hoodies and hats something else, because ‘streetwear’ will be applied to tech…”
Is Metawear too… meta?
If you are confused about NFTs and want to start at the beginning, first off, understand that we’re all wondering. That’s the point. We’re working together to piece the definition, so don’t trust anyone who claims to have a solid grasp of the subject matter. In February, I wrote about as much as I understood on NFTs – at the time – HERE.
Join The Hundreds’ Discord and follow our socials (@thehundreds) for updates on Adam Bomb Squad.
As a child, my parents encouraged me to journal. This was pre-Internet, before blogs; at the time, it was popular for kids to scribble their private thoughts in padlocked diaries at bedtime. I doodled cartoons and wrote bad jokes or riddles. I also mulled over broader philosophical questions and I thought a lot about race. “Race is mankind’s greatest question,” I jotted down, “and knowing mankind, there is no answer.” Maybe it was around the LA Riots in 1992 or perhaps I had just learned about Vincent Chin or the internment camps, but I wasn’t unique in wondering these things. As we grow up, we are confronted with the stark reality of race, a reality that we chew and digest for the rest of our lives. Even when I speak to my own children about race, they are confused. Why are we designed in different colors? Especially when those categories are so politically charged and can cause division and injury?
My brother Larry, a pastor in Boston, was on the sidewalk. “Hey, Chinese guy!” this man yelled. “Are you gonna cross the road or do Kung-Fu?” Instead of picking a fight or swallowing the remark, Larry approached the driver with a word of introduction. It wasn’t until they were talking that Larry realized the man was wearing a The Hundreds hat. Over the course of a patient conversation, they actually became friendly. As he was driving off, the man told my brother, “Only real gangsters can wear The Hundreds!”
Sometimes, this anecdote reads as hopeful, sometimes I laugh at the absurdity. But mostly, I’m infuriated. Why did this dude feel the need to level a stranger like that? As I write about in my book, racism abbreviates a complete human being. I think that’s why it’s so viscerally repulsive. It’s beyond ignorant and uneducated. It’s against our nature.
I’m older now and as lost as ever on why race exists. Sure, it provides community and endows people with a firm, distinct identity. But, perhaps race also gives people a reason to cross the street and meet at an intersection. I think about the world that white supremacists want and the homogeneity sounds incredibly boring, if not depressing. Race, meanwhile, is an immediate distinction between you and another person, one that can be a curious unknown. What if differences aren’t meant to keep apart, but to coaelsce? What if borders between nations aren’t there to demarcate, but to bind together? All these years later and I’m in the same place. I do have to say, however, that I was wrong about knowing mankind there would be no answer. I think mankind IS the answer.
There were two instances of men picking fights with me today. One was in the water, right here off the shoulder on PCH. I found myself embroiled in a surf entanglement, ironically against ocean spray and the bluest sky. A hunched, older man – a salty dog – accused me of intruding on his wave and denied my apology. His bloodshot eyes bulged, his fists pounded his board like a toddler throwing a tantrum. I felt bad for this curmudgeon; he was consumed by an unbridled rage that preceded this argument and he’d be bound to for years to come. Any retort I could’ve given would pale in comparison to the toxins that orbited his universe.
The other, a streetwear beef thing. Even sillier. A snarky Instagram dig by a bitter ex-friend, a gossipy sizzle amongst the community. This news broke when I was out enjoying the holiday with my children. I was treating them to a trip to the Pokemon card shop. This individual did his best to steal our afternoon together. I didn’t give him the opportunity.
“Hate is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.”
It was either Buddha, Malachy McCourt, or Mandela who said it best (When quotes are hard to place, that tells me that they’re universally felt). So much of my young life was articulated by Hate, but anger and vitriol hold less meaning to me with time. I see them for what they are: impediments, nuisances. I’m on a mission, I wake up each morning with purpose, and Hate’s only job is to distract me from my goal. Or to derail me entirely. Fuck that. I don’t have enough time.
My problem is that Hate feels warm and familiar. It’s galvanizing and electric. Whether I’m projecting that energy or on the receiving end, it’s a shiny new toy to gnaw on. But, Hate takes more than it gives. It eats so much bandwidth. Like coming off a howling bender, Hate saps us of strength and leaves us cold and confused. It’s a debilitating, unmerciful cancer in the form of a fidget spinner.
Hate is a waste of everything, I really don’t know why we have it. I’m simply not interested. I’ve got so much to do and so much love to accept.
Tonight, I choose to sleep peacefully, having seen my children and our memories of today clearly.
It was just a couple months ago that I wrote primers on NFTs to help orient our audience around the crypto art wave. Today, Non-Fungible Tokens have gone mainstream, starring in Saturday Night Live skits, with celebrities like The Weeknd and Takashi Murakami partaking, and brand names like Funko and Taco Bell onboard. The music industry has been shaken, the art world has been tested, NFTs are growing so fast that they’ve already survived a couple cancel-culture cycles.
Yet, as forward and futuristic as this all is, NFTs are spiritually rooted in the decades-old cultural phenomenon of Streetwear. Consider how NFT marketplaces work on a Drop schedule, the Limited Edition nature of the goods, and the emphasis on secondary market resale. Every time I meet a leader in crypto art, they readily acknowledge how NFT practitioners are inspired by the collectability, coolness, and rarity of brands like Supreme, Off-White, and Nike.
Two of those pioneers were John Watkinson and Matt Hall, the “creative technologists” behind CryptoPunks: the very first NFT. In early 2017, Matt and John ran an experiment, assembling 10,000, 8-bit style, punk characters, each one of them with unique attributes. They gave them away for free, and for the most part, those images sat uneventfully online for a few years. In 2020, with the pandemic pushing us deeper into our phones, life in the metaverse started making a lot more sense, as did digital ownership. CryptoPunks exploded.
Today, those digital Punks are flipping for anywhere between $40,000 and $7.5 Million USD (!). Because there’s such a limited supply of these collectables, there’s all sorts of speculation. Some believe Punks will be the last NFT standing. There’s even a theory that the couple thousand Punk owners out there will one day be the richest in the world. On the ground level, Punks have been adopted as identities – oftentimes as a crypto collector’s avatar – if not a badge that says you’re a member of the NFT tribe.
Tomorrow (Sunday) night, The Hundreds is releasing a very special collaboration with CryptoPunks. Matt and John wished to keep it ultra-limited (50 hats for sale). They also wanted to make the actual Purple Hat (a trending, trademark Punks attribute). And for whatever reason, they requested we stick to the Zombie (instead of the Alien, Gorilla, or a straight-up Punk). This snap-back embodies many firsts: their first collab, our first time working with a crypto artist… It also bridges the physical collector’s space and the crypto world. To me, it brings NFTs and Streetwear full circle. And The Hundreds is right there, in the center of it all.
“Only to the extent that we expose ourselves over and over to annihilation can that which is indestructible in us be found.”
– Pema Chodron
So, when they said robots would one day destroy us, I pictured square steel monsters shooting laser beams from their eyes. Or, something more eerie and android: superhuman, zombie armies of cyborgs in the vein of I, Robot or Terminator. I never imagined these robots would sneak up under our noses in the shape of phone apps and home assistant devices with people names. Recording our behavior, selling our data off to corporations so that they could find us and drown us with material distractions and debt.
These robots would feed our insatiable appetite for information, and once we were hooked, indulge us with an impossible amount of news and content to absorb – ungodly helpings that drive a human mad with anxiety or worse, contempt with self-righteousness.
These killer robots powered “social networks,” which were put in place to further isolate us into our echo chambers, turn brother against sister, and dupe us into baring our most private and unformed thoughts with total strangers. Social networks stoked our primitive desire for acceptance by coaxing us to share our darkest secrets – the ones meant for our community to help us face and process – not suitable for a public square or even less forgiving, the court of public opinion.
Robots removed context from our narrative, they stripped us of nuance that makes us complex and human. Robots auto-tuned our art, they made us comparative instead of competitive. We traded brilliance for convenience. We didn’t want the best of anything as much as we wanted it fast and plenty, so that we could have more time. To do what with exactly? Tend to our robots.
Robots made us mediocre and unhealthy – not just in body, but of mind. They stole our most valuable asset – our attention –and made the world endless and exhausting, so we were never fulfilled. We assumed we weren’t enough for ourselves, but really, we just weren’t enough for a robot world.
These robots convinced us that our disagreements were irreparable; ideas outside of our own were laughable at best, and at worst, to be extinguished. Only the loudest and most severe voices were given preferential treatment by the robots, not the factual and prevalent as these were construed as pedestrian. We only had time now for splashy headlines, not bodies of stories. A newspaper that runs solely on headlines is neither fair nor real, but we took them for truth. And with the aid of the robots, we then published our own news and truths and nobody cared about news and truth anymore.
The robots didn’t sleep or rest. They worked forever, without food or vacations or healthcare. The men who hired these robots were happy with their choice, so that they could make more money to buy more robots. These robots took on the work we didn’t want to do, and then they stole the work we needed to do, and so we were left purposeless.
And in this way, robots defeated us. It didn’t happen one day, but over many, and it wasn’t the robots at first, but our greed, our narcissism, and our apathy that walked the robots in. Until one day, we sat up and realized that the robots surrounded and controlled us, and we didn’t know how to manage our lives without their guidance or assistance. They were as much a part of our identity as we were of theirs. As with a dogwalker who is being dragged by a wayward beast, it became trickier to determine who owned who.
The one thing these robots could never be was broken. Conversely, we needed to be fixed always. The only ones who could help us do that, we remembered, were the others like us. We were naturally equipped with tools like empathy and compassion to heal. With arms to hold and eyes to tear. The restorative process, the human bonding, were inefficient in the robots’ opinion. There was no financial incentive in bridging relationships. It took too much time. It was boring. Yet, we were engineered to need Love and give Love and in this way, the robots were confounded and useless.
We were reminded then that robots are made better and perfect and exciting. And we were never meant to be so. What made us valuable were our imperfections and shortcomings and failures. Because in those errors – those weaknesses – was room for growth, which is what life is all about, isn’t it? Progression. Our existence isn’t just about winning the race or knowing the most. It’s about running and tripping, and then learning and advancing.
The next morning, we awoke and acknowledged the greatest collective mistake. We had granted the robots too much room in our lives and far too much credit. They made us faster and stronger, but we were already fast and strong. They made us money and showered us with glory, but we had enough and were inherently glorious. The robots needed us to have purpose, not the other way around. From then on, we lived with them and still used them, but we were glad to not be stainless like them. And, we were happy to realize this together.
A couple of years ago, Gary Vaynerchuk invited me to a DM groupchat about investing in baseball cards. I didn’t get it. I mean, I grew up trading cards and still have my 3-ring binders, but I didn’t understand the mechanics of sports collectibles as modern investments. For decades, 40-year-old virgin hoarders – I mean collectors – have been jeered for believing that stockpiling Garbage Pail Kids and Star Wars figures in our youth would ever amount to a retirement payout. Being a 40-year-old virgin hoarder myself, I was skeptical.
“Bobby, trust me,” Gary texted, “Buy this LeBron card on eBay. It’ll grow in value.” I didn’t. And Gary turned out to be right. It was a thousand dollars at the time, but today, that card is hundreds of thousands. I had it right in front of me and I blew it! I’ll be honest. Sometimes, it nags at me that I could’ve effortlessly made 5x my money flipping rookie cards over selling clothing.
If you were around when social media started, you remember this word: FOMO. In 2004, author Patrick J. McGinnis coined the acronym for “Fear Of Missing Out” in response to the nature of smartphones and Instagram reminding everyone that they weren’t a part of something that could make their life better. At the time, these important moments were parties or TV shows. “How do you not know about this?!” FOMO was born out of fear of being left behind, left out of the conversation, and stems back to a childhood anxiety of being the last one picked on the playground.
FOMO never left the social media experience. It just mutated like a COVID variant. In the worst sense, I think people grew so aware of FOMO, that they learned how to weaponize it and capitalize on it to either injure or manipulate others (Marketers can attest to that…). FOMO is also what’s catalyzed politics and activism over the last several years. People fear not having the information to keep them safe from racists, from a virus, even from shame and cancellation for not speaking the correct vernacular or moving about their social life in accordance with a standard of responsibility. And whether we’re conscious of it or not, FOMO is now baked into a weekly Wednesday cycle of current affairs. How do you not know about Nik’s Dior Jordans at the inauguration, GameStop stonks, Bitcoin all-time-highs, and the Texas freeze?! As fragmented as the Internet has made us and our interests, we are all more rhythmically bound to the same water-cooler moments than ever.
Lately, I’ve been sharing a lot about cryptomedia and NFTs. The response has been overwhelming from fellow artists who want to tap into the space to get their work seen. But, I’ve also noticed this frantic alarm from creators who feel like they’re too late. Many feel frustrated for not entirely understanding the concept. They’re banging down the Clubhouse doors trying to access the information and are worried they’re losing out on that “better life.”
For one, FOMO is a collective lie. Your better life is always the one in front of you, with the resources and relationships at your disposal. Secondarily, especially with zeitgeist trends, have faith that the worthy ideas take time and thoughtfulness to sustainably build. NFTs will take years to properly coalesce as a mainstream infrastructure. The truth is nobody totally understands it; we are constructing the definition together, making history, every passing day. Bitcoin’s been around for a little over a decade and just now does it seem like the world is taking it seriously. Like cryptocurrency, NFTs are an (ALT) investment, and a long-term investment at that. This is not only an investment in digital collectibles, but an investment in thinking differently about ownership, new financial systems, a revised approach to wealth sharing and how art is appreciated.
A month ago, Gary tweeted, “Sports cards and Pokemon ect (sic) – graded cards are about to have a wild explosion… most think they missed it .. it hasn’t even started.” And, I agree. Just the fact that you’re wondering about NFTs and baseball cards right now means you’re ahead of the curve. And if you’re not? If you miss the curve completely (Like I did with that LeBron card)? That’s totally fine also. One thing I’ve learned is that having the knowledge and access to an opportunity is not enough juice to seize it. You also have to hold the passion and care, otherwise you won’t last. Different hearts are wired to latch onto different loves, so don’t dive into a venture simply because you’re afraid of missing the boat. There’s another boat out there specifically tailored for you. And you won’t be the one swimming after it. You’ll be driving it.
As you know, the media has been reporting a recent rise in hate crimes towards Asian-Americans, especially the elderly. It’s heartbreaking and infuriating. But, I’m not gonna outline infographics, share anecdotal experiences with racism, or teach an Asian-American history lesson here. There are better-informed activists and leaders who’ve done the work (see @amandangocnguyen @nextshark). Truthfully, I found myself between a rock and a hard place in posting something about this. I wanted to be thoughtful and impactful in how I responded. I also didn’t want this to be some viral social justice trend that Americans are granting space for, just because there’s not another “more pressing” activism matter to tend to right now. Because the cold and gnawing reality is that none of this is new. You can Google articles from a decade ago covering trends of physical assaults against our Asian grandparents in SF and NY Chinatowns. Even last year, as COVID erupted and Trump leaned into his “Kung Flu” rhetoric, the Asian-American community circulated daily nightmares of innocent victims being painted with epithets or harmed. But, unless you are Asian-American or have positioned yourself in our spaces, you probably didn’t hear much of it. I waited a while to say something because I didn’t want to be emotional and reactionary. Sensational moments can be fleeting and I want to leave this permanent mark: Hate towards Asian-Americans is NOTHING NEW. Although the statistics are higher, the biggest reason why these reports are in your face is that We are getting louder. Even though we’re few, there are more of us in this country than ever, we are emboldened, better organized, and uniting our efforts. This might be the story of the month and in March, we’ll find a new topic to be outraged about. Meanwhile, Asian-Americans will still be getting attacked, spit on, and discriminated against. But you know what? We’re also still gonna be here, plotting, mobilizing, and building. The next time you pay attention to us, we’ll look differently to you. And then it’ll get to the point where you won’t be able to forget our grandparents, our communities, our stories. You won’t step over us.
And then, I realized I don’t need to be known as a great writer.
I just want to do great writing.
Two totally different things.
Legendary downtown photographer Ricky Powell died this week, leaving behind a lifetime’s worth of hip-hop history gold. Jensen Karp called him, “the man who photo’d absolutely everything I’ve ever thought was cool,” much of that attributed to frozen moments in time with rappers like LL Cool J, Beastie Boys, and RUN DMC. Along with Glen E. Friedman, Estevan Oriol, Craig Stecyk, and Chi Modu, my own foray into photography in the ‘90s was inspired by cultural documentarians like Ricky Powell.
In fact, there was a season where photography led my career aspirations. I grew up shooting film at concerts and skate sessions, but I most enjoyed taking people’s portraits. In the early 2000s, DSLRs and editing programs lowered the barrier-of-entry to the practice. Smartphone cameras empowered laymen to be savvy photographers. It became harder to distinguish whether someone was a serious shutterbug or hobbyist. Then, the Internet democratized content and social media became a media free-for-all (Or a freefall, depending on how you look at it).
Years ago, I shopped my photography portfolio to some select art galleries only to discover that many of them had a policy of not curating photo shows. I then toyed with the idea of producing a photo book but was promptly told by mainstream publishers that photo books are a tough sell.
“Well, what do I do with all these photos I’ve been shooting since I was 12 years old? Live photos from punk shows and ‘90s skaters and world travels?”
“Put them where everyone else puts them: Instagram.”
I love the medium of photography. Some of my pictures mean more to me than the clothing I design and sell. Yet, the marketplace tells me that unlike a physical product, photos aren’t worth as much because they’re easily replicable, drag-and-droppable, and digitally disposable. And it’s not just photography. GIFs and JPEGs, memes, captions, MP4s. Whichever the file extension, we’ve grown accustomed to offering our creative output for free. We’ve been trained to believe that nobody owns anything on the Internet. Online media is to be liberally sourced and shared with all. And there is no monetary value in a tweet or a TikTok.
But, that’s not true. Your social media posts do make money. It’s just that you don’t see any of it. Your gorgeous photographs, compelling essays, and motion graphics draw attention to platforms like Facebook and Google, which churn advertising dollars off of all those eyeballs. You do all the hard work. They make the money from it. And now that you see it that way, isn’t it incredibly unfair?
I have good news. Over the past few years, but really in the last 12 months, there’s been a revolution welling up to reclaim value and ownership in digital art. There is finally a way to restore much of the meaning and value that have been lost with – what is now coined as – cryptomedia. And that’s through blockchain technology and Non-Fungible Tokens. Or NFTs.
What is an NFT?
Do you remember the Art Basel banana? In late 2019, a duct-taped banana sold at the Miami art fair for $120,000. But, of course, bananas rot, so why would anyone pay that much for a perishable installation? What the patron was actually buying wasn’t the physical banana itself, but the certificate tied to the fruit. The artist Maurizio Cattelan clarified that the mushy, decomposing banana can always be swapped out. But, there’s only one certificate, and that’s where the value existed.
NFTs are those certificates recorded on Ethereum blockchain. *Heads up, I’m not gonna attempt to explain bitcoin or how blockchain technology works (You can dive deep into a Reddit or Wiki for that). For all intents of this essay, all you need to know is that if the banana is a metaphor for your cryptoart (a photo you shot, a song you recorded, a meme you passed around), you can now mark it – or mint it – as an NFT. It’s now listed in the blockchain and universally recognized by the world that you are the rightful owner of the work. Which, means that you can sell it. It also means you can buy other people’s NFTs.
Where does this all go down? Decentralized marketplaces like Nifty Gateway, Rarible, Superrare, and Zora. How much money are we talking here? Cryptomedia made headlines in December when Instagram artist Beeple sold 20 of his pieces for $3.5 Million. The more sensational story, however, is the thousands of everyday artists who are striking overnight success and notoriety in this digital gold rush. Estimates are that over $8 Million of cryptoart changed hands over the month of December.
On Christmas Day, Sean Williams, a former Cartoon Network intern, accidentally kicked a hole in his wall. As an experiment, he placed a frame around the gash, snapped a photo of it, and minted it on the Superrare platform. One week later, on New Year’s, Sean accepted an offer of 7 ETH for his cryptoart, entitled “Idiot.” 7 ETH, as of this writing, converts to roughly $11,000.
Who is buying this stuff?
I love this question, because it’s one that I’ve been personally hearing my entire career:
“Why would anyone spend $300 on some basketball sneakers?”
“$500 for denim with holes in it? What’s wrong with some $50 Levis?”
“Who is paying thousands of dollars for a T-shirt? Just because there’s a red box on it?”
There’s a lot of money floating around out there, especially these days with stimulus checks and stonk surges. And there’s a market for everything. We can compare an $11,000 Amir Fallah painting to $11,000 “What the Dunks” or a fancy $11,000 Napa dinner with Screaming Eagle wine. It’s relative. One or none of these items may mean as much to you as Sean’s photo, but there are consumers out there who will readily justify each expense down to the penny.
Granted, gambling speculators are stirring much of the frenzied activity around cryptoart right now. These are the same types of people who bet big when bitcoin first broke or squatted on domain names or hedged their investments on real estate in the 2000s. They believe that cryptoart may very well be the next big thing for the Internet. And, although $11,000 is a lot of money for a digital photograph of a hole, it pales compared to the upside of millions if this is the next Banksy, or billions if it’s the next Mona Lisa.
I still don’t get it. Why would you want to own a digital piece of media if it can be downloaded onto anyone else’s computer? Wouldn’t you prefer a physical possession (e.g. a 1-of-1 oil painting) instead, to ensure that – and brag to your friends – that it’s the original?
Speaking of Christmas, at the crack of dawn, my boys tore through their meticulously wrapped presents under the tree. Santa gifted them board games, action figures, books, and remote-controlled robots. However, to our dismay, they spent about 35 minutes playing with their new toys before diving back into Fortnite. For many children today, their realities and social scenes exist within the digital framework of video games. What does it matter if you have a Baby Yoda doll or new Jordans if you can’t flex them to your peers in the gaming universe? It’s more important to stack digital assets inside the games instead, like back-bling or spray. I could literally hand my kids a $100 bill and they wouldn’t know what to do with it. Instead, they’d ask, “Daddy, can you convert that to Fortnite V-bucks?”
As bizarre and disheartening as this sounds for the kids, you’re no different. You spend more time digitally interacting with your friends than seeing them in person. You’d rather curate your page instead of decorating your home. You can hang a painting in your living room for your 25 guests a year. Or, you can take a photo of the painting and post it to your social media where thousands of followers will appreciate it.
You can even rotate cryptoart through a digital picture frame: A sunset photograph, Trump’s “covfefe” tweet, a Beeple IG video, an NBA Top Shot digital basketball card. Although each slide is a Google Images click away, you can take pride that you own the unique certificate to each of these masterpieces. And that somebody, somewhere, is willing to buy it from you.
So, why are you so excited about this?
I’m still figuring this out. Cryptoart and NFTs are so new that history is being made every hour of every day. Most of the insightful editorial, podcasts, and YouTube thinkpieces on the subject matter have been recorded in the last month or so. Last night, a new marketplace called Foundation sprouted up. And this next week, The Hundreds will be the first clothing brand to mint NFTs against our Spring season’s collection of T-shirt graphics.
I think what inspires me the most is that creators will finally be able to make the money they deserve from their hard work. Facebook is a half-a-trillion-dollar company while many young artists are struggling to make rent. Although the financial rewards aren’t the only things that matter in making art, money and compensation help to provide a safe and secure environment to create. And it cuts the lie that your art doesn’t hold value or that nobody cares to pay for your work. They do. The market is there. Its just that instead of paying you, the clientele’s been paying the social media companies with their time and attention.
Every ten years or so, there’s a paradigm shift with the Internet. First, it was the transition from portal sites to Google. In the 2010s, social networks not only flipped how we interacted with each other, but how we consumed content. Could cryptomedia and NFTs indicate the next wave of how we consider and use the Internet? One where everyone, not just artists, stand to benefit as far as property ownership and profitability are concerned?
That shit is bananas.
A special Thank You to Trevor McFedries, Dee Goens, Sean Williams and Charlie Rosenthal for teaching me the wonders of NFT. And yes, I did mint this essay on Zora.