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NFTs in fashion — is there substance behind the style?

‍Despite the decline in NFT values in 2022, many major fashion firms have continued to launch branded NFT collections. At launch, spokespeople make lofty, yet vague promises about blending the physical and digital realm and new dimensions of engagement.

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NFTs in fashion — is there substance behind the style?

Despite the decline in NFT values in 2022, many major fashion firms have continued to launch branded NFT collections. At launch, spokespeople make lofty, yet vague promises about blending the physical and digital realm and new dimensions of engagement. But what are these brands actually doing with NFTs? In our latest Web3 analysis blog, we strip down fashion NFTs to the threads and unveil a surprisingly diverse array of use cases. 

During the height of the NFT boom in 2021 and 2022, major brands, from athletic apparel firms like Adidas and Nike to luxury fashion houses like Prada and Gucci rushed into the space. At the time, it seemed like an obvious next step. It was a period when NFTs had just been integrated into Facebook and Instagram and Web3 metaverse projects were attracting huge attention and massive investment. NFTs promised to be a gateway for brands to integrate themselves into the next wave of the internet and attract a younger demographic who had abandoned high-street shops in favour of e-commerce.

Then the slump came — a perfect storm of forces including lower-than-anticipated metaverse adoption coupled with the collapse of FTX and a crypto market downturn resulted in large declines in NFT trading volumes on platforms like Open Sea by late 2022. While companies like Meta decided to kill off NFT support in response to the headwinds, fashion brands continued to announce new NFT collections and projects throughout 2023. The press releases for these initiatives are often wordy and vague, promising “boundless potential to connect” or a celebration of the “sophistication of experience” and are unveiled at lavish parties attended by celebrities like Kate Moss and Kourtney Kardasdian.

But underneath all the glitz and glamour, what are brands actually doing with NFTs? Are these initiatives just short-lived publicity stunts or practical applications of Web3 technology? In a recent analysis, THE RELEVANCE HOUSE looked into which top fashion brands are most active in the NFT space and uncovered a surprising variety of projects. In total, we categorised 60 NFT collections released by 21 top fashion brands to gain a sense of the use cases behind the hype.

The “insiders” — Nike and Adidas 

Of the 50 largest fashion brands, Adidas and Nike are most active in terms of NFT collections launched, with Puma coming in third place. Both these firms have followed a similar playbook of closely copying the mechanics of previously successful native-Web3 projects like CrypoKitties, CryptoPunks, and Bored Ape Yacht Club.

At Adidas, VP of Three Stripes Studio Erika Wykes-Sneyd drove a strategy of engaging NFT influencers like Gmoney as spokespeople, hiring NFT artists to create collections, collaborating with established NFT projects like Bored Ape Yacht Club, and most recently, partnering with the Web3 fitness app STEPN. Nike simply went down the acquisition route, buying up the virtual sneaker and digital collectibles firm RTFKT in December 2021.  

Nike and Adidas NFT drops are quintessentially crypto — featuring multiple stages, the ability to combine and breed attributes, mystery boxes, and a game-like narrative. Nike NFT holders could purchase tokens to unlock features like auto-lacing technology for their virtual sneakers. The RTFKT Cryptokicks sneaker was even made available as a real-world shoe in limited numbers, exclusively to those who had acquired the NFT. Similarly, Adidas NFT rollout occurred in multiple stages, combining NFT collectibles, with physical merchandise, airdrops and metaverse wearables. Later drops were limited to those who had purchased NFTs during the previous stages, meaning that it required quite a lot of commitment and buy-in from the start.

In terms of branding, it seems that both Nike and Adidas did not want to confuse their core consumers too much with NFT content, and have largely segregated it from the mother brand. Adidas has set up an entirely separate metaverse page for its NFTs featuring the classic trefoil leaf logo rotated on its side, suggesting that it is subverting and reinterpreting the traditions of the brand. Nike’s NFTs appear on the RTFKT website. It is noteworthy that the real-world Cryptokicks shoe they released was branded purely as RTFKT, with no trace of Nike branding or the iconic swoosh logo.  

The insider vibe of Nike and Adidas’ NFT offerings has some tradeoffs. While it offers a gamified experience tailored to NFT aficionados, the jargon, steep learning curve and segregated channels mean these NFTs are unlikely to hold much appeal for casual consumers who are unaccustomed to NFT mechanics. In essence, both brands are “preaching to the choir”, selling NFTs to enthusiasts who are already experienced in the market. This generates some revenue and buzz using proven tactics from the NFT space, but it is unlikely to expand the reach of Web3 to new users.

In contrast, some other fashion companies like Levi’s have used NFTs for more traditional brand activation campaigns. In January 2022, a competition was held in France to win one of 10 pairs of Levi’s 501 jeans that came printed with a QR code linked to a 501 NFT that served as a lifetime warranty. Holders of the NFT can have the corresponding jeans repaired for free for life at Levi's flagship store on the Champs-Elysées in Paris. Although on a very small scale, the campaign shows the potential for NFTs to offer more widespread appeal and practical utility for fashion consumers than the insider campaigns. Below, I take a look at the most prevalent NFT use cases in the fashion industry.

NFTs linked to physical products

About 42% of the NFT collections we analysed were tied to products that you can actually touch. Sometimes described as “phygital” products, these are goods that are linked with an NFT to create a hybrid ownership experience. This can be done a number of ways:

NFT twins: At the simpler end, sometimes physical goods are accompanied by a digital copy. For example, the French luxury brand Givenchy released a clothing line with streetwear designer Bstroy that featured NFT replicas. In such cases, the main role of the NFT is simply to serve as a digital collectible. This provides an entry point for new users to NFTs that is simple to understand, but as the utility is quite limited, some consumers may regard it as a gimmick. 

NFT authentication: Luxury brands often focus on authenticating the provenance of exclusive products to help tackle counterfeiting. For example, Bulgari’s 2022 release of the world’s thinnest mechanical watch featured a QR code connected to a unique NFT that is intended to guarantee the timepiece’s authenticity. Some experts, like William Foxley from CoinDesk, aren’t totally sold on NFTs stopping fakes, noting the relative ease with which QR codes and NFTs can be replicated. It could be that products containing hardware-based NFTs like the Puma Slipstream Physicals, which are fitted with an embedded NFC chip, are more difficult to copy. In any case, authentication remains one of the most promising applications for NFTs in fashion. 

NFT access pass: Like it or loathe it, FOMO has often been a central plank of Web3 and fashion marketing. NFT access passes are like a private club that give holders the opportunity to buy exclusive products and experiences. The Puma Pass NFTs, for instance, grant holders the right to access limited-edition items from Black Station, Puma’s innovation lab. This approach is also in evidence among luxury fashion brands like Louis Vuitton, whose Via Treasure Trunks NFTs launched in June 2023 provide access to exclusive, member-only products.

At the moment, most of these access pass NFTs are quite transactional. Brands know that some consumers are willing to pay a massive premium for limited-edition merchandise, and these NFTs enable them to further monetize that scarcity. However, it will be interesting to see whether some brands work more closely with token holders to get feedback on upcoming products in order to create a greater sense of collaboration in these clubs, while gaining valuable insights. 

NFT customization: Beyond mere replicas, some brands offer personalised items based on NFT characteristics. Tiffany & Co.'s NFTiff, introduced in August 2022, was a collection of 250 digital passes priced at 30 ETH each. Holders of CryptoPunk NFTs who acquired an NFTiff were entitled to receive a handcrafted, bespoke pendant, crafted with gemstones and diamonds reflecting the attributes and colours of their CryptoPunk NFT. 

It is fair to say that this was a bit of an odd collaboration as you would imagine that the crossover in the venn diagram between CryptoPunk enthusiasts and Tiffany jewellery connoisseurs would be relatively small. In principle, however, the idea of using digital traits to customise real-world products is interesting and could be explored more by other brands.  

NFT art

Numerous fashion brands have partnered with NFT artists to sell or auction their work. This past August, Adidas teamed up with digital creatives like MonkeeMoto and Dear Nostalgia to drop exclusive NFTs on the Rarible marketplace. Sometimes these NFTs collections are high-concept retrospectives on the history and essence of a brand; in July 2023, Gucci’s collaborated with Claire Silver, Emily Xie and Christie’s auctioneers on an exhibition inspired by Gucci textiles and colours. NFT sales have also been used by brands to support favoured charitable causes, such as Yves Saint Laurent’s “The Night Masters” auction, whose proceeds were used to support Abuse is Not Love, a charity involved in preventing intimate partner violence. 

While NFT art auctions represent a relatively simple and understandable use case for NFTs, they are probably not the best vehicle to showcase the full potential of Web3 in the fashion industry. The concept of an art auction is nothing new to most consumers and merely substituting physical art with digital NFTs is not particularly innovative. 

NFTs for the metaverse

The metaverse remains one of the most talked-about use cases for fashion NFTs. Adidas, a pioneer in this space, unveiled its “Virtual Gear” collection for Web3 in November 2022. These NFT wearables, purchasable on OpenSea, represent Adidas’s commitment to integrating their virtual apparel across multiple Web3-native platforms, including Decentraland and The Sandbox. Additionally, Adidas has introduced a styling tool for virtual avatars, compatible with prominent NFT communities like Bored Ape Yacht Club and MetaHero. Previously, Under Armour commemorated Stephen Curry becoming the highest three-point shooter in NBA history with the launch of the Curry Flow 9 digital sneaker in December 2021, which was marketed as the first NFT footwear for virtual worlds. 

While Adidas and Under Armour’s foray into the metaverse is ambitious, it’s important to scrutinise the real-world impact of such initiatives. The metaverse, heralded as the next frontier for digital interaction, has failed to achieve widespread adoption so far, often resembling a ghost town rather than a bustling digital utopia. Data from 2022, for example, showed that Decentraland and The Sandbox each had fewer than 1,000 daily active users. While positioning themselves as innovators, the reality is that these brands may be investing in platforms that lack engagement. The risk is that these digital ventures could become akin to billboards on deserted highways—visible, but with few to appreciate them. 

While the idea is forward-thinking, the execution may be premature, banking on a future that is still very much in the making. The challenge for brands will be to not only create appealing digital products but also to play a part in driving the adoption of the metaverse itself.

NFTs linked to digital content

NFTs can be used like an access key to unlock premium digital content that is otherwise not publicly available. Take Puma’s collaboration with Jay-Z’s Roc Nation, which birthed the RS-XL Mixtape sneaker line. Each pair comes equipped with an NFC chip that serves as a gateway to exclusive digital content in the form of a weekly curated 14-track playlist.

This is quite a cool use case that opens up interesting possibilities. Imagine a pair of Beats headphones that comes with NFT access to an exclusive Dr Dre track. Or a concert shirt that links to a professional video recording of the event and a behind the scenes interview with the artist. Music fandom has always been conducive to memorabilia and collectibles and NFTs could offer a way to bring this experience into the digital realm. 

NFTs linked to event attendance

Given how coveted invites to fashion events are, some brands have used NFTs to serve as collectible event tickets. Ralph Lauren embraced this trend with an airdrop to Poolsuite NFT holders, who each received an exclusive NFT that provided access to an exclusive Miami party. Other brands, like Italian luxury fashion house Moncler, used a free giveaway of NFTs by digital artist Antoni Tudisco as an incentive to draw attendees to an immersive showcase of the brand's history entitled “The Extraordinary Exhibition”.


Beneath all the glitz and hype, fashion brands are using NFTs in a wide variety of ways. Industry giants such as Nike and Adidas have learned from the success of native-Web3 projects, integrating familiar game-like storylines and incentive mechanisms. While this may win them some admirers among NFT enthusiasts, it could also confine their broader market reach. For luxury brands, NFTs facilitate digital art auctions, strengthen the authentication tools for physical merchandise, and grant access to exclusive product offerings.

While certain NFT use cases demonstrate tangible benefits, others appear to be superficial marketing tactics with minimal lasting impact. As brands continue to explore the realm of NFTs, it’s crucial to focus on providing real value and utility to consumers. This involves simplifying the user experience to ensure accessibility without overwhelming the user with mysterious technical jargon. With metaverse platforms like The Sandbox and Decentraland seeing less engagement than anticipated, fashion brands must not only innovate but also actively participate in nurturing the digital environments where their NFTs exist, ensuring they offer more than just transient appeal.

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