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In Review 2021: the year that fashion truly embraced NFTs

Jeremy Lim
23 December 2021

The birth of NFTs (Non-fungible tokens), digital assets created through blockchain technology, date back as far as 2012. As digital assets, these tokens are authenticated through digital ledgers or blockchains and held in digital wallets the same way cryptocurrencies are. NFTs cannot be duplicated or hacked, similar to owning a one-of-a-kind trading card. 2021 marks the year in which the fashion industry – from streetwear to haute couture – went to great efforts to embrace and leverage on the booming NFT space.

Generating over $2.5 billion in sales within the first six months of 2021, sales figures demonstrate the overnight success for NFT artists, brands and content creators across the globe as an array of brands including Burberry, Dolce & Gabbana and Givenchy began to dip into the metaverse. We looked back at the NFT revolution's landmark moments in 2021.

1. Gucci becomes the first established luxury brand to sell an NFT

The dawn of the NFT revolution saw luxury houses venturing mainly into collaborations with gaming platforms such as Fornite and Animal Crossing amid an outcrop of digital fashion companies including RTFKT and The Fabricant. However, Kering's Gucci became the first luxury fashion house to enter the NFT design realm beyond game skins releases and in-game items.

Its debut NFT entry drew inspiration from "Gucci Aria", a four-minute film produced by filmmaker Floria Sigismondi and Gucci’s creative director Alessandro Michele, launched in honour of the Italian luxury brand's 100-year anniversary. The NFT, titled "Proof of Sovereignty" was placed on auction from 25 May to 3 June, and eventually sold for $25,000.

2. Hermès "Baby Birkin" NFT

Hermès' iconic Birkin bags are some of the most expensive and coveted luxury bags in the world. The "holy grail of handbags" was the object of inspiration for digital artists Mason Rothschild and Eric Ramirez, who created a transparent, pregnant version of the luxury accessory with a baby developing throughout a 40-week-long pregnancy. The visual, which serves as an ironic interpretation of the handbag known for its exclusivity, is accompanied by a space-themed sound.

Titled "Baby Birkin", the 2000 × 2000 pixel animation was sold for $47,000, dwarfing the $9,500 retail price of the 25cm "baby" Birkins sold by Hermès. Despite the NFT borrowing the iconic Birkin name and style, Hermès held no affiliation with the digital piece of art, and received no revenue from the sale. The move marked a costly lesson on opportunities and ownership for luxury brands.

3. NFTs break into Fashion Week (and Haute Couture)

2021 saw events continue its digital makeover amid social restrictions and challenges due to the pandemic. This year's fashion weeks offered the same digital-physical format adopted in 2020, as well as virtual, augmented reality during fashion shows. In June, the French Fashion and Haute Couture Federation (FHCM) joined forces with NFT platform Arianee to offer 300 NFTs to select guests at Paris’s spring/summer 2022 menswear and haute couture shows.

Through those collectible tokens, users can obtain access to exclusive content such as a digital artwork by fashion illustrator Richard Haines or even resell them on the secondary market. Italian couture brand Aelis also launched an NFT collection named “Luce ImmorTale”, a signal of marriage between the concept of Haute Couture and design of NFT as limited edition works of art.

4. Sportswear giants' NFT foray 

In the athleisure sector, sportswear giants Nike and Adidas are leading the pack on NFTs despite Asics' early head-start with its launch in July. Shortly after being granted virtual trademarks for numerous brands logos and promotional images by the US Patent and Trademark Office, Nike partnered with online gaming platform Roblox to debut Nikeland, a metaverse platform. Last week, the Oregon-based company acquired virtual fashion and NFT platform RTFKT. The purchase of a creative start-up that is already working with the latest AR technology, NFTs and blockchain authentication offers Nike a head start over its competitors in creating future virtual products and experiences.

Rivals Adidas doubled down on its metaverse ambitions with by directing select users from its Confirmed app, a platform for drops and exclusive content to POAP (Proof of Attendance Protocol), a platform that event organisers can use to distribute NFTs to attendees. The Three Stripes later purchase a Bored Ape Yacht Club NFT, later named Indigo Herz, as well as a plot of land on The Sandbox, a metaverse platform. Last week, the German brand made its first NFT drop, "Into the Metaverse" with NFT pioneers Bored Ape Yacht Club, Pixel Vault's Punks Comic and crypto investor Gmoney. The drop of 30,000 NFTs, priced at 0.2 ETH each (USD $800), was sold out almost immediately. Despite several transactional failures, the sale generated over $23 million USD (6,000 ETH) in revenue, according to Cryptobriefing.

5. Fast-fashion entrants: boohooMAN and Zara

The NFT trend saw boohooMAN emerge as one of the first fast-fashion brands to launch a digital fashion collection. The retailer's debut collection comprises of eight three-dimensional NFTs from the menswear brand's apparel range of t-shirts, outerwear, tracksuits and hoodies. Samir Kamani, boohooMAN's CEO added that the NFT launch, which came at the back of an augmented reality campaign, marks the beginning of future digital fashion ventures.

Spanish fashion brand Zara took the less traveled route among European brands, partnering with South Korean label Ader Error to launch its first NFT collection on Asia's largest metaverse, Zepeto. The "AZ Collection" was sold as physical apparels in select real-world stores as well as virtual fashion apparel NFTs for avatars.

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