Jon Shelley on how fashion brands can push their legacy forward in web3
Jon Shelley is the founder of VRTL WRLD, a creative studio that helps brands realize their potential in the metaverse and web3. Previously, he played professional rugby union before transitioning back into his love for art and design, contributing to blockbuster films like Marvel's Black Panther and Fantastic Beasts 2. At the same time, he also worked on triple-A game cinematics for Elder Scrolls Online and League of Legends.

Composium spoke with Jon about his plans for VRTL WRLD, the state of the metaverse, and how brands can enter the field.
Having been in the virtual world space for over 15 years, VRTL WRLD started a virtual brand (Truth) in Second Life. "At the time, Second Life was getting a lot of hype and brand interest—it was almost like where we are now," Jon says, explaining how he decided to jump in and create a clothing brand that turned into one of the most successful hairstyle brands on the platform to date.

Since then, the studio has started to help brands and businesses access different metaverse platforms and collaborated on web3 projects with RTFKT and Bitski. "There's a big opportunity now in terms of where we're shifting to focus on helping brands with strategy and having all production in-house," he shares. "It just makes sense: brands are following a competitor and eager to create new [communities] for their legacy, which opens them up to a new Gen-Z clientele."

As more legacy fashion houses realize that while they have a core, typically older, audience, they need to branch out and make their brand relevant to the next generation coming through. Given that Gen Z gamers already spend twice as much time in the metaverse as in real life, the answer lies in building a presence in web3. Moreover, McKinsey states that immersive shopping will be one of the most interesting metaverse activities for consumers in the coming years.
The easiest way to get involved, as Shelley tells me, is to put out a digital twin of a physical item you're already selling. "The digital item is far cheaper, thus more accessible to the youth, offering brand awareness, while the real item is available in stores to their standard community," he says, adding that it makes for a compelling ad campaign as well. VRTL WRLD is currently working with a well-known New York fashion house, which will have its fall collection represented digitally. The founder also names Hugo Boss and Burberry among the legacy brands that have successfully ventured into web3 and the metaverse.

"It's still early, so it's just a matter of dipping your toes in. A lot of brands think they have to do something massive, but you can [start by] introducing small collections and see what happens." There are a plethora of brands, however, that are choosing to observe the shift toward the spatial web. Jon compares it to how many made the same choice when social media was just hitting the market, and a lot of the brands that didn't embrace it that early still have far fewer followers and engagement than the ones that brought it straight into their ecosystem. It's funny to look at how some are only arriving at the social media party when the most innovative brands are already exploring web3 and the metaverse.
"You want them to explore [the space] because that's what will elevate the industry and push it forward. You'll have a handful of brands that will dominate and innovate and many brands that will stagnate. Moving from print to the internet, a lot of brands got left behind, and that could possibly happen again."
That opens up a variety of new roles. For a lot of companies, you will notice 'Innovation Officers' who do exactly that—find new innovative ways to push the brand forward. Companies like Starbucks are hiring 3D artists, which just a few years ago seemed to be an opportunity only for film or game studios. Businesses like Nike are entering the game by acquiring RTFKT. "There's a whole new digital vertical where you can create a digital product at minimal cost," Shelley says. Compare that to the expenses of making actual sneakers and setting up the whole production pipeline, and the numbers speak for themselves. Not only is the entry cost low, but it's a great price for marketing and community building in comparison to running an ad on legacy media.

In a few years, Jon believes we will see more metaverse events connected to real-life ones, whether that be a fashion show or a product launch. To note, Metaverse Fashion Week took place on March 27, with DKNY and Charles & Keith being among the fashion brands taking part. At the same time, more brands will follow in the footsteps of Starbucks and build their own loyalty programs. Although the metaverse might not be interconnected within the next five years, the companies that make it a seamless transition from web2 to web3 for its users—so that the bar of entry is low to actively participate in and experience the metaverse—will be the ones that succeed in building community and propelling their brand forward.

For VRTL WRLD specifically, the studio is planning to expand further and become a trusted partner to businesses that want to future-proof their brands. The team is also planning to release its own project in Q1 2024, VRTL Pass, which will serve as a collaboration tool. The company previously had a similar project called KRYPTOZ and worked with artists like Keith Harris and AMC Theatres, but it turned out to be too niche in terms of visual IP.

This time, the team wants to focus less on creating a full visual IP and more on developing an ecosystem where it can bring people together. VRTL WRLD will take on digital production and team up with traditional artists. "Our first idea is to have a 1/1 pair of physical sneakers hand-painted with graphics by a Santa Cruz skateboard artist," Jon shares. "We will introduce the VRTL Pass to the community; they will purchase a pass and have a chance of obtaining exclusive collectibles." The founder will also use the VRTL Pass to help brands enter this ecosystem through collaboration.
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