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This Designer-Driven Platform Merges Sneaker NFTs With the Real Thing

While the non-fungible token (NFT) market is still a vast unknown, its overnight popularity has made it a prime entry point for digital creatives. Footwear is no exception, with one coveted sneaker NFT bringing in $3 million in sales in just seven minutes in March. Asics even hopped on the NFT bandwagon this summer, auctioning off its 189-piece Sunrise Red collection.

Now, one platform is betting on virtual and physical footwear’s coexistence to further the NFT ecosystem’s evolution.

Futures Factory, a digital marketplace dedicated to selling virtual and physical sneakers, recently announced it raised $2.5 million in September.

In a post on Medium, the company said its core mission is to “empower footwear designers, improve the way people interact and consume sneakers and offer a sustainable demand-driven distribution model for footwear brands.”

The company currently has a network of more than 30 footwear designers and brands, and unveiled the first official drop on its site so far, “Helios,” a sneaker from former Adidas designer Robert Quach. The second sneaker launch is expected “in a few days,” the site says.

Shoppers can place a bid on the Helios shoe using the cryptocurrency Ethereum.

"Helios," a sneaker from former Adidas designer Robert Quach, is the first NFT drop from Futures Factory.

The marketplace is taking advantage of the digital fashion movement, which has given rise to the design of online-exclusive apparel and footwear while aiming to redefine luxury. For example, digital fashion house The Fabricant sold a piece of digital couture for $9,500 in May 2019, well before the craze truly took off. This exclusive piece, like many in the digital fashion realm, is designed to be “worn” only by the buyer.

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Buyers using Futures Factory can collect “virtual-only” sneakers to display within virtual rooms, use on their characters within video games or impose on their feet within various augmented reality (AR) platforms.

The marketplace also offers “futures” sneakers that will initially be sold as virtual sneakers, but can be physically manufactured and available to redeem by the owner of the NFT.

The latter adds onto the exclusivity that NFTs deliver, which is what made them so popular in the first place. NFTs are unique digital assets that reside on a secure blockchain database, effectively giving the acquirer of the asset exclusive ownership over the item. Essentially, every form of content becomes “ownable” once it is placed on the blockchain, since it theoretically can’t be copy-pasted, edited, deleted or otherwise manipulated.

Future Factory seems to have a stronger emphasis on the NFT creator than the consumer. The marketplace is aimed at giving designers new opportunities to meet and share their skills with others, connect with their audience and generate new revenue streams.

“If we create a cool community of designers, they will naturally attract the brands they work with,” Futures Factory founder and CEO Nicolas Romero wrote in the post. “We want to start with footwear designers and virtual-only sneakers because it’s easier for them to understand the value they can capture with what they are already creating at work or just by passion.”

Long wait times spark new ideas

The business model sprung up out of Romero’s other business, sneaker brand Satoshi Studio, which operated under lean production with the idea to avoid creating waste. The brand used NFTs to create a “digital twin” for each pair, effectively giving consumers greater access to transparent information such as suppliers, materials and descriptions.

However, the initial pre-sale model forced consumers to wait four months or more for the sneakers, without any additional content to keep them busy. This primed Romero to interview 23 designers, brands and sneakerheads about how to improve the business model.

Romero and Alexandre Frih then started Futures Factory on the idea that small or intermediate brands can sell “futures” sneakers and leverage NFTs and AR filters to finance their production in the short term, ultimately making the wait more entertaining.

Frih, the company’s chief technology officer, has considerable experience in this realm himself. He served as the initiator and architect of the Aura Blockchain Consortium, which combines the likes of luxury giants LVMH, Prada and Richemont’s Cartier.

Futures Factory set formidable goals for itself, according to its Medium post. Before 2022, the marketplace is shooting for 90 virtual sneaker drops, 30 small-brand drops and 15 intermediate-brand drops of futures sneakers, as well as more than 15 premium partnerships with luxury or premium brands, creators and artists.

By 2025, the goal is for 200 luxury brands to be collaborating with the company, with all the major footwear designers and brands having their own profile on the marketplace.

The French platform secured the funding of European investors including Seedcamp, Stride, Voodoo’s cofounders, Kima Ventures and RTP Global. The investment comes amid a wave of funding for the market—in 2021, Europe’s NFT startups hit a combined valuation of 3.6 billion euros ($16 billion), according to Dealroom.