The ‘phygital’ phenomenon is hitting some of the world’s biggest department stores as Jonathan Koons’ 8-Bit launched under his streetwear label Mostly Heard Rarely Seen on Monday. Each item in the collection includes the physical garment and its NFT version.
The term, a portmanteau of “digital” and “physical,” is an appropriate, albeit clunky, way to refer to digital products such as avatar clothing or virtual art and collectibles that come with a physical counterpart, or vice versa. For Koon, this means athleisure and streetwear with QR codes that not only come with an NFT version of the item, but also direct luxury customers into the virtual world of Highstreet, a retail and gaming-focused metaverse built on the blockchain .
The collection is worn by Saks Fifth Avenue, Neiman Marcus, Selfridges, Harvey Nichols, Beymen and Bloomingdale’s, among others.
Of course, given the premium clientele, the experience was designed to reduce friction. Cut the security tag to reveal the barcode, scan it and the simplified process begins to quickly create an avatar – it can even use a selfie for a mirrored digital version of the real user – and adorn the figurine with the virtual purchase Clothing. Users receive $High tokens, Highstreet’s native currency, so they can immediately explore the area and buy or sell other items.
If owners want to sell their new NFTs, the process is simple too. It only takes a few steps to mint or resell it as a listing on OpenSea or LooksRare platforms.
With NFTs, rarity matters, so products are produced in varying quantities across a variety of trading partners. The most limited run will likely yield the highest value. In this way, NFTs resemble hyped real-world drops—so much so that Koon likens his initiative to hip skate brand Supreme, except it’s focused on the Metaverse.
However, according to Koon, the goal is not just to push products.
In fact, given the meticulous production process, he could have asked for a premium. Each graphic was created through custom aluminum casting molds and a 30 day production time using hand filled silicone, an industrial heat press and industrial stamping machines to create physically unique items that reflect the rarity that blockchain offers. 8-bit shirts start at a few hundred dollars but could have justified a much higher price tag.
Instead, the fashion designer wants to make the collection accessible, he explained in an interview with WWD. He doesn’t have one-off transactions in mind, but a much more ambitious vision of making brick-and-mortar stores themselves the entry point or portal to the metaverse.
“We introduced ourselves [luxury customers] Enter Web 3.0 through their world,” he said in an exclusive interview with WWD. “Instead of saying, ‘Guys, come to Web 3.0, come to our space’ and force you to do it and teach you the platform, we created this QR code system of Phygital products. They are truly physical in nature but celebrate what we have fallen in love with in the fashion industry – which is fashion retail at the highest level in the luxury department store.”
Koon’s understanding of the premium shopping experience is influenced by a number of factors. Many of the department stores on his partner list already carried his brand, and he also has his own brick-and-mortar experience, having opened a luxury store in SoHo in 2013. In fact, it was a very tech-savvy customer in this business that turned his attention to crypto in the first place. Not that Koon completely ignores e-commerce. Farfetch is another retail partner, he explained, and will carry the collection online.
However customers purchase, the item grants access to Highstreet, where they can explore the space, try out their digital wearable, and transact. The latter is crucial. Transactions are part of the lifeblood of the platform.
Backed by investors like HTC, the Taiwan-based tech giant and maker of the Vive VR headset, Highstreet has grandiose goals of its own to establish itself as a retail-focused metaverse beyond gaming, and is in talks to bring brands into the space. Koon’s 8-bit, for example, will set up a virtual shop there.
Through PC desktops and laptops, people can enter the world of Highstreet as an MMORPG, or massively multiplayer online role-playing game, to complete quests, fight battles, and level up. You can also buy items there. Users who are only interested in shopping or transactions but not gaming can access these promotions through their phones and tablets for an easy experience. VR fans can also sideload Highstreet and be fully immersed via their headsets.
“We’re one of the very few that’s actually doing retail plus gaming and also VR,” said Jenny Guo, co-founder of Highstreet, “so I think that’s one of our greatest strengths.” In fact, the ability to access different Ways to access a platform are a key promise of the metaverse, but few platforms have figured out how to achieve this.
Highstreet recently put land up for sale in April with more in the pipeline and a number of potential retail relationships are taking place. It’s in talks with Shopify, for example, about integrating with its platform.
“We’re actually very close to Shopify because a lot of the people running Shopify these days basically went to college with us. So we’re all Canadian,” said Travis Wu, High Street’s co-founder and chief executive officer. “[It] gives us a small advantage to engage with them in some way. They haven’t been involved yet because we’re still figuring out how they can create a custom integration port for us.”
Highstreet is expanding at a rapid pace, and Jonathan Koons 8-bit could bring an infusion of high-value customers into the mix. If it works, with luxury buyers responding to this less choosy way of entering the metaverse by picking up bundles of these NFTs and physical clothing items, this model could become the standard for other tech platforms – and department stores.