Although there will be no avatars at the time of launch, the brand’s stated ambition is for the virtual products released on Swoosh to become wearable on and off the platform. “I can imagine the avatars on RTFKT being able to wear our wearables, as well as avatars in games you already play,” says Ron Faris, VP/GM of Nike Virtual Studios, the brand’s arm launched in early 2022 to focus on the virtual sphere.
Of course, the NFT studio RTFKT (pronounced “artifact”) was bought by Nike in December 2021, so the porting of “codesigned” virtual clothing to that platform is hardly surprising. Beyond this, there are no specific details on the interoperability of Swoosh items with other platforms or metaverses, but Faris says the plan is to “work where our wearables will start to become more operable across more experiences or games that you find yourself playing.” In other words, wait and see. Meta’s recent announcement that its avatars will have legs seems like an ideal opportunity for virtual sneakers.
Nike already has a metaverse space on Roblox—Nikeland—where users can buy and wear virtual goods using not cash or crypto but in-game currency. Launched in November 2021, the branded virtual world has seen more than 26 million visitors, according to Roblox. Again, Faris does not seem to know how Swoosh will interact with Nikeland. “We haven’t contemplated exactly what that looks like,” he says.
By launching Swoosh, Nike may be creating its own virtual world that won’t need to rely on other platforms. Nikeland could be subsumed into Swoosh, but interoperability will surely have to be front and center for that to succeed. This is the very reason MSquared, Improbable’s division that builds metaverses for third parties, requires clients to ensure all of its virtual spaces be interoperable.
Nike isn’t the first high-end apparel brand to take on virtual products. Gucci has been somewhat of a pioneer: In 2021, the brand launched digital-only sneakers Gucci Virtual 25, which can be worn on VRChat and Roblox, and created Gucci Town on Roblox, an immersive space in which users can buy other virtual Gucci apparel. The bet has seemingly paid off: A digital-only Gucci bag on Roblox sold for more than the price of its physical counterpart (in in-game currency, of course). Vault, Gucci’s online concept store which hosts various crytpo and NFT projects, was introduced to The Sandbox in October 2022, solidifying the brand’s relationship with the metaverse.
Givenchy, Ralph Lauren, and Tommy Hilfiger also have spaces on Roblox where digital merchandise is sold. And in June 2022, Balenciaga, Thom Browne, and Prada partnered with Meta to create virtual products for sale on the platform’s new Avatars Store. According to Bloomberg, the metaverse market may reach $783.3 billion in 2024, up from $478.7 billion in 2020—and virtual products no doubt play a role in this projection.
Nike may see a virtual product marketplace as the next logical step in its digital successes. The brand saw huge boosts in online sales in the wake of the pandemic, and by March 2022, digital channels and applications accounted for more than a quarter of its revenues, with digital sales rising robustly.