Digital Sneakers: How Far Is Too Far?

Digital Sneakers: How Far Is Too Far?

Since the rise of NFTs, the rule of thumb seems to be – if it can be digitised, it will be digitised. But is trying to sell a digital pair of sneakers taking the hype culture a little too far?

If hype culture has taught us anything, it’s that sneakers over everything. Yeah, baggy sweatpants are great and oversized, logo T-shirts are bound to grab eyeballs, but sneakers over everything. Whether you’re big on chunky sneakers along the lines of Raf Simons x Adidas Ozweego III, or enjoy your Nike Air Force Ones like no other, sneakers are perhaps the biggest sense of pride for someone immersed in the hype culture.

But with online shopping, you definitely want to be sure of what you’re buying, right? Wanna Kicks is your answer. The app uses augmented reality to let you “try on” various pairs of sneakers, ensuring that being a sneakerhead is well within the realm of possibility for you. As the app reminds us, photos of sneakers can sometimes be deceiving, so the AR helps ensure that what you see is what you get.

Sounds a little too good to be true, right? I certainly thought so. After minor (read: no hesitation) hesitation, I downloaded the app and sure enough, after allowing camera access, I was able to try on pairs of sneakers – albeit with a creepy instruction that said, “Show me your feet.” The massive amount of variety on the app is mind-blowing – you can try on Adidas’ Kid Cudi collaboration, the Vans x Supreme sneakers, the Air Jordan Center Of Gravity kicks, and options you definitely won’t get in Indian stores. Plus, the AR really works – even though I moved my feet, the sneakers moved with me.

I tried the Kobe 6 'Grinch' sneakers, meant to resemble Dr. Seuss' infamous Grinch character. It works!
I tried the Kobe 6 'Grinch' sneakers, meant to resemble Dr. Seuss' infamous Grinch character. It works!

This is because of the use of advanced 3D geometry algorithms together with neural networks to identify the position of the shoe in space, which lets the sneakers move around with you. And, there’s more – you can save a picture of the sneakers on-foot and then share it on social media to see what your friends think, or just pretend like they’re the real deal, and it makes for a half-decent flex. (I mean, the AR is pretty good, plus there’s nothing a few filters and some added noise can’t fix.) Additionally, the app also gives you a few website options for purchasing the shoes.

As I was living all my #SneakerheadInfluencer dreams and scrolling through the plethora of gorgeous kicks, a little detail popped up. “Unlock for INR 799 to try.” Gucci’s first-ever, digital-only, hyper-exclusive sneaker, Gucci Virtual 25 has made its way to the platform, and it requires a purchase. Before getting into the nitty gritties of it though, let me tell you a bit about the sneakers. The Gucci Virtual 25, defined by neon colours and a dial that winds the high-top instead of laces, is named after Creative Director Alessandro Michele’s favourite number, and was designed by him as well.

While that sounds pretty dope, what are you paying for exactly? It’s a virtual pair of sneakers, so essentially you’re paying for a photograph with AR shoes, that you can wear in VR chat or Roblox, that are kinda-exclusive-but-not-really. I mean, imagine if you went to a physical store, and someone charged you for trying something on. That’d be a little absurd, no? But well, it’s Gucci, so you’d try to justify it. It’s hyper-exclusive, so maybe that seals the deal for you a little bit. You get a photo of it, so… there’s that as well. And I mean it’s not *that* expensive, so maybe…?

One of the wallpapers commissioned by Gucci for the sneakers.
One of the wallpapers commissioned by Gucci for the sneakers. Source: Twitter

This move isn’t necessarily a shocker, since the rise of NFTs has lead to a rise in demand of digital items – and it was only a matter of time before high fashion houses hopped on to the bandwagon. I’d even go as far as to say that the purchase of Gucci’s sneakers, and digital sneakers can be a notch above some NFT items – while NFTs essentially represent ownership, the Gucci kicks are sort of usable if you play Roblox or use VR chat. (Which, I must add, is a slightly specific niche, especially when pertaining to the Indian market.)

Also, it lets users make the purchase in their currency as compared to NFTs, which use cryptocurrency. But the excitement of AR sneakers ends here – unlike NFTs, there’s no real exclusivity that goes with purchasing them. If I can do it, so can millions of others should they choose to. And the purchase of digital sneakers speaks to a larger issue that hype culture has been confronted with, over and over. How far is too far?

While it’s great that I can lie down on my bed and try on a pair of rare Air Force 1s designed by Virgil Abloh, or Air Jordan 1 Retro High Air Dior’s created by Dior and designer Kim Jones, at some point you have to question the functionality of it. Keeping up a facade of pretending to own all these kicks can only take you so far, and it becomes a question of superficiality, rather than something that serves an actual purpose. For me, paying INR 799 (or INR 941 if I use the Gucci app) for something I will never physically be able to use – especially since sneakers are foremost a utility item – is a bit far-fetched.

Off-White X Nike Air Force 1s, designed by Virgil Abloh.

One has to question their ultimate goal with the purchase of these sneakers, and keep in mind that while trying on a pair of shoes when you *actually* want to buy them is super handy, but when the actual shoe-purchase is virtual, what purpose does it really serve except maybe a sick Instagram post? Gucci isn’t the first, and definitely won’t be the last brand to try and sell you something that serves no real purpose, (shoutout to the Supreme brick!) and well, there’s really nothing wrong with spending something on a virtual pair of sneakers, if that’s what you really want.

But at some point, we will need to examine our obsession with hype culture, and the things it makes us do. Before we end up with nothing but a digital pair of sneakers, a virtual t-shirt, and a NFT house full of Supreme bricks.

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