A crypto investor, fashion student, 3D animator, Ethereum co-founder, entrepreneur, Vogue publisher, and a web3-native attorney get together in a (virtual) room to debate the merits of a certain sneaker made of pixels. They are seven of the 43 people active in Red, where members are betting a collective 3,978 ETH on the future of fashion. Their wager? Digital garments will complement, and in some cases supersede, the value of physical clothes as we cultivate digital identity; it’s just a matter of time.
Launched as an offshoot of NFT-collecting and investment-focused DAO’s The LAO and Flamingo, Red made headlines last September for purchasing Dolce & Gabbana’s blue sapphire and diamond-studded Doge Crown, which exists as a physical object and as a digital asset designed and distributed by UNXD. Along with two intricate “impossible” jackets, these auction wins became Red’s inaugural investments. Since then, the collection has grown to hundreds of NFTs, and includes Gucci Grails, Paco Rabanne dresses, fashion photography NFTs launched with Quantum, and a cache of works by digitally native designers, like the sticky, latex-like Gross Angel and RTFKT’s CloneX avatars.
A year later, Red is establishing itself as the “you’ve got to talk to these folks” group for brands who want in. The DAO is patient with creative directors who know “mint” as a color, not a verb; who want to organize drops with wildly high price points and gimmicky countdown pages. Aside from the operations team working under the umbrella of Tribute Labs, Red is not a full-time gig for members. They’re here – and are monetarily invested – to steer the space, interested equally in luxury legacy brands who want to understand smart contracts and in teenagers creating fits with AR in their bedrooms. Collectively, the DAO sees digital fashion as the future of self expression and aligns itself with other like minded visionaries – since inception, Red has cut checks to The Fabricant, CYBR, RSTLSS, and Artisant, among others. As they grow, they are interested in directly commissioning digital designers who might have zero name recognition but infinite creative prowess. The projects and designers that Red chooses to invest in by way of consensus-based voting signals to everyone who’s watching where real innovation lies.
“Because it’s an inevitability that brands will enter [web3], I think Red can influence how it’s done in a way that can lift all of it up and empower emerging designers,” says Dani Loftus, who became one of the most visible faces of digital fashion with her blog This Outfit Does Not Exist. Since her first message in Red’s Discord, “there isn’t a day that goes by that I'm not happy I joined,” she insists.
The nature of a DAO, or decentralized autonomous organization, makes Red an enigma to outsiders. Decision-making happens on a Discord server and in a weekly Zoom at a time as universal as possible for members phoning in from Burning Man, Mexico City, or Tokyo Fashion Week. Loftus is one of a handful of Red members comfortable being public facing; selfies in Auroboros get the former sci-fi writer one step closer to cyborg manifestation. Crypto-investor Megan Kaspar wants to be photographed wearing exclusively unreal garments, and her team is working on technology to superimpose digital clothing onto her while she is speaking on stage. She’s trying to send a message: this is possible.
So they’re the ones getting recognized in the elevator at events, but the DAO is not filled with the women who sit front row at Paris Fashion Week. It’s members with CryptoPunks who don’t necessarily want their names being doxxed and wear exclusively Hanes tees IRL. “This group has been around for months, not years, and decades-old fashion houses are listening to these anonymous people from the internet who don't even turn their cameras on in meetings,” says Tom a.k.a. Think Flexible, an NFT collector, investor, and serial DAO contributor in Red, Flamingo, and NEON, among others. Another simultaneously high profile, yet anonymous member of Red is gmoney. In July, gmoney launched 9dcc, the first crypto-native luxury house and lifestyle platform. 9dcc’s launch was covered in Vogue Business, and their inaugural collection of networked garments ITERATION-01 sold out immediately. “I guess we did something to make them care enough to listen to us and learn,” notes Tom.
What brands are vying for is the web3 consumer willing to spend big money. What the consumer wants are assets that compute with their self-image in a future where our online identities are fully created, as opposed to curated versions of our physical lives. It’s both early days and is happening fast. The crypto boom and the pandemic-induced work-from-home shift made the perfect storm. Loftus cites five years from now as the point when everyone will be wearing digital fashion – on in-game avatars, on Zoom, on web2 social media. Confused but curious brands can’t turn to traditional glossy magazines for expertise, where, Kaspar estimates, “some 90% of employees don't really understand how to use crypto or blockchain.”
Red member Jacob Martin is a web3-native attorney who thinks of digital wearables as either “a niche within a niche within a niche” or “all we’ve ever had.” He means that for some people, buying clothes online to assert identity isn’t anything new. “Growing Red in prominence almost doesn't matter compared to making sure that people in general understand and want and like digital fashion,” he says. “Who's that consumer that's been buying skins in League of Legends since they were a kid, who just gets it?”
Gaming monetization firm DMarket, which has a platform for trading skins – outfit add-ons to customize the look of avatars in multiplayer games, historically bought for a few bucks using real money – found in 2020 that the skin market is about $40 billion a year. That’s the perspective Martin is entering from. It’s different but not incompatible with the headspace of Charli Cohen, the ubercool designer who, since she was 15 years old, has sustainably manufactured limited quantities of physical fashion that have digital counterparts to wear in the metaverse. (Red members tend to use “the metaverse” to describe a virtual space where we can do things more immersively and interactively than web2 allows.) As a creative, right-brained Cohen is just a little more into the possibilities for surrealistic silhouettes than she is in leading seed rounds. Her voice counts in Red, alongside members like Joe Lubin, CEO of Consensys, who Forbes described as “one of [Ethereum’s] most articulate pitchmen.”
Some members call the DAO a hivemind; others reject the implication of easy consensus. “Because we vote collectively, it might look like a hive. But everyone in Red has their own opinions and thoughts and is sharing them with everyone else,” says Kaspar. “Not all of us agree, and it wouldn’t be very helpful if we did. There's a culture and structure that's built at corporations and even startups that allows for only certain people to make decisions. Because [Red members] all contribute monetarily, we all have skin in the game.”
Written by Greta Rainbow. Designs by Dominiq.xyz.