Fashion

Would you wear a virtual sneaker?

By Joseph Furness
02-06-21

5 minute read

Movers and shakers in fashion are taking to the metaverse to level up their sneaker game.

They’re wearing, collecting and investing in virtual creps. Has the world gone mad? Maybe. As, like it or not, we’re heading towards a Ready Player One-esque existence. 

Here, we give you the lowdown on the burgeoning virtual sneaker phenomenon and explore the ways you could upgrade your shoe rotation with a pair of cyber kicks.

What are virtual sneakers?

Just a few years ago, ‘virtual sneakers’ referred to those sported by your humanoid video game character (e.g. your now-neglected Sim or super cute Animal Crossing villager). But now the term has a whole new meaning, as the lines between the virtual and physical world have merged

Using NFTs and AR technology, high-tech brands and organisations are – now, bear with us here – forming a sneakerverse within the metaverse. Fundamentally speaking, they’re aiming to recreate the hype of sourcing, flexing and collecting sneakers within the virtual world by creating digital kicks one can interact with via smart devices. Got that? Good. Let’s move on.

Gucci Helenkirkhum Virtual Sneakers June Journal Pr
Top: RTFKT's METAPIGEON BOSS; image courtesy of RTFKT. Above: Helen Kirkum's design for Gucci's digital Sneaker Garage; photography courtesy of Gucci

What are NFTs?

NFTs (non-fungible tokens) are digital assets that are completely unique and are not interchangeable. A record of an NFT’s existence is stored in a database that can’t be manipulated or hacked, aka blockchains.

An NFT can be almost anything that exists in the cyber world – from memes to tweets to digital art. And they’ve become such big business as of late that NFT owners have started to commission the construction of virtual galleries, in virtual worlds such as Decentraland, where they can display their collections. Who’s constructing these cultural landmarks? Virtual estate developers, of course.

What is AR Technology?

AR stands for augmented reality, describing the layering of the virtual world over the physical world to create an enhanced reality. Neat, right? Typically, AR technology provides users with the ability to see, hear and interact with virtual objects and characters by way of the camera on their smart devices.  

Augmented reality has already been adopted by a variety of industries, from healthcare to the food industry. Now, it’s the fashion industry that’s embracing the technology – especially the sneaker scene. AR lenses allow users to interact with virtual sneakers: this is opening up more possibilities for sneakerhead content creators who are sure to be rocking virtual sneakers alongside their physical pairs. Soon, you might not be able to tell them apart.

AR also creates greater opportunity for collaboration. See, for example, Gucci’s Sneaker Garage, a digital hub launched in 2020 and accessible via the brand’s app. So far, it’s seen a series of artists and creatives including Rudy Lim, Mattias Gollin and Helen Kirkum (who’s also designed sneakers exclusively for Lymited) reimagine the Gucci silhouette in the virtual studio.

The Different Types of Virtual Sneakers

A16z Rtfk Virtual Sneakers June Journal Pr
RTFKT x a16z collaboration; image courtesy of RTFKT

The Different Types of Virtual Sneakers

RTFKT Studios

RTFKT studios are leading the virtual sneaker revolution. Founded by three friends – Benoit Pagotto, Steven Vasiliev and Chris Le – the London-based organisation creates digital shoes and collectibles using NFTs, blockchain authentication and game engines. Since setting up in January 2020, RTFKT studios’ disruptive trajectory has gained traction and received support from forward-thinking public figures such as Elon Musk and Paris Hilton.

Recently, the organisation teamed up with Jeff Staple – designer of the highly coveted Nike SB Dunk Low ‘Pigeon’ – to create the METAPIGEON K-MINUS and METAPIGEON M. Priced between $500 and $2,021, the uber-limited NFTs grant the purchaser access to a physical pair of Columbidae-inspired sneakers and a virtual pair that can be worn in crypto-based virtual worlds such as Decentraland. Additionally, 100 versions of a virtual pigeon NFT were released as part of their collaboration, priced at just $1.00. Yes, a virtual pigeon; we did tell you NFTs could be anything! 

Aglet

Founded by the former director of future trends at adidas, Ryan Mullins, Aglet is essentially the sneaker version of Pokémon Go. Use the app to hunt for your favourite silhouettes, and visit Recharge and Destock stations shrewdly located at different landmarks in your local area. How? By using the app’s nifty built-in map. 

As you walk around with your phone in hand (or pocket), you will earn Aglets – the app’s in-game currency – which are redeemable at the ASS (Aglet Sneaker Shop). You will also come across sneaker boxes that may or may not contain access to virtual and physical sneakers. Now, that’s an incentive to play. 

A short time ago, Aglet announced that it was branching out into NFTs. Thus far, the app has released four NFT sneakers: the TELGA ETH, TELGA GAS, TELGA MINT and the TELGA AGT NFT. Each is a one-of-a-kind collectible that can be purchased using Aglets and stored in the crypto collectible app, Trust Goal. Ultimately, Aglet’s goal is to democratise NFTs by making them accessible – a goal we can totally get behind.

Gucci 25 Virtual Sneakers June Journal Pr
Above: Gucci Virtual 25; image courtesy of Gucci

Gucci x Wanna

With Gucci comes an unwritten sense of responsibility to be at the apex of fashion. Par for the course, then, that they’re one of the first luxury brands to create an exclusive virtual sneaker.

In collaboration with AR app Wanna, Gucci has designed the Virtual 25. Named after creative director Alessandro Michele’s favourite number, the high-fructose high-top wouldn’t look out of place in a ’00s SEGA game – Space Channel 5, in particular – which is one of the reasons why we’re so obsessed with them. Another reason is that they cost less than £12. Never in our lifetime did we expect to see Gucci sneakers flogged for just over a tenner. 

What are they good for? Absolutely something. Not only can you virtually ‘wear’ the sneakers and take pictures of them via the Gucci and Wanna apps (the ultimate digital flex), but you can also add the sneakers to the feet of your online avatars on platforms such as Roblox and VR Chat. Is it a gimmick? Perhaps, but we’re enjoying the experience nonetheless. 

Valentino x Snapchat

Since 2018, Snapchat has partnered up with a slew of brands – including Dior, Gucci and adidas – to allow users to virtually try on the freshest sneaker silhouettes. The latest label to partner with the American social media brand is Italian fashion house, Valentino.

Using an AR lens, Snapchatters can get an idea of what Valentino’s One Stud sneakers would look like on their feet. Users can get acquainted with five different styles – all of which are accompanied by a link to the physical pair – and take snaps of them wearing the sneakers, which they can save on their camera roll to send to friends and share on social media. Luxury fashion has never been so accessible.

Will virtual sneakers permanently replace physical sneakers?

Nike Off White Air Force 1 Nrg Gs Fa0029 2 Desktop
Nike Air Jordan 1 x Off-White, 2018

Will virtual sneakers permanently replace physical sneakers?

Absolutely not. Let us not forget that sneakers are more than just a fashion statement, they’re a practical footwear offering that, in this day and age, can be worn anywhere, with anything. Additionally, the thrill of unboxing, rocking and receiving compliments on your physical sneakers is utterly unsurpassable. The aforementioned virtual sneaker brands and platforms are savvy enough to recognise the importance of a sneaker’s tangible form, which is why the end goal is still (usually) IRL sneakers.

Bearing all of this in mind, we’re confident that the hype around corporeal sneakers will endure, which is why we believe the virtual should be perceived as an extension to the physical sneaker market. Essentially, this is us giving you our blessing to stunt your AR creps, invest in sneaker NFTs and dress your avatar likewise – as long as you do it all wearing a palpable pair of white-hot kicks


The Lymited Journal

Explore more stories across our luxury categories, spotlighting craft, people and creativity in art, design, fashion, watches, jewellery, cars, whisky, spirits and wine.