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RTFKT made these A16Z sneakers to celebrate a round of venture capital funding | Image: RTFKT

One comparison I’ve heard repeatedly over the last year is that buying NFTs to “flex” on people in the metaverse is just like collecting sneakers, and now Nike is apparently trying to make sure it’s ready for the literal version of that possibility. The apparel giant just announced the acquisition of RTFKT Studios, which it calls “a leading brand that leverages cutting edge innovation to deliver next generation collectibles that merge culture and gaming.”

RTFKT claims that in February, a collaboration with teenage artist FEWOCiOUS to sell real sneakers paired with virtual ones managed to sell some 600 pairs/NFTs in just six minutes, netting over $3.1 million at the time. This was around the same early spring period when most of us were hearing about NFTs for the first time, as Grimes sold some $6 million worth of digital artwork on March 1st. It’s not clear if any of these digital items are worth as much now; looking at OpenSea and Nifty Gateway right now, I see a number of them are either listed for or have recently sold for less than their original prices.

RTFKT is now a part of the NIKE, Inc. family. ‍ pic.twitter.com/5egNk9d8wA

— RTFKT Studios (@RTFKTstudios) December 13, 2021

But forget the past — and that time it photoshopped a pair of its sneakers onto Elon Musk — RTFKT is moving forward, and just yesterday the A16Z-backed startup launched the Clone X NFT collaboration with Japanese artist Takashi Murakami, offering up a number of metaverse-ready digital avatars styled with various collectible traits.

The company’s website immediately asks visitors to link their Metamask wallets, which is one of the ways NFT owners can verify their purchases, with the idea that at some point in the future you’ll play games or enter other sorts of VR spaces where your items can materialize, once those spaces have read the blockchain to assess which items you own the rights to.

This is the kind of vision that Nike is buying into, crediting the company’s founder Benoit Pagotto, Chris Le, and Steven Vasilev with leveraging “the latest in game engines, NFTs, blockchain authentication and augmented reality to create one of a kind virtual products and experiences.”

While announcing the deal — without revealing how much it spent — Nike positioned RTFKT’s lightning bolt-style logo alongside its own iconic swoosh, Jumpman, and Converse marks. Those brands have decades of history, built on high-level athletic endorsements, distinctive designs, and a grassroots culture that actually exists in the real world. RTFKT, meanwhile, was founded in January 2020. It says that “the human development in consciousness has accelerated faster than anticipated. We are here to accelerate our digital future now.”

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