Hiroto Kai designs virtual clothes which sell for real money.
"It's walking art. That's what's so cool about it. I mean, you can hang a piece of art on your wall all day. You can throw it up on your Twitter all day,” says Hiroto, real name Noah.
The 23-year-old digital artist recently quit his day job to design Japanese-inspired virtual kimonos, which he then sells on a virtual world called Decentraland.
It’s a platform that allows users to create clothing for their avatars. The clothes, also known as "wearables" - can be bought and sold on the blockchain in the form NFTs – or non-fungible tokens.
It’s part of a growing trend – buying clothes that don’t exist. And some say it represents the future of retail.
The hype around virtual possessions is part of a wave of interest in the "metaverse" - online environments where people can congregate, walk around, meet friends and play games.
Hiroto has been selling kimonos and other wearables for around $140 (just over R2 000) each.
He says he made $15 000 to $20 000 (about R222 000 and R295 000) in just three weeks – as much as he'd earn in a year in his music store job.
"I waited to see if people would be interested and it just took off. I mean, people wanted to be a warrior. They wanted to have a katana. They wanted to have a sword. They wanted to feel something different," he adds.
And it’s not just Hiroto. The niche crypto assets have caught the attention of some of the world's biggest fashion companies, keen to get in with a new generation of gamers.
Louis Vuitton, Burberry and Gucci are just some of the names which have entered the virtual space.
Chris Le is the co-founder and creative director of virtual sneaker company RTFKT.
His shoes can be "worn" in some virtual worlds or on social media via a Snapchat filter.
Chris says, "Because you have to get used to what the new generation of kids are seeing in games, right? Like we have a limit and a cap to what we can do in the physical space at the moment. All the new Gen-Z kids are playing Roblox, Minecraft and stuff.
"So if this generation is now starting to get used to that kind of stuff, it only makes sense that a brand like ours comes out of the blue to cater to that new niche."
The overall size of the NFT wearables market is difficult to establish. In Decentraland alone wearable sales volume totalled $750 000 (about R11 million) in the first half of 2021. That’s according to NonFungible.com, a website that tracks the NFT market.
But not all virtual fashion involves NFTs.
London-based start-up Auroboros designs virtual garments which people can wear on social media, within games and via augmented reality.
Customers can send Auroboros an image of themselves and have clothing digitally added.
Co-founder Paula Sello pitches their offering as an environmentally-friendly alternative to fast fashion.
“It's fantastic that people really paying attention to it because we need to have a shift now in fashion. The industry simply cannot continue. The shift is happening now and we're ready for it with Auroboros and excited for it," says Paula.
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