The “phygital” phenomenon is hitting some of the world’s biggest department stores, as Jonathan Koons’ 8-Bit launched Monday under his streetwear label, Mostly Heard Rarely Seen. Each item in the collection includes the physical garment and its NFT version.
The term, a portmanteau of “digital” and “physical”, is a convenient, if clumsy, 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, that means leisure and streetwear with QR codes that not only come with an NFT version of the item, but also track luxury shoppers into the virtual world of Highstreet, a retail and gaming-oriented metaverse built on the blockchain.
The collection will be carried by Saks Fifth Avenue, Neiman Marcus, Selfridges, Harvey Nichols, Beymen and Bloomingdale’s, among others.
Naturally, given the premium clientele, the experience was designed to reduce friction. Cut the security label 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 character with the virtual purchased garment. Users receive $High tokens, Highstreet’s native currency, allowing them to instantly explore the environment and trade or sell other items.
If owners want to sell their new NFTs, that process is easy as well. It only takes a few steps to create, or resell, it as a listing on the OpenSea or LooksRare platforms.
In the case of NFTs, rarity is important, so products are produced in varying quantities across a multitude of retail partners. The most limited run is likely to yield the highest value. In that way, NFTs resemble hyped real-world drops—so much so that Koon compares his initiative to buzzworthy skate brand Supreme, except aimed at the metaverse.
But the aim is not just to push the product, according to Koon.
In fact, he could have charged a premium, given the painstaking manufacturing process. Each graphic was produced through custom cast aluminum moldings and a 30-day production time, using hand-filled silicone, an industrial heat press and industrial stamping machines to create physically unique items to reflect the rarity that blockchain brings. 8-bit shirts start at a few hundred dollars, but could have justified a much higher price.
Instead, the fashion designer wanted to make the collection accessible, he explained in an interview with WWD. He is not looking at one-time transactions, but a much more ambitious vision of making brick-and-mortar stores the entry point or portal to the metaverse.
“We imagined [luxury customers] to enter Web 3.0 through your world,” he said in an exclusive interview with WWD. created this QR code system of phygital products. They are truly physical in nature, but celebrate what we fell in love with in the fashion industry – which is fashion retailing at its highest level in the luxury department store.”
Koon’s understanding of the premium shopping experience is based on 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 launched a luxury store in SoHo in 2013. In fact, it was a very technical customer at that store who turned his attention to crypto in the first place. Not that Koon is ignoring e-commerce completely. Farfetch is another retail partner, he explained, and it will carry the collection online.
Regardless of how customers buy, the item will provide access to Highstreet, where they can explore the space, check out their digital wearable and shop. The latter is the key. Transactions are part of the platform’s lifeblood.
Backed by investors including HTC, the Taiwan-based tech giant and maker of the Vive VR headset, Highstreet itself has grandiose goals of establishing itself beyond gaming as a retail-oriented metaverse, and it’s in talks to bring brands into the space. Koon’s 8-bit, for example, will set up a virtual store there.
Through desktop PCs and laptops, people can enter the world of Highstreet as an MMORPG, or massively multiplayer online role-playing game, to complete missions, do battles and level up. They can also shop for goods there. Users who are interested in shopping or shopping alone but not playing can access these actions through their phones and tablets for an easy experience. VR fans can sideload Highstreet too, fully immersing themselves through the headsets.
“We’re one of the few that actually do commerce and gaming, and also in VR,” said Jenny Guo, co-founder of Highstreet, “so I think that’s one of the biggest strengths we have.” Indeed, the ability to access one platform in a variety of ways is a key promise of the metaverse, but few platforms have figured out how to address it.
Highstreet recently made land available for sale in April, with more to come, and it is in the process of identifying a number of potential retail relationships. It is in talks with Shopify, for example about integration with the platform.
“We’re actually very close with Shopify, because a lot of the people who run Shopify these days basically went to college with us. So, you know, all of us are Canadian,” explained Travis Wu, co-founder and CEO of High Street .”[It] gives us a little head start to get involved with them. They haven’t been involved yet because we’re still discovering how they can build a custom integration gateway for us.”
Highstreet is expanding at a rapid clip, and Jonathan Koon’s 8-bit could bring an infusion of high-end customers to the mix. If it works, if luxury buyers respond to this less fussy way of entering the metaverse by scooping up bundles of these NFTs and physical garments, this model could become the standard for other tech platforms—and department stores.