Nike and Rtfkt take on digital fashion with first “Cryptokick” sneaker

The long-awaited digital shoes are available to people who own Rtfkt’s mysterious Mnlth NFTs.

By guest author Maghan McDowell from Vogue Business.

Nike and Rtfkt’s first digital sneakers are here. On Friday, April 22, 2022, the digital fashion and 3D creation studio, which Nike acquired in December, revealed a collection of co-branded digital sneakers on Discord and Twitter. The shoes, called Nike Cryptokicks, are modelled after the Nike Dunk sneaker and mark the brand’s long-awaited entrance into digital clothing.

The sneakers are available to people who own Rtfkt’s Mnlth, a mysterious digital box NFT that was airdropped, for free, to anyone who owned a Clone-X in February. (Clone-X is the PFP project that Rtfkt created with artist Takashi Murakami in November.) People could elect to sell their Mnlth NFTs or keep them. Now, those who held onto it have been rewarded: they can burn their current Mnlths in exchange for a Mnlth that holds a Cryptokick.

The company will offer eight Rtfkt-made evolutionary “skins” to start, which let people customise the sneakers with various looks and designs, similar to a video-game skill tree, although the evolution mode isn’t yet activated, says co-founder Benoit Pagotto, who worked in luxury fashion before founding Rtfkt. Rtfkt plans to open the ability for creators and partners to create skins. At launch, one of the skins was created by Murakami.

The sneaker community has enthusiastically embraced digital fashion and become a leader in trends including PFPs, Discord communities and digital collectibles. Fittingly, Adidas and Nike have been in competition to keep communities curious and intrigued about the metaverse. The same week that Nike acquired Rtfkt, Adidas unveiled its hotly anticipated “Into the Metaverse” NFTs in collaboration with Web3 influencers Gmoney and the Bored Ape Yacht Club. Similar to Rtfkt, Adidas’s strategy hinges on the promise of ongoing future perks, including access to both digital and physical products and events. To that end, Adidas has begun developing digital real estate on The Sandbox, and Nike has an ongoing world on Roblox, where people can play to earn digital goods.

Nike acquired two-year-old Rtfkt for an undisclosed sum in December, bringing on a small team and large NFT fan-group. Nike called out the platform’s “next-generation collectibles that merge culture and gaming” and Nike, Inc. president and CEO John Donahoe said it allows the company to serve creators at the “intersection of sport, creativity, gaming and culture”.

Trademarks filed by Nike for Cryptokicks earlier this week offered clues about its future roadmap: it filed for downloadable computer software for use as a cryptocurrency wallet; services for a marketplace for digital currency assets; services that provide a digital currency or token for an online community; electronic bulletin board services; blogs in crypto-collectibles; online scavenger hunts; and technology that enables members to receive crypto assets.

The popularity and hype surrounding the mysterious Mnlth, even before Friday’s drop, is a testament to the trust that Rtfkt has instilled within its following. In secondary sales via OpenSea, the Mnlth project had already garnered millions in sales, and traded for as much as 5.6 ETH (or USD 16848) in February. In addition to the Mnlth airdrop, Clone-X owners also received a “Space Pod”, which is a digital space that holders can decorate. While the connection between these assets is still under wraps, some speculate that eventually, Clone-X avatars will be able to wear Nike sneakers, and people can display their kicks in their virtual Pods.

This Cryptokicks launch could be the first of many digital launches from Nike. The brand has previously filed seven metaverse-related trademark applications, indicating an intent to make and sell virtual branded sneakers and apparel. Already, those filings are being tested. it filed a lawsuit against sneaker resale company StockX, alleging that its NFTs — which portray digital Nikes — were trademark infringement. StockX later responded, saying Nike showed a “fundamental misunderstanding” of NFTs.

In a statement on the Cyryptokick launch, a Nike representative said, “Nike is focused on potential ways to use blockchain technology to serve our consumers in the athletic footwear, apparel and equipment space. The Mnlth is just the start to a future of serving athletes in this space.”