You may have lost it in the chaos of FTX and midterm elections, but it was just over a week ago that the Creator Royalties discussion came to a head in the NFT space. On Saturday, November 5th, OpenSea announced that they were considering a future where artists and founders of existing NFTs would stop receiving royalties as their work traded on the marketplace. In response, the NFT community banded together and voiced their disapproval on social platforms, viral blog posts, petitions, Twitter Spaces, and even handwritten pleas.
OpenSea’s statement was in response to the sudden surge of trading on smaller marketplaces like Blur, LooksRare, and Magic Eden that have been adjusting the Creator Royalties model or eliminating it entirely. This trend is an existential threat to the NFT ecosystem because Creator Royalties are the cornerstone argument as to why Web3 is better than Web2. For generations, corporations and industries have cut artists out of their deserved share of sales. This time it was supposed to be different.
Who was to blame? The cutthroat marketplaces trying to survive in a crypto bear market? The clever collectors seeking out a cheaper deal on their favorite NFTs? When the ETH is flowing, it’s natural to WAGMI each other behind rose-colored glasses. But after several months of downturn in NFT and crypto momentum, it’s all about the IGMI in the shadowy corners of flips and trades.
As far as the artists and founders, I’ve spoken with a lot of creators who’ve confessed that they’ve always known Web3’s dirty little secret – that there was nothing necessarily firm in place to uphold the Creator Royalties standard. It was always a charitable construct born of more romantic times. Some have been preparing accordingly, building their own marketplaces, or developing new systems to incentivize collectors to pay royalties to the artists. In the end, though, many reach the same conclusion: There’s not much we can do to solve the Creator Royalties issue on existing collections unless we can upgrade their smart contracts with a “blacklist” or “allowlist” tool to ensure trades happen on marketplaces that enforce royalties (most all are not equipped for this). Even with new collections that do have upgradable contracts, the tool could impair innovation, be a temporary band-aid, or be anticompetitive.
A few days later, OpenSea rescinded their tweet and officially declared that they’d abide to paying Creator Royalties on both existing and new projects. It was a major victory as it showed that the artists united could influence a company worth billions of dollars. It was also a symbolic milestone for the biggest NFT marketplace to hold staunchly to the Web3 ethos. Yet, I don’t know anyone who was out celebrating. If anything, OpenSea’s insinuation that they might abandon royalties was a sharp wake-up call to the artist community that after stopping the bleeding, we were devoid of a complete solution. The cold truth is that there is nothing stopping OpenSea from walking back their statement and severing Creator Royalties. Even if they don’t, the collectors can continue to edge out the creators of royalties themselves. The marketplaces will follow them (and vice versa) and cannibalize each other anyway.
Maybe it’s not a singular solve, but a combination of movements that will nudge marketplaces and collectors to maintain Creator Royalties. Overall, there needs to be more education about what royalties are and why they are critical to the health of the NFT ecosystem. OpenSea could brand themselves as the pro-artist platform, highlighting creators and articulating how royalties support burgeoning careers and inspire new art. PFP projects may even consider a path akin to subscription services or in-app purchases, whereby a collector pays royalties to access additional locked utility. Even better, if the NFT collection generates enough good will and value with its community, then a donation-based service could potentially raise enough money to propel the project.
I know that Web3’s brightest minds and most unshakable artists are trying to crack the code. From The Hundreds’ side, we postulate two potential answers for creators to survive and forge an enduring career. First, more mints. Most every traditional collectibles company – from sneakers to sports cards – builds robust brands by issuing more collectibles on a consistent basis. I address how we’ve gotten the NFT scarcity model wrong in the Badam Bomb Squad whitepaper, “NFTS are Forever.” While the items within drops should be limited, the drops themselves should be limitless.
Second, Collector Royalties.
With all the chatter around Creator Royalties, it’s worth exploring where the disconnect lies between the founders and their communities. In a perfect world, the collectors and marketplaces should be eager to honor the artists their share of the royalties in the Web3 spirit. The sobering reality, though, is that they are trying to make as much money as they can, just like the artists and founders. So, is there a path where everyone’s interests are aligned? Of course there is. We just have to find a way for the founders, the flippers, and the marketplaces to all make money on the same trade.
On Monday, November 21, 2022, The Hundreds will release our second major NFT collection in furtherance of Adam Bomb World. Badam Bomb Squad consists of 5,000 PFP-style digital collectibles rendered in 3-D art. The narrative is fitting for our polarized times as Badam Bomb is our unwitting villain, a misunderstood character that is socially judged by stigmas and stereotypes. One distinct piece of the project is that about 1,000 bombs in the original Adam Bomb Squad collection will be airdropped a bomb from the new Badam Bomb Squad for free. Here’s the kicker: those bombs are now virtually bound. Whenever the Badam Bomb Squad NFT trades hands in the marketplace, its Adam Bomb Squad anchor will receive royalties from that sale alongside The Hundreds.
Our 2021 whitepaper for Adam Bomb Squad (The Street Does Not Really Exist) proposed a brand where the consumer shares in the upside as the brand gains notoriety. They deserve this because – by wearing the identifiable marks – they are giving the company free advertising and propagating its awareness. The consumers are also contributing to the vitality and survival of the business. However, this reward shouldn’t just stop at physical clothing. NFT holders are some of the most ardent brand ambassadors of all. They use their NFTs as avatars, dress like them for Halloween, and adopt them as their identities. Doesn’t it make sense that they should benefit from the strengthening of that digital IP as well?
I’m not sure if Collector Royalties will be enough to save Creator Royalties. But, they are another pledge by The Hundreds to continue reshaping the brand-consumer relationship. And another signal flare of hope that there are plenty of answers out there. Way more than there are problems.
To read more about our next collection, Badam Bomb Squad, dropping on Monday, November 21, 2022, read the story and details HERE.
After our first NFT collection, Adam Bomb Squad, debuted in the Summer of 2021, I was faced with myriad responses from spectators. There were those who were quick to congratulate us, others who were eager to hate. More than anything, I was met with a lot of questions.
“I don’t really get the whole crypto thing, but seems like you guys pulled off something cool?”
Of all the comments, however, none was more amusing than friends and customers asking, “They sold out too fast! Can you give me a heads up on the next release?”
With The Hundreds, we’d conditioned our community to anticipate scheduled drops. Every season, we offer a new collection of clothing in stores. Every other week, we market another fun collaboration or special project. Once 25,000 Adam Bomb Squad NFTs sold out in 40 minutes, the sophisticated NFTers knew to flock to auction sites like OpenSea to buy a bomb from a reseller. But our non-NFT crowd wanted to purchase the collectible directly from us, the source, whether due to authentication, for the emotional experience, or to be the original owner (“I’ll just wait for the next one!”)
I had to explain to our community that when it comes to NFTs, the point is to keep re-selling and buying into the same collection. Reason being that the Web3 collectibles system is engineered so that most projects continue to promote – and profit off – their existing NFTs instead of consistently dropping new ones. NFT creators (of the “PFP” variety à la sportscards) generate money in two ways. First, they “mint out” of a collection, meaning they make a certain number of NFTs, price them accordingly, and sell them out online. Pretty straightforward.
The second way that artists and founders make money off their NFTs is by getting a cut of every resale forever. NFTs are designed to be scarce and sell out immediately and that drives energy towards the secondary market. This part is reminiscent of trading models you often see with streetwear, Pokémon cards, and blue-chip art, except in those cases, the creator doesn’t typically benefit from secondary sales of their pieces. In Web3, however, one of the paradigm’s fundamental promises is that every time an artist’s NFT changes hands in the marketplace, they still get a cut of that resale thanks to smart contracts. The objective is to keep the demand up around an NFT collection as traders shuffle around the same collectibles and the original creator is rewarded a percentage of every flip.
Although this model has proven to be effective with some prominent NFT collections, it can be limiting, not only for the brands but for the overall space. Imagine there being only one neighborhood in the world. In the beginning, fifty houses for fifty families would suffice. Over time, the demand for that short supply of homes would rise with population growth. There would come a point when those fifty houses would be out of reach for 99.9% of people. This might mean some jaw-dropping sales figures for those homes, but it would not do much for the “mass adoption” of houses. Those fortunate fifty residents would carry on the game amongst themselves, but the other 99.9% would lose interest and seek another venue that could accommodate them.
The mistake that many have made in NFTs is misunderstanding the scarcity model. Oftentimes, founders and NFT creators aspire to be like luxury brands that limit the supply of a product to heighten its allure. They believe that to build a sought-after NFT brand, the number of NFTs should be restricted (and they justify this decision by the high prices some of those NFTs currently achieve at auction). Yet, there may be good reason in making more NFTs to build a bigger brand and a more expansive ecosystem. The New York skate brand Supreme didn’t just make one collection of clothing in the ‘90s and cash in their chips. While the specific pieces within seasonal drops are limited, the drops themselves are limitless. Supreme, as a brand, is perpetually printing shirts, stocking their online shop, hyping hot collaborations, and replenishing their customers’ closets. Supreme is infinite. They have become one of the most mainstream and notorious fashion brands in the world. And yet, they still maintain an exclusive aura and command an impressive resale value around individual clothing items.
With traditional collectibles, the goal is not only to keep the demand around the product up, but reinforce the brands dealing the limited goods, and above all, support the space itself. This is accomplished by converting more collectors, regularly issuing collectibles, and segmenting product for different markets. Pokémon didn’t stop with their first trading card game set in 1996. Today, they have nearly 100 editions in circulation with varying price points. And most artists don’t dedicate their entire career to promoting the same series of paintings to their buyers. They’d rather be prolific, constantly producing and adding texture to their legacy.
In 1985, Nike released the very first Air Jordan to the public for $65. They anticipated selling 100,000 pairs by year’s end but wound up selling 450,000 in the first month alone. The shoe was so surprisingly popular that Nike overshot production on the Jordan 1 and flooded the market. Prices plummeted. Sales racks were soon filled with Nike Air Jordans (in fact, the “1” was adopted as the first skate shoe in the ‘80s – not just for its agile design and ankle protection, but because the footwear was so affordable for skaters). Still, Nike followed up the Air Jordan 1 with the Air Jordan II the next November. Almost every year since, Nike’s released another new Jordan design, even long after its namesake Michael Jordan retired from basketball. The Air Jordan XXXVII recently unveiled and can be purchased on Nike’s website for $185, with some sizes of the popular colorways already sold out.
Nike wouldn’t have had the same meteoric rise in the ‘80s and ensuing decades if it weren’t for the Air Jordan. And sneaker collecting wouldn’t have become a $72 billion industry if it weren’t for Nike. Nike alone makes up $34 billion of that number and at 58-years-old, is regarded as one of the most valuable brands in the world. Imagine an alternate universe where Nike stopped shoe production after the first Jordan hit the clearance corner. Eventually, those Jordan 1s might have fetched a high resale value for a niche group of collectors trading amongst themselves. Over time, however, without the infrastructure of a global brand like Nike, an endless stream of fresh designs, a culture, and a broader audience, the mystique and enthusiasm around those sneakers would have crumbled like a decomposing midsole.
There’s another, more urgent reason why we need more NFTs to save NFTs.
As of this writing, we’re at a crossroads with NFTs whereby the default royalties model for secondary sales is being questioned, if not abolished. To stay competitive in a crypto slump, marketplaces like X2Y2, Magic Eden, and LooksRare have all recently chosen to abandon the required standard. Instead of marketplaces enforcing royalties for artists, they are leaving it to the collectors to decide if they’d prefer to pay the creators. While this about-face is antithetical to Web3’s ethos, many are surrendering to the sobering truth that this is the inevitable trajectory for NFTs. The royalties cut for creators and founders was always a charitable bonus versus a pinned stipulation.
If OpenSea, the biggest marketplace for NFTs, also pivots to zero-royalties, there could be dire ramifications for digital collectables. One worry is that project founders will desert their projects. Without any future revenue coming in from royalties, there is little incentive to continue pumping secondary sales of those NFTs. Not to mention once founders burn through all the original mint money, they won’t be able to sustain the business. If founders stop replenishing perks and utility for their holders, enthusiasm or hopefulness for those projects may wither.
In the late 1990s, professional musicians were faced with extinction once mp3s and Napster were invented, but they adjusted by making money off their art in other ways beyond CD and cassette sales. They leaned on touring, merch, and licensing deals. Today, the music industry is still very much alive and thriving, even though it looks different from generations past. Artists and founders in NFTs will also be pushed to adapt and rewrite the rules, just like they’ve done many times before. Perhaps project communities will find ways to aggregate their own funds to keep the energy up around the brand. Maybe NFT creators will restrict trading of their NFTs to their own personalized marketplaces, ensuring that they receive cuts of the secondary market.
An immediate solution for NFT creators trying to survive in the face of zero-royalties marketplaces is articulated in the paper above. While royalties may die, mints are here to stay. Historically, founders are expected to produce collections sparingly, far and few between. Maybe this is because of the CryptoPunks paradigm that most PFP-style NFTs are modeled after. LarvaLabs released the Punks in 2017 and never followed it up with a sequel (I’m not including Meebits). Instead of looking at mints as a one-and-done, however, what if a brand’s drops could be continuous and often, just like sneakers or cards or seasonal streetwear ranges or traditional art (or practically most consumer goods). This could even finally answer the unrelenting “Wen Utility?” question begged of NFT brands. Instead of pressuring founders to find limitless ways for their NFTs to dance, perhaps their purpose is in the central thesis: making NFTs. Keep in mind that the biggest collectibles companies (Topps, Great American Coin Company, Funko) serve to print collectibles. It’s counterintuitive, but their cards, coins, and toys become more special and in-demand the more they make.
All NFTs have intrinsic utility: to be collectable! What makes them valuable, however, has more to do with the theater, history, and reputation of the brand backing the collectable than any of its features or add-ons. For SoHo House patrons, the membership card is useful because it grants access to an elevator upstairs. The card is valuable because of the prestige encircling the SoHo House name. Oil brushed across canvas isn’t remarkable, but when it’s associated with the repertoire and life’s story of a Van Gogh, the painting becomes precious. And the more Marvel characters are added to the MCU, the more complex Iron Man becomes, and the more significant his franchise.
Consider a Preface to a book without a body or Epilogue. You need to write more chapters to not only tell a complete story, but to make the Preface make sense. The suggestion of adding more layers to an NFT brand isn’t just to weave a stronger brand narrative, though. It’s to also boost the value of the existing collections. Take Rolex, for example. Since they first introduced the popular Daytona in 1963, they’ve gone from collecting dust in shop windows to being one of the most sought-after retro watches in the world. Over the generations, as newer editions have hit the market with state-of-the-art mechanics and updated designs, the older, hand-wound Paul Newman 6239s with smaller 37mm cases have become romanticized. And scroll back to the bargain-bin Air Jordans. The culture needed Jordan Xs, XXs, and XXXs so that Jordan 1s, with their yellowing and cracked leather, could become idealized and sacred. The shoe’s scarcity and story are fundamental to its desirability, but its early position on the sneaker timeline has made it one of the most iconic collectables of all time. In 1985, the first Air Jordan was discounted for $25. Today, the average price for a pair is $25,000.
The critical ingredient across most every valuable collectable is nostalgia. Baseball cards were originally sturdy slabs of cardboard inserted into cigarette boxes to keep the cigarettes from breaking. It took decades for the sport to grow and baseball enthusiasts to develop fandom with their favorite players so that hoarding picture cards became a sentimental hobby. The retro Nike market obviously didn’t exist in the early 1980s. The Dunks and Air Maxes we have fond feelings for forty years later were cutting-edge designs at the time. Throughout our lives, the consistent reissues and remodels of those shoes have intersected with different emotional touchpoints, making the shoe much more than leather and laces bound to our feet.
With regard to NFTs, the hard pill to swallow here is that nostalgia takes time and work, while many are here for a hot trade and to conveniently get rich quick. NFTs are still so close to our noses, that they’re not even fully defined. You see the Twitter Spaces and thinkpieces – We’re still in the exploratory and educational phase of a new technology. Unfortunately, that also means we don’t have enough distance from NFTs to indulge in longing or memory. That also means that if we want this to become anything of meaningful and sustainable value, we have to let it grow authentically, support and participate in the culture, and most of all, believe in it.
In other words, we’ve gotta be invested.
I couldn’t stop eating in Korea.
I slept only three hours a night, so I ate at least four meals a day, interspersed with salty snacks, desserts, and late-night (early morning?) treats from the convenience store. At the breakfast buffet, I encircled my hard-boiled eggs and sweet jellies with kimchi dumplings wrapped in the soft skin of chewy gluten and moist flour. In the afternoon, we devoured spoonfuls of creamy melon ice cream and handfuls of honey butter almonds. All I wanted was to fall asleep with my belly full of spicy ramen broth and marinated bulgogi and wake up to metal bowls of nourishing seollungtang, a milky beef bone soup. There was Korean BBQ of course, but my favorite dinner was at Todamgol. The best way to describe a traditional Korean dinner is: Everything. Everywhere. All at once. The perfect spread is a symphony of bonchon side dishes. Al dente ddukbokki rice cakes, eraser-sized mochi tubes smothered in bright red, spicy chili paste. Salted, grilled fish splayed open and harboring quills of splintery bones. Round bindaettok mung bean pancakes, light and crispy around the edges, nutty and hearty otherwise. The small, circular white bowls are arranged haphazardly into a mosaic and clatter like air hockey as the enthusiasm grows and inhibitions are lowered. Smooth, crystal clear soju dances back and forth between shot glasses. Chilled, golden beer collects in small reservoirs around the plates, and then eventually on us and the floor. Later tonight, I’ll enjoy a tray of cold watermelon slices and crescents of crunchy pears at the karaoke bar. In bed, as my 500-pound eyelids concede and the ambitious sun presses against my hotel curtains, I promise myself that I’ll find trendy Korean salt bread in the city tomorrow. I’ve missed this all – the people, the newness, the adventure.
And I can’t stop eating.
“A network state is a social network with a moral innovation, a sense of national consciousness, a recognized founder, a capacity for collective action, an in-person level of civility, an integrated cryptocurrency, a consensual government limited by a social smart contract, an archipelago of crowdfunded physical territories, a virtual capital, and an on-chain census that proves a large enough population, income, and real-estate footprint to attain a measure of diplomatic recognition.”
Lead with Love.
Protect your Peace.
“There is a pervasive form of contemporary violence to which the idealist most easily succumbs: activism and overwork. The rush and pressure of modern life are a form, perhaps the most common form, of its innate violence. To allow oneself to be carried away by a multitude of conflicting concerns, to surrender to too many demands, to commit oneself to too many projects, to want to help everyone in everything, is to succumb to violence. The frenzy of our activism neutralizes our work for peace. It destroys our own inner capacity for peace. It destroys the fruitfulness of our own work, because it kills the root of inner wisdom which makes work fruitful.”
― Thomas Merton, Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander
Should Old Acquaintance be forgot,
and never thought upon;
The flames of Love extinguished,
and fully past and gone:
Is thy sweet Heart now grown so cold,
that loving Breast of thine;
That thou canst never once reflect
On old long syne.
Sometimes, the only way to solve a problem is another problem.
Everyone has a Virgil story, whether it’s a fun photo with him, an inspirational anecdote or sincere text. Just scroll through your feed tonight. The outpouring of love is on a loop. The same screen-grab of a DM, the spirited vote of confidence. But, to those who received his energy, those interactions felt tailored, unique, and ours. He was a masterful designer…
He spent an obscene amount of energy on making us all feel individually special, seen, and represented. From streetwear fans who aspired to be the fashion designer to personal friends who stood behind him at the DJ Booth. He featured us on the runway, he chimed in on a Clubhouse talk, he was persistent about including skate and streetwear pioneers in his programs.
“End goal always,” he wrote. “Make sure our scene gets remembered in the right way.”
When they talk about this cancer that stole Virgil Abloh, they call it “rare and aggressive.” Those are words to also describe the man. Rare. Aggressive. Cancer, however, takes more than it needs and Virgil was the opposite: He gave more than he could.
I once got into a fight with Virgil. He bailed on a project at the eleventh hour. He apologized; he’d taken on too many requests.
“Why did you even say Yes to begin with?,” I demanded. I was so self-righteously angry.
“I’m the type to be open to all ideas. Saying ‘no’ isn’t my thing.”
Virgil Abloh, the Louis Vuitton artistic director and Off-White co-founder, said Yes. To his work, to his legacy. And most of all, he said Yes to us.
“Different people are portals that help you unlock other parts of yourself that you didn’t have access to.”
Like I say in my book, it’s impossible to define a point in time when “streetwear” was born. No matter where you begin the streetwear story, you start in the middle. There was always an act of resistance that preceded it, an artistic defiance of a system. “Streetwear” is also understood as different things to different people by generation and geography. It can be the New York hip-hop brands of the ‘80s, it might mean Stüssy beach culture or Diamond skate luxury. Streetwear can be Nike or secondhand shops like Round Two. I’ve even seen athleisure brands co-opt the title. But, the larger mainstream now classifies streetwear as casual sportswear/workwear aligned with a scarcity mindset, elitist attitude, and “hype” marketing vis-à-vis Veblen goods. Much of the appeal comes by way of heightened social status. Streetwear is a subcultural badge, a coolguy co-sign, a blue-check on a lapel.
For the last decade, streetwear brands – most notably New York-based Supreme – set the tone for how a brand could stay culturally relevant, artistic and innovative, and still be a capitalist machine. The frenzied line-ups, the collaborations, and the celebrity endorsements galvanized an entire generation of entrepreneurs to be the Supremes of their own industry, whether it was fashion or food or farming. Business startups that were not only motivated by money, but by Cool and Clout, took pages out of the streetwear book: make the product in limited editions, do “drops” that immediately sell out to rouse froth and FOMO, and play into the resale market (without acknowledging it exists). Of course, streetwear learned much of this from high fashion and niche collectibles, but its twist was that it made it “cool,” youthful, and accessible on a street level. Like rap music, pop culture glommed onto streetwear and now, social hierarchy isn’t defined solely by money or class, but access to the underground and the validation of teenaged gatekeepers*.
*This probably has a lot to do with how social media corralled us all into the same room when it comes to the right music to listen to, the most up-to-date slang, and the right brands to endorse. Can you think of any other time in history when grown adults cared so much about keeping pace with a teenager?
In fact, crypto might be one of the most significant cultural trends of the last ten years that isn’t influenced by adolescents at all. NFTs appear to be of little interest to many teenagers. The stocks/trading features might be unappetizing (most young people live for the moment and aren’t champing at the bit to invest), the collectibles side of it can only be appreciated by men and women who are old enough to be nostalgic about hording something. But, there is the art and status element that has tractor-beamed a younger generation in. And so, it only follows that they’ll desire – if not expect – their favorite streetwear brands to follow.
The longer I play in crypto, it’s hard to ignore NFTs’ parallels with – if not direct inspiration from – streetwear on both the design and social fronts. Scott Sasso, pioneering founder of 10Deep, agrees. “It all looks and feels like 2005, 2006 streetwear. All these start-ups of dorky, cartoon-themed PFPs and building a community around those things.” As a status symbol, NFTs are metaverse fashion identifiers. OG sneakerhead Franalations says, “Early on, camping out and stuff, you’d see this box logo or this Neighborhood collab and that to me was a badge, showing you were there, at that place at that time, you knew about that release then. And that’s pretty much what NFTs are designed to do and show.” Steven Vasilev, co-founder of RTFKT, goes further, “NFTs are bigger than just streetwear. For the past 200 years, people have been buying physical items to show their status and now you can have a (Crypto)Punk which is a digital Lamborghini.”
Although streetwear can learn much from the decentralization and technological capabilities afforded by NFTs, this essay is to suggest that NFTs can learn from the success and travails that streetwear’s experienced along its journey. The overarching message is that Culture and Community must outweigh the transactional aspects of the game. Although quick flips and trading are essential to collectibles culture, they cannot become the only thing that drives a project. Once that happens – and there are signals that this is already a rampant attitude in the NFT space – the players will move on to the next soulless gadget. Sneakers, art, watches, BMWs and vintage T-shirts, I get it. In 2021, everyone is now an investor. But, do we want all things fun, creative, and tradeable to feel and emote as stocks? In their current iteration, NFTs can only hold the world’s attention for so long before they’re distracted by the next shiny object. That is, unless, the NFT is grounded in something irreplicable and irreplaceable: long-standing rewards and enduring benefits that are human and meaningful. Much more than a generic financial gain.
One of my concerns (of a few!) with NFTs is that even before they’ve gone mainstream, many newcomers are already looking to them as investment pieces first and art pieces or cultural artifacts second (community membership third?). When thousands of ordinary people are becoming overnight millionaires by selling cartoon jpegs, spun through the amplification and acceleration of social media, it’s no surprise that the dollar signs in eyeballs obstruct the deeper intent and purpose of blockchain art.
Streetwear, conversely, had a good decade of runway to build the artistic appreciation and cultural foundation before re-selling stole the narrative. In the late ‘90s and early 2000s, a sneaker messageboard called Niketalk was the precursor to the crypto Discords of today (the difference would now be that every Niketalk member can set up their own Niketalks for their personalized audiences. This is as overwhelming as it sounds!). Although flipping sneakers was an active and vital part of the culture, we didn’t have the infrastructure to facilitate the volume of transactions you see in 2021. eBay, Craigslist, and Yahoo Japan were the only online marketplaces to buy and sell other people’s shoes, but most collectors were wary of scams and sharing their identity and credit card information over the Internet (sound familiar, NFTers?). Niketalk, therefore, was a forum to share news on releases at concrete retailers, discuss the art and product design, and socialize with other likeminded collectors. In fact, most of the action took place in the General Forum, which barely touched on the topics of sneakers at all. The rare Nike retros brought the people together, but their real lives intertwined around more mundane conversations. And instead of only focusing on re-selling, it was habit for Niketalk members to don and crease their shoes in the “What Did You Wear Today?” thread. The status came not in the money profited off the item, but that you were informed about – and could locate and access – the sneakers in the first place. If you had done the homework to find the right retailer, waited in line, and ponied up the retail price for the Nikes, stomping around in SB Dunks or Wovens were as good as a fancy PFP today.
Because we had this window of time to lay the roots of sneaker culture, even as it’s become a billion-dollar industry boosted by re-sellers and secondary marketplaces like StockX, the shoe game sustains because it is moored to a legitimate history and lore. Even if you never break the box open before you ship shoes out to the next flipper, it’s taught that Tinker Hatfield or Hiroshi Fujiwara left their mark on the leather, and that their opinions and repertoire offer meaning to sneakers as art. What happens when the brands fail to tout the value of artist-led design and cultural energy? This morning, Complex reported that a Nike internal meeting worried that their core customers were leaving for smaller, independent brands because of a lack of emotional connection. “We’re gonna shape the marketplace to reflect the community we serve… so that we actually show and we actually give equity and inclusion to the communities that have been gentrified out and alienated by the resale market.” Nike acknowledges the critical function of culture in upholding sales and growth. “High heat, hype is ‘killing the culture’.” Vasilev of RTFKT emphasizes this point as a driving reason for their NFTs’ success: “One of the key points is culture. That’s why everything we do, we introduce new artists.” Earlier this year, RTFKT collaborated with NFT wunderkind FEWOCiOUS on a $3 million drop, selling out their virtual sneaker editions at $3,000, $5,000, and $10,000.
Speaking of which, the most glaring void in NFTs is the lack of collaborations. Meanwhile, streetwear understands all too well that collaborations not only fuel hype but lend cohesion to a stable marketplace. The reason being that collaborations build trust. And brand-building is all about cultivating faith with the customers*. Streetwear, in its early days, was devoid of any type of fraternity outside of its neighborhood cells, and so, the good secret stayed relatively secret. Okay, fine, streetwear was much cooler before outsiders could access it, let alone learn about it. But, once brands reached across the Internet to find each other (think The Hundreds meets Mighty Healthy and Married to the Mob over cold emails) and work together, we built a taller stage to perform. Collaborations not only served our wallets, but it bridged our worlds and unified our customers. Most importantly, it dispelled suspicion and forged trust with curious shoppers. “If these two names believe in each other/streetwear, then I believe in them/it too.”
*Brand-building is also about cultivating faith between the customers. It’s a social contract where everyone miraculously agrees that a made-up brand is, like, an actual, valuable thing now.
NFTs are still in the dark ages, quite figuratively. Crypto anonymity adds a thicker layer of apprehension and anxiety. With higher stakes at play, the FUD (Fear, Uncertainty, Doubt) is very real. Like early streetwear, many NFT collectors and leaders hide behind pseudonyms (on Niketalk: Dirtylicious, Swoshmn) and most NFT artists and brands are isolated in tribes (one of streetwear’s first brands was Tribal from San Diego). The New York Times columnist David Brooks defines tribalism as the antithesis of community and in the case of NFTs, this is accurate if you look at the space between Discords and the gaps within crypto society. That is why many collectors get so excited when celebrities, brands, and even institutions thumbs-up NFTs. These are warm, entrusted, and recognizable faces that say, “It’s okay. I’m here in the dark with you.” I’m not saying founders need to reveal their identities (it was several years before Ben and I published a photograph of ourselves. Some streetwear designers like Zac FTP still hide their faces), but the NFT world must continue to work on building trust not only with their own communities, but between. Collaborations between brands, projects, and designers can be the tissue that binds.
In November of 2017, ComplexCon hosted its second annual streetwear convention in Long Beach, California. The year prior, ComplexCon was an undeniable success, inviting thousands of young people from around the world to experience their favorite brands in their environments. But, ComplexCon 2 leaned too far into the re-selling side of sneakers and streetwear. Instead of a skate ramp or a gallery, eBay was the centerpiece of the arena as a main sponsor. There was more marketing emphasis placed on exclusive Nike shoe drops than around the designers and artists who made them. And as a result, the attendees were motivated by flipping more than participating in – or supporting – the culture of streetwear. Resellers got into fights, booths were shut down over violence. And the following year, ComplexCon corrected back to a more measured balance between transactional and experiential. Today, streetwear and sneakers are bigger than ever and ComplexCon continues to be the leading world’s fair for all things street culture (in fact, the next show returns November 6-7. Buy your tickets today!).
Of all the similarities between NFTs and streetwear, there are just as many differences. One of the biggest being that the cycles and timelines are expedited by technology and crypto’s volatile nature. Fashion operates on a hyperactive schedule of hills and valleys, but trends can often subsist for years. Meanwhile, NFTs have survived a couple market dips just in the last six months alone and the outfacing trends have thrived and died on the vine. As Scott Sasso referenced earlier, sometimes I look around at all these cartoon profile-picture NFT projects and am struck by the memory of streetwear designs in the early 2000s. In that era, every designer and brand followed each other down the path of colorful characters and illustrated graphics. Once the market had its fill, it only took a few settlers to upset the trend by banding together and responding to the status quo with a contrary aesthetic. The next chapter of streetwear went dark and minimal with graphic designs. If there were pictures on T-shirts and hoodies, they were photography-based, typography driven, and starkly literal. The Americana trend of men’s fashion and then streetwear’s first turns on the Paris runway expunged the graphics entirely. Fifteen years later, cartoony T-shirts have returned to streetwear but only because the audience has expanded so wide, every style and genre can be accommodated. And now, those Adjective Animals as I like to call them (A Bathing Ape, Pink Dolphin, Rare Panther) have reincarnated as NFT collectibles (Bored Apes, Cool Cats, Pudgy Penguins). It makes sense when you remember that the people designing these NFTs also grew up wearing the early streetwear labels.
In my opinion, NFTs in their current aesthetic – not in their utility or purpose – won’t last as the predominant artistic representation of collectibles. I don’t exactly know what this means for existing NFTs when these tokens are burned onto the blockchain forever, but I can foresee a next chapter where the visual assets have to adapt and update to match a contemporary trend in the space. Or maybe they will be used to unlock a 2.0. What we do know already is that photography NFTs (see Dave Krugman, John Knopf) are already gaining traction. And that some projects are experimenting with more video and motion. If we’ve learned anything from NFTs this year, it’s to not be married to the present state and understanding of technology. On October 11, 2021, NFTs are cute Adjective Animal trading cards that are weighed against each other by a third party’s rarity ranking score. They offer very little real-world utility or purpose outside of the potential for trading gains, social identity, and access to a community. But on October 12, 2021? That can all be easily disrupted by new settlers, by an artist waiting in the wings with a brave, opposing idea, or a turn in the technology that allows for futures unimagined.
With our project, Adam Bomb Squad, we’d rather prepare for maps with no roads than a roadmap. Streetwear taught us about the power of community and culture. Streetwear revealed the secret of collaborations. But, the greatest thing we learned from streetwear – that we are applying to our NFTs – is that nothing lasts forever and tomorrow is uncharted. Trends will rock this market. Ethereum will go in and out. The survivors are the ones who improvise through the droughts. The winners know to adapt to the terrain. And the last brands standing are founded on a rock solid core, rich with history and relationships. Fashion and NFTs go out of style, but people never do.
“It’s still cash-grab season, but cash-grab season is gonna end. And people are gonna have to provide the substance,” Scott says in the final minutes of our call. “People think it’s all the same thing, but it’s not gonna be. And the paths forward are gonna be very different.”
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.