Nike nft An Airforce 1 sits on my screen, rendered in metal rather than leather, catching the light with its chrome finish. How much would I pay for this image of a shoe? And how much would I pay for this picture if it unlocked, say, a matching pair of metallic Airforce 1s in real life?
This is a question that Nike is exploring with the launch of its new Web3 shopping platform dotSwoosh, which launches today as a barebones website that will transition into a community-driven store over the months to come. After acquiring the NFT platform RTFKT (spoken as “artifact”) in 2021, suing the shoe resale site StockX after it launched its own NFT Nikes earlier this year, and selling a drop of 20,000 of its own virtual sneakers dubbed Cryptokicks in April, Nike is making a play to legitimize virtual apparel as part of its long-term strategy. The project is led by Ron Faris, head of Nike’s new Virtual Studios division, and the VP who has spent the last seven years leading Nike’s SNKRS app, which coordinates its limited edition, high demand sneaker drops. DotSwoosh seems aimed at taking sneaker drops into the future century through a storefront anyone can easily access.
While I’m assured that the aforementioned metallic Airforce 1 isn’t representative of the experience, Nike also isn’t sharing the full interface of what we will see—one that will only unroll over the coming months. For now, it is little more than a minimal website for signing up, but into 2023, dotSwoosh will evolve to sell virtual Nike shoes and other apparel, sometimes created alongside fans and users in design contests and sometimes created by Nike’s own designers and partners. In an enticing twist, Nike will use blockchain to share revenue on community sourced designs as they are sold and resold (whether Nike will also collect a long-term cut is still unclear).
Nike is building the platform, first and foremost, by focusing on consumer pain points around NFTs, a digital asset that generally requires the purchaser to juggle fluctuating cryptocurrencies, virtual wallets, and the unending debate of where a piece of media traced to the blockchain actually lives on the internet. Sites for crypto communities selling NFTs are esoteric and, for the uninitiated, scams can be indistinguishable from more legitimate operations.
“We know we’re not just targeting Web3 natives, we’re targeting a more Web3-curious audience, people afraid to [buy NFTs] because it’s too confusing or hard,” says Faris. Nike is attempting to build a family-friendly approach to Web3 shopping. And even though it purchases technically operates on an ethereum-based blockchain platform known as Polygon, all sales will be in easy-to-understand U.S. dollars.
Rather than launching the site as a .com, the company is using its .nike domain for the project. (Yes, the brand discrepancy between dotSwoosh and .nike is a bit confusing, but ditching .com was in the name of user safety.)
“If you own your own domain, you host all the links,” says Faris. “The number one reason people get scammed is you post a fake link . . . but if we own the link it’s a good first defense to protect [users].”
Despite this consumer-first focus, it’s easy to pigeonhole Nike’s strategy as a blatant cash grab that trades performance for pixels. Yet the level to which it’s a means to sell virtual apparel for real shoe prices remains to be seen. In some cases, buying a virtual Nike shoe will result in nothing more than a pretty digital picture that you can call your own. In others, the virtual object is just the first step in a process that could evolve the very idea of a shoe drop, a collectible that reveals more opportunities over time.
“When you look at this virtual product, I don’t see just a shoe or vital product, I see a product and a service, or a set of utilities that come with it,” says Faris. “[It’s] . . . a shoe, but something that leads you to access to the preorder of a physical shoe that comes in several months, or a virtual shoe that one day opens access to a token gated community of Nike designs so you can vote on [future] colorways for physical shoes.” Crucially, Nike also believes your virtual shoes will useful—the company imagines that this NFT apparel will go with you into video games and other metaverse experiences.
“We anchored our offering around what utility it gets you, not as a speculative asset,” says Faris.
Nike’s core ideas aren’t all that new; I’ve heard versions of “virtual thing unlocks real experience” from companies since the rise of smartphones. But Nike is riding the $127 billion sneaker zeitgeist, and seems to hope that dotSwoosh is a way it can slingshot the culture of exclusive sneaker drops into whatever world is to come.
But for now, Nike is launching dotSwoosh at an intentionally snail pace. While the website is live, users won’t be able to register an account until November 18. Community design challenges and other content won’t arrive until December. And then the first collection won’t launch until “early 2023.” During this slow onboarding process, the company hopes to educate customers to how it all works, while seeding invites to a pool of diverse creators, so that the community can grow into a positive, inclusive one.
With dotSwoosh, Nike has arrived casually late to a crashed NFT market further complicated by the FTX/Binance cryptocurrency exchange implosion, and too early for any articulated metaverse. Yet, I suspect its success will have little to do with either timeline, and everything to do with how well Nike intertwines its physical and digital products. Because at the very least, a beautiful digital shoe sure beats a stodgy emailed receipt. As products, digital shoes are an uninspiring topic. But as keys to something else? (Maybe even a real shoe?!?) They’re fascinating.