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Nike Buys Virtual Fashion Startup

Nike has added a virtual-first art collective to its family of brands.

The company, which less than two months ago made headlines for filing a series of trademark applications for virtual footwear and apparel, announced Monday it had bought RTFKT, a less than two-year-old company that has centered its work around NFT fashion. Nike said the terms of the deal will not be disclosed.

“We will continue to evolve our brand, innovations, products and community with Nike resources and talents,” RTFKT wrote on Instagram. “Nike is the only brand in the world we always looked up to and got inspired by when starting RTFKT.”

A short video released alongside the announcement shows RTFKT’s logo side-by-side with Nike’s Swoosh, the Jordan Brand’s Jumpman and Converse’s star and chevron.

“This acquisition is another step that accelerates Nike’s digital transformation and allows us to serve athletes and creators at the intersection of sport, creativity, gaming and culture,” Nike CEO and president John Donahoe said in a statement. “We’re acquiring a very talented team of creators with an authentic and connected brand. Our plan is to invest in the RTFKT brand, serve and grow their innovative and creative community and extend Nike’s digital footprint and capabilities.”

Though RTFKT has since expanded to fashion and avatars, the group got its start designing virtual footwear, both for its own independent releases and as a collaborator with larger businesses, like video game company Atari. In late February, the firm raked in $3.1 million in seven minutes from a collection of digital sneakers and charms it had created with 18-year-old artist Fewocious.

“This is a unique opportunity to build the RTFKT brand and we are excited to benefit from Nike’s foundational strength and expertise to build the communities we love,” Benoit Pagotto, one of RTFKT’s co-founders, said in a statement. “Nike is the only brand in the world that shares the deep passion we all have for innovation, creativity and community, and we’re excited to grow our brand which was fully formed in the metaverse.”

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Nike has shown an interest in virtual footwear for years, filing multiple patent applications related to “cryptographic digital assets” in 2019 and in the years since. Though some are still pending, the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) has granted at least three, one in 2019 and two since June.

The patents—filed long before non-fungible tokens (NFTs) exploded into the public consciousness earlier this year—repeatedly reference what Nike calls “CryptoKicks,” virtual collectibles backed by unique, non-fungible tokens. In some implementations, the patents note, these CryptoKicks could be imported into one or more other digital platforms, such as a skin on a video game character.

Though these patents have been kicking around for years, Nike drew fresh attention this fall when seven new trademarks applications—all of which were to cover long-time Nike trademarks, such as its signature Swoosh or its “Just Do It” slogan—listed under their goods and services “on-line, non-downloadable virtual footwear, clothing, headwear, eyewear, bags, sports bags, backpacks, sports equipment, art, toys and accessories for use in virtual environments.”

Around the same time, it posted job openings for “virtual material designers,” including one focused on footwear. In both cases, the listings say whoever gets the position “will play a key role in redefining our digital landscape, ushering us into the metaverse, and growing our team’s capabilities.” Possibly putting a wrinkle in these efforts to build out Nike’s in-house virtual team was the departure of Chad Knight, its director of 3D footwear design until last month. After Complex reported on Knight and others’ departures, the former Nike employee—now head of cyberwear at NFT marketplace Wilder World—said “the influx of MBA’s was preventing the expression and pollination of new ideas.”

A little less than a month ago, Nike dove into the metaverse with its own mini-world on the popular virtual platform Roblox. Dubbed Nikeland, it draws inspiration from the company’s real-world Oregon headquarters, while also introducing detailed arenas where the Roblox community can compete in classic games like tag, “the floor is lava” and dodgeball. For those with a creative bent, the Nikeland tool kit allows users to design their own mini-games from “interactive sports materials.”

The virtual environment includes a “showroom” stocked with digital Nike shoes, clothes and accessories, including classics like the Air Force 1 and Nike Blazer, as well as new drops like the Air Force 1 Fontanka and the Air Max 2021. The store also offers a free exclusive Nike cap and backpack that can be worn anywhere on Roblox.