Adidas Talks Virtual Fashion, New Gaming Business Unit, and Its $20,000 Roblox Virtual Necklace

The metaverse may be yesterday’s news to the media, but its incarnations live on and even thrive. Just don’t use the ‘m’ word. Instead, call it gaming or virtual fashion, like Adidas’ latest collaboration on Roblox, which includes a digital necklace that recently sold for around $20,000.

The athletic apparel and sneaker giant partnered with @WhoseTrade, a 25-year-old Roblox creator from Cleveland named Jonathan Courtney, in a UGC (or user-generated content) partnership. The deal, which saw several items drop in May, culminated in the virtual chain plus a customized physical product, which sold almost immediately for 2 million Robux.

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According to Thomas Wehner, an Adidas executive who has led strategy, sustainability, virtual world and gaming initiatives, the company was looking for a creative Roblox employee with strong ties to the community, in an effort that will strengthen real-world partnerships reflected.

“We are a collaborative brand,” he told WWD. “We’ve done this in hip-hop. We did this in the 70s and 80s skate world and we continue to do this in the 21st century. So we just slid into his DMs and gave him, I think, a campus shoe item.

Courtney remembers it differently. As a creator who has worked with brands before – such as music company Monstercat, the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society and consumer brand Nivea – and a fan of the sneaker brand since childhood, he approached the company when he saw it was active in digital drops. .

However it started, both partners recognized the match and it resulted in a whimsical collection for Roblox users.

For Adidas, which has been making efforts in the field of gaming for years, this was no fluke. It’s all part of a strategy that has only recently crystallized, with the vision spawning a dedicated new business unit.

From drops to outpourings

Adidas opened its archive to inspire Courtney, then collaborated with Courtney to provide feedback on the @WhoseTrade drops, resulting in a collection that ranges from delightfully absurd to seriously covetable.

The range included a rainbow ski mask, a shoebox backpack, a boombox and even an Adidas-style banana – which, with a supply of more than 1,000, sold out in about half an hour.

“That was the push for me to see how far [I could go]”Courtney explained. “There were very few people who said yes, let’s make a virtual banana, and they actually said yes, which was great.

“It’s not common for brands to do this, but I really hope this continues to change as brands start to trust creators more with what we know about the platform and our community.”

Adidas-branded banana sold out on Roblox.Adidas-branded banana sold out on Roblox.

Adidas-branded banana sold out on Roblox.

The Banana and others primed the pump for the digital chain, which debuted a few weeks ago.

The item was picked up almost immediately by Simon Burgess, a digital collector and co-founder of Abracadabra Studio, developer of the popular SharkBite series of Roblox games.

Burgess owns more than 5,000 limited items, but this necklace “is already a highlight of my collection,” he told WWD, “because not only do you [singularly unique] a limited item that can be resold on the platform, but is also a physical, unique, custom-made pair of Adidas shoes in the real world.”

The bundle includes a genuine pair of custom F-50 Elite Laceless Fast Reborn FG boots, a revival of Adidas’ celebrated shoe in honor of its 20th anniversary.

Digital-physical links, what retail and marketing call “phygital,” come in a variety of forms – from virtual replicas of real products to digital collectibles that provide exclusive access to real-life events. Roblox, which has expanded its in-game shopping options, is increasingly seeing brands jump on the bandwagon.

But the Adidas director emphasizes that it is not just about selling things. It’s about creativity, authenticity and participation in the way people shape their virtual identities.

This is important for the younger consumers who flock to games and fuels a cottage industry of avatar skins, hair and costumes. That’s also what attracts brands like Gucci, Louis Vuitton, Balenciaga and many more to these platforms.

“It’s almost a part of your identity, and this is what we want to talk about when we talk about games,” Wehner said. “We really want to create virtual identity options for these players that are authentic to the platform and authentic to the player base.”

Why Adidas is ripe for bananas… and more

There’s a direct line between Adidas’ interests in virtual worlds and gaming – between blockchain efforts and NFTs (e.g. Bored Ape Yacht Club) and platforms like Fortnite, Minecraft and now, as of December 2023, Roblox – and where the brand sees itself path in the virtual future.

Adidas x <a href=Fashion Klossette, another collaboration on Roblox.” data-src=”–/YXBwaWQ9aGlnaGxhbmRlcjt3PTk2MDtoPTU0MA–/https://media.zenfs. com/en/wwd_409/81596dd4d76629f4775fc05b67e21551″/>Adidas x <a href=
Adidas x Fashion Klossette, another collaboration on Roblox.

And it is not completely separate from the physical things.

“Just look at the collaborations we do in the real world with Jeremy Scott or anyone else,” Wehner continued. “There’s a lot of creativity that we allow on a physical product, but now you’re moving into an unlimited, limitless world of virtual, [and] we don’t want to be too restrictive about what the framework is.”

That explains why a global sportswear giant like Adidas has no qualms about putting its brand on a virtual banana. This kind of thinking goes against conventional business wisdom, which rigidly protects branding amid fears of brand dilution. But that’s an oh-so-serious, carefully crafted approach that doesn’t necessarily fit on gaming platforms, where authenticity – and perhaps a sense of humor – resonates best.

According to Adidas, authenticity and creativity define the company’s roadmap of virtual projects, which is already planned until 2027.

Of course, anything can happen in the coming years. What the company is certain of, however, is that it won’t be a purely digital game. Sometimes these efforts include physical products, Wehner said.

Adidas is currently investigating the possibilities. It monitors emerging platforms for brand fit, including category-specific games such as the sports genre. It is also preparing a slew of new initiatives in the next two to three months. Wehner couldn’t reveal the exact nature of these projects, but it’s hard to overlook the timing, with the start of the 2024 Games in Paris.

Meanwhile, while all that’s going on, Adidas is shaping the underlying organizational structure that supports these projects, with a new business unit dedicated to gaming.

First mover advantage

Adidas Gaming quietly launched in January and is led by Wehner. It is still working in its early days. “For now, we’ve really set this up as a sales operation that comes with icing on the cake in addition to brand awareness,” he said.

Puja Chakraborty, head of product at Adidas Gaming, doubled down on the authenticity that drives these types of projects – and more.

The brand launched a pop-up on Roblox.The brand launched a pop-up on Roblox.

The brand launched a pop-up on Roblox.

This Roblox collaboration was “very authentic, and that’s exactly what we do [strive for] in the real products, in the physical products… we remain authentic to the employee, to that creator,” she said. “WhoseTrade has been on the platform and we wanted to create a perfect marriage between its authenticity, its credibility, and what we do and what we stand for as a brand and our brand values.”

That is an important ingredient of the work, but it is not the only aspect for Adidas Gaming. The other is timing and agile movement. For example, it took just eight weeks from the briefing to the opening of the first pop-up store on Roblox. The @WhoseTrade declines took even less time, about six weeks or so. The coming weeks will bring more efforts that, Adidas hopes, will appeal to a gaming community that is younger.

“We are in the business of producing cultural products and sports products, and there is so much of that in the virtual space,” Wehner added. “It’s not even a question of whether we should be there, to be honest.

“So anyone who isn’t building virtual fashion or virtual products, I think they’re going to miss out – which is good for us because it gives us a little bit of a head start in the coming years to really build awareness and loyalty with a very young target group, and also Gen Z.”

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