If you’ve been paying attention to the ICP NFT market in the past week, you’ve probably run across VRSTL Studio. Their inaugural collection, the Dragon Boots, sold out within 10 seconds on CCC and instantly rose to the rank of third most traded NFTs by volume (source: Avocado Research).
This ICP-native digital fashion house has been shrouded in some mystery as they have eschewed traditional promotion models and so far have refused to participate in follow-for-follow social collaborations. I was lucky enough to score an interview with Jin Maa, the studio's notoriously tight-lipped founder, who until now has declined to make any public statements about the future of VRSTL.
Hyuna: Hi Jin! Thanks so much for agreeing to this interview. I know you must be super busy working on the second collection, especially given the instant success of the first drop. You’ve said in the VRSTL Discord that your team prefers to DO rather than talk, so I really appreciate you taking time to answer my questions.
1. VRSTL Studio’s official Twitter has only been active for a few weeks, and you've done no collabs/giveaways/engagement incentivization... yet you have one of the highest follower counts of any NFT project on the IC. What has been your growth strategy (if any)?
Jin: We operate on the belief that good content is what drives legitimate interest from collectors. I make sure our products have unique visual appeal and artistic value while challenging the notion of what a good NFT is supposed to be. Our growth strategy is mainly organic. At this early stage, it is important for us to have a core community of solid members that share the brand’s values.
Hyuna: I can definitely see that. I heard about VRSTL from some friends who know my professional background is in fashion, and the first thing that struck me (other than the design aspect) was the genuine community vibe in the Discord. There’s hardly any “gm/gn’s” and community members (politely) call out those who attempt at engagement farming.
2. I heard through The Guy (from The Network) that you quit your job to work on VRSTL full-time. What inspired you to make such a drastic life decision?
Jin: I believe the Internet Computer to have unique potential, especially in pushing the limits of digital fashion. You will see clearly what I mean by that in the coming years. I was not truly happy designing boring mechanical designs, I needed to produce something that had personality and could engender strong emotions.
3. Do you consider VRSTL to be more of a fashion house or a dev/tech studio? Aside from the design aspects, what kind of technology is VRSTL working on?
Jin: We are at the intersection of tech and fashion. However, VRSTL is much closer to a fashion house in its design than a dev/tech studio. VRSTL is working on innovative NFT concepts that add value to the collector’s experience, from minting to pre and post-drop “happenings”.
I believe the IC ecosystem to be so nascent that most developer work is likely to be wasted on games and experiences that have little long term value. It is therefore important for me to be certain that the development has real, long term benefits before we spend our limited funds on these.
For now, we focus on establishing partnerships with strong developers in the ecosystem with whom we can integrate our items into their products. Once strong metaverse platforms emerge on the IC, we will have a dedicated team building the VRSTL-branded universe. The possibilities are endless: innovative digital stores, social/fashion events, branded games, exclusive content, galleries…
4. Who is your intended target customer? I found it interesting that Daniel from "Crypto Is Good" commented how the Dragon Boots looked like something from Molten Core (from World of Warcraft), and my immediate reaction was, this looks like a Demuelemeester x Jeremy Scott x Schiaparelli gothic fever dream.
Jin: You’re both right! We design items at the intersection of avant-gardist fashion and gaming.
Our target customer is an amalgam of all IC netizens. I’ve noticed that the cultural diversity found on the IC is extremely high. This is why we promote our products through universally understood mediums: visual promotion coupled with emotionally inducing sounds.
As the premiere digital brand of the IC, we will set fashion trends of digital worlds.
5. Can you describe the VRSTL house aesthetic (if any)?
Jin: Our first few collections have a heavy cyberpunk influence. Our designs forgo usability concepts, preferring greater emphasis on self-expression. We exploit textures and fashion concepts that are impossible to produce in the physical world. VRSTL aims to transcend preconceived notions of what a garment can communicate.
6. One of your artists, Metadahn, recently announced a collab with Adidas, and it's incredible to me that VRSTL was faster to move than a global brand. What has been your strategy of sourcing/connecting with new talent?
Jin: It’s funny you say that, Metadahn tweeted about that collab without our knowledge. Overexcited, we shared it to our followers. Unbeknown to us, it was an April Fools’ joke.
Hyuna: LOL wow. It really got me! I looked at his Twitter and didn’t question it at all, because his designs feel like a breath of fresh air. Some of Metadahn’s work made my brain light up in a way I haven’t felt since Jeremy Scott’s iconic Wings collection with Adidas.
Jin: If you can believe it, is that not a testament of our brand’s quality?
As for our sourcing strategy, this will stay a secret for a while. I can’t disclose the VRSTL secret sauce just yet. 😉
7. What excites you the most about digital fashion?
Jin: Oh boy! So much. To me, the most interesting fact is that we can use out of this world textures. We’re working on integrating dynamic/moving prints to our designs, which is a childhood dream of mine. Further, our garments could be used to unlock real-life AND digital experiences: Physical and digital fashion events, concerts, special abilities in digital worlds, exclusive online social spaces, etc…
Another great thing about digital fashion: we can operate on a carbon-negative footprint.
Hyuna: The sustainability issue has been a major topic in the fashion industry for over a decade, without any real solutions (since fashion in nature demands continual production). I definitely agree with you that it’s one of the most exciting things about digital fashion.
8. Where do you see the future of VR/AR wearables going?
Jin: On a 50 year timeframe, I think digital wearables will be ubiquitous to our lives. The integration of AR technologies to daily life is something I’m convinced of, considering the greater efficiency someone using these could have over an un-augmented person.
Hyuna: Oh, absolutely. We talked briefly about AR (Augmented Reality) and its potential application in fashion before, like with changing room try-on’s, and it definitely seems to be the next step. It’s also something that people are already using without realizing, via makeup filters, etc.
Jin: Further, the time spent in digital worlds is ever-increasing. Our digital identities are clearly gaining in importance as we interact with people from across continents, be it in professional or social contexts. Therefore, those who choose to "turn-on" the public’s AR/VR fashion will have a clearer look on what a person’s tastes, moods and feelings are while they’re interacting with them.
Hyuna: What do you think will be the drivers for fashion trends in the metaverse?
Jin: I think community perceptions will gain in importance. Brands will become much more than a monolithic entity calling the shots: they are influenced and managed by the very consumers they target and will evolve with them.
Hyuna: Speaking of community, you voiced hesitation in doing this interview, one of the reasons being, you didn’t want to speak for the entirety of VRSTL despite being the founder. You seem to have an extremely egalitarian, truly web3 vision of the Studio.
Before we end this interview, care to say a few things about VRSTL’s internal structure and team vision?
Jin: It’s tough because earlier, I kind of wanted to say we’re a “movement” to your third question. VRSTL is not one of those old boring fashion houses, nor are we a tech studio working on an insane platform.
We’re more of a grassroots movement, with fun community bonding over:
-dope digital designs
-hype VRSTL events
-high quality media productions from VRSTL
For now, at least. We do want to enable open digital creation but that’s a long term goal that I do not wish to emphasize at this time. We want to do more before announcing a grand transition to a mainstream metaverse.
Hyuna: I can’t wait. I’m so excited to see what’s next and again, thank you for letting the rest of us take a peek behind the curtains.
VRSTL Studios can be found on Twitter @VRSTLstudios. They have declined to comment here on the details of their second collection, but relevant information will be announced on their Twitter/Discord.
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