In 2022, brands like Nike and Gucci collectively brought in billions from NFTs. These industry leaders then provide attractive utility to buyers, like Nike’s RTFKT forging IRL clothes or Tiffany’s $73,000 chain for CryptoPunk holders.
Hype and the volatile (read: often absurd) prices that come with it drive culturally-relevant narratives.
The stories that shape our outlooks, whether they’re about sneakers, sweatshirts, jackets, or JPEGs, are informed by culturally relevant products. So, why is it that of all of the above, only NFTs divide the streetwear set?
Bobby Hundreds and Jeff Staple are uniquely capable of making the connections between streetwear and NFTs.
As two people who helped lay the groundwork for “the culture” as we know it, both notice similarities between the early days and what’s happening now in web3.
Jeff is the founder of Staple Design.
In 2005, Staple’s Nike Pigeon Dunks famously caused riots that “catapulted sneaker culture to the masses.” The shoe wasn’t envisioned as a hyped drop, but simply emerged as part of a greater dream to have his name on a Nike, “an honor only achievable by athletes at the time”. In January 2022, Staple entered web3 with STAPLEVERSE (SV).
Bobby Hundreds is the co-founder of The Hundreds, of course. The company’s collaborations, guerilla marketing, famous Labor Day parties, and IYKYK blog solidified it as a streetwear institution, sparking its home in LA’s Fairfax District as the culture’s west coast foundation.
In August 2021, Hundreds launched Adam Bomb Squad, which used The Hundreds’ “Adam Bomb” mascot as the basis for 25,000 NFTs. At NFT NYC, the project went viral with a staged NFT “protest.”
“I like toying with the tension between crypto blowhards and the NFT haters. Both parties can take a deep breath.” said Hundreds.
“It’s far too early to tell what this technology can be, so until then, I like taking the piss out of the debate. ‘NFTS ARE A SCAM’ elicits such a visceral response from people on both sides of the argument and you have to wonder why it’s so triggering. That’s what the pranks are for: to provoke a healthy dialogue. As long as people are talking about it, I think we’ll move closer to the truth.”
Both Staple and Hundreds identify their collectors as coming from streetwear, not crypto, backgrounds.
“I’ve been in this game long enough to remember when laser color printing was a revolution,” Staple said. “The internet, e-commerce, and social media were all revolutions. I’ve seen like three to four of these monumental shifts in the way we live in the culture.”
Generationally, streetwear and its collectors have lived through several decades. Both Staple and Hundreds built brands when internet forums like NikeTalk reigned supreme; online communities where people would get into lengthy conversations over the latest Jordan drops and (remember, this was pre-smartphone).
Nearly 20 years later, Discord (a favorite medium for NFT discussion) mirrors similar behavior for this older generation. In turn, Gen-Z and younger millennials also prefer Discord to Instagram, citing a renewed focus on forming stronger communities online.
“Most every major NFT brand will admit that they were inspired by the last two decades of streetwear,” Hundreds said. “They remind me so much of that creative energy I remember from a burgeoning streetwear culture in the early 2000s. I haven’t seen much of that raw magic since.”
“Meanwhile, the current NFT space is awkward and capricious. In the future, we’ll be embarrassed by so much of what we’re doing today (if we aren’t already). But, that cringe tells me that people are taking risks and trying. And I love that. I call it “the biggest bet.’”
Hundreds noted that, in comparison, streetwear is “somewhat predictable and formulaic on the mainstream stage.”
“Eliminating cringe” is something we face every day in being involved with NFTs. A lot of projects that make headline-worthy money, for instance, are likely being pumped by flippers in trading groups. They only care about an NFT’s utility because it helps them resell it. Some in web3 assumed that ‘flipping’ would drive streetwear fans familiar with resale to NFTs, thus, creating an elevated standard of curation, though that hasn’t been the case.
Staple doesn’t advocate for flipping but is simultaneously impressed that sneaker culture is big enough to engender a resale ecosystem.
He figures that “for every 100 kids who get into sneaker culture because of reselling, 51 of them are going to fall in love with the culture. Out of those 51, 30 will actually get a job in the industry,” a sentiment he echoes for NFTs.
Meanwhile, Hundreds has “an uncomfortable relationship with flipping. The craziest flex in the 2000s was to actually wear your expensive Dunks. The world knew you could sell them for hundreds of dollars, but you didn’t care.”
Instagram is the biggest accelerator for why we stopped wearing shoes and started posting them. This emotional distancing grew as sneakers became an alternative asset class.
Although the social media site made sneakers more viable to trade like stocks, it couldn’t capture any of the value of the trade for itself or the manufacturers.
If you’ve been disheartened by the creator royalties conversation, I wanna let you know that Web3’s biggest names and brightest thinkers have reached out to me to show us what they’re working on to solve the problem. We got this ✊🏽 We got each other. https://t.co/PrHLIPpj81
— bobbyhundreds.eth (@bobbyhundreds) November 9, 2022
On November 2, Meta announced plans to launch Instagram tools that will enable people to sell IG posts as NFTs, allowing creators to make money on content they’re already distributing for free. If done correctly, Meta could be the first company to introduce digital assets successfully to the masses.
“How much would you pay for a blue checkmark on Twitter?” Staple asked in early October, weeks before new CEO Elon Musk implemented his controversial new policy of charging real money for an intangible accessory, alternatively mocked and embraced by Twitter users.
Musk’s Twitter experiment just goes to show how much even web3-averse people value digital assets, even if they say they don’t.
“When you look at what’s been happening in web3, and even crypto in general, we’ve been fighting the masses on this perception of people thinking it’s a scam,” said Staple.
“People were saying that hip-hop was a trend that was gonna die. ‘Why are you wasting your time trying to make a skate trick happen? Why are you still screen printing T-shirts out of your basement? Stop wasting your time.’
“I hear that same sentiment when it comes to NFTs. I feel very nostalgic that these are the same people who didn’t believe me when I was printing my first Staple shirts.”
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