While President Joe Biden vowed to stem the growing market in “ghost guns,” the man who invented untraceable 3D printable weapons said he’s selling as many as 55 a week.
“I expect that to keep going,” said Cody Wilson, 34, the former law student and registered sex offender whose exploits once earned him the title of one of the most dangerous people on the internet.
Biden wants to expand the definition of a firearm to include a “weapon parts kit that is designed to or may readily be assembled, completed, converted, or restored to expel a projectile by the action of an explosive.” The president, speaking during an event Thursday with New York Mayor Eric Adams, promised federal backup in the battle against the weapons. “If you commit a crime” with a ghost gun, the president said, “not only are state and local prosecutors going to come after you, but expect federal charges and federal prosecution as well.”
Ghost guns are a small, dark corner of the market for weapons in a country with more firearms than any in the world. The appetite for them, however, is going gangbusters. From 2016 to 2020, the number of “suspected” ghost guns that state and local law enforcement have reported each year has jumped to 8,712 from 1,750, with a total of more than 23,000, according to the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. Biden’s threat comes as a Justice Department white paper outlines a new strategy that would include an ATF “ghost-gun coordinator” in every field division.
For nearly a decade, Wilson has pioneered 3D-printed guns and weapons made with computer numerical control milling, or CNC, a machining process that produces a custom-designed product. For $2,500, Wilson sells a CNC-milling kit aptly named Ghost Gunner 3, with an update that allows for a 12-ounce block of aluminum, or a “zero percenter,” to be made into a functional weapon. Wilson also sells the raw aluminum, for $25.
If certain guns are banned, “the only way you can keep going is through 3D printing or zeros,” Wilson told Forbes on Thursday, referring to his own zero-percent product. “And you know the guy who invented both of those.”
Wilson said that sales of the Ghost Gunner 3 are humming along. “We’re shipping 50 to 55 a week,” he said.
Christian Heyne, vice president of policy at the nonprofit gun-control group Brady United, said the Biden administration’s plan would train a “cadre of prosecutors on enforcement issues, specifically around the use of ghost guns and crimes.” The ATF is close to finalizing the rule, he said.
Legal experts say that Wilson, who has continued to operate largely unabated, may finally hit a dead end if the plan is enacted.
Paul Helmke, a professor of public and environmental affairs at Indiana University, a former Brady Center president and a former Republican mayor, said that Wilson’s legal analysis — that this new rule would not affect the milling of “zeros” — may be flawed.
“If Smith & Wesson decided this is how they are going to manufacture guns, the rule would certainly be written in such a way that it would apply to Smith & Wesson,” Helmke said.
“Just because [Wilson] is doing this as an individual or making them available to open source doesn’t change the intent of the regulations or the intent of the law. If his argument held true, then Smith & Wesson could say that ‘we don’t have to follow any of the regulations because we will do it this way,’ and that’s not going to happen.”
Cody Wilson is hunkered down in a dimly lit warehouse behind the headquarters of Defense Distributed, the Austin, Texas company best known as the maker of the first 3D printed plastic gun. As a film crew shines a spotlight on him to record a demonstration of his new Zero Percenter desktop software, a vast library containing 11,000 books, films and 3-D printable gun blueprints appears from the blackness behind him. His new software is capable of turning a raw block of aluminum into the receiver for an AR-15 assault rifle in just three hours.
Wilson, who describes himself as a crypto-anarchist, relishes shock value. He shows his visitors a collection of hunting pelts: zebra, wolf, coyote, and deer, and then makes allusions to the perpetrators of the January 6, 2021 assault on the U.S. Capitol, which left five dead and 700 facing criminal charges. “January six was an insurrection,” says Wilson, 33. “Except on January six, it was fake horns for fake,” he adds, smiling wryly. “In mine it’s real for real.” On the shelves behind him are a mix of books ranging from the Hardy Boys, to a treatise on Nazi Doctors. A bundle of a half-dozen steel-tipped spears and a police riot shield lean against the wall behind him.
The Biden administration recently proposed new regulations defining exactly what constitutes a firearm and which specific parts are required to have ATF-issued serial numbers for tracking. If enacted, Federal Firearms licensing and serial numbers will be required on many gun components that heretofore could be bought and sold without regulation. Wilson’s new software, which he intends to release later today, is designed to circumvent those controls by converting a 1.5 inch by 8 inch block of aluminum into the essential component of a firearm using one of Defense Distributed’s $2,500 Ghost Gunner 3 desktop printers.
Dubbed the Zero Percenter, because it can turn a completely untouched piece of aluminum into a firearm, the software and a few accompanying components are Wilson’s answer to what he considers government overreach. He seems to care little about the “open source” terrorism and crime it might unleash. So-called privately made firearms or ghost guns, the type Wilson has long championed, have confounded law enforcement officials for years. According to the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco Firearms and Explosives, from 2016 through 2020, some 23,906 suspected ghost guns were recovered from crime scenes, including 325 homicides or attempted homicides.
“There’s always going to be this mystical platonic line where a component becomes more like a gun than not a gun, and to regulate those intermediary steps of manufacture in any serious level completely disrupts modern American manufacturing, the American system,” says Wilson, dressed in black and brandishing a 24-carat gold ring, embossed with the initials DD. “They are literally trying to control the world. But as the Zero Percenter demonstrates, blocks of metal are also guns.”
Cody Wilson was born in Little Rock, Arkansas, the son of an attorney who moonlighted as a preacher and his mother, a network administrator for an insurance brokerage. In middle-school his father gave him a copy of economist Friedrich Hayak’s Road to Serfdom, about how centralized economic planning homogenizes the working class. From there he studied, Karl Marx, Vladimir Lenin and Michel Foucoult, undergoing what he calls a “self-radicalization” culminating in the discovery of Timothy May’s 1988 Crypto Anarchist Manifesto, about how cryptography can empower individual rights.
Convinced that the U.S. founding fathers had prioritized freedom above democracy, he started to experiment with what he describes as “poisoning” the electoral process, by undermining the 2012 presidential election. He filed paperwork to found a Political Action Committee with the expressed purpose of funding campaigns on behalf of poorly funded House of Representatives candidates. To “turn people completely off to the electoral and political process,” as he wrote in his 2016 book, Come and Take It. To “play by the rules, but ruin the game to show the absurdity of it all.”
Wilson’s rhetoric ranges from destructive to bizarre. “A mature reading of all the history of political science is rescuing governments from democracy, especially ours,” says Wilson, adding that he believes the founders didn’t want a democracy and hoped to avoid it. “And so in that respect,” he says. “I’m just thoroughly American in my point of view. How can we prevent democracy from happening or ruin the democracy that has broken out?”
In June 2012, after a year studying law at the University of Texas, Wilson gave up on trying to undermine the system from within after the Supreme Court upheld the Affordable Care Act, something he believes is an affront to his freedom. “I realized I had to become a pirate,” he says. “Hoist the black flag.” Four months later he founded Defense Distributed to create the first 3-D printable plastic gun, The Liberator, and give the code away.
Initially Wilson wasn’t concerned about generating revenue from the idea, but after 26 people, mostly children, were gunned down at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in December 2012, his business got an unexpected boost. While the rest of the world was in shock or mourning, gun enthusiasts flocked to his website fearing a government crackdown on firearm ownership. After the blueprints for his Liberator 3D printed gun “dropped” in May 2013 Wilson began earning about $20,000 a month from Google Ads, he says. “That’s the start of all this.”
Wilson claims he’s always has his guard up, equally concerned about legal ramifications if his products are used in a shooting and the personal concern of knowing his work was used to harm someone. But in his 2016 book, he describes a cartoon depicting a character crying out, how many more children will have to die before you support gun control? The cartoon ends with a helmeted angel and a camouflage face coming down from heaven answering: “All of them.”
Wilson’s potentially deadly innovations have faced dozens of legal battles over the years. He highlights his lawsuits against the U.S. State Department and the State of New Jersey, as the most important thanks in part to the impact they could have on his argument that his gun making code is protected as free speech. His inclusion of the code in his library is designed to demonstrate the point. Nevertheless, Wilson’s websites have been forced to close multiple times over the years following U.S. state lawsuits alleging they violate gun control regulations.
Besides his legal entanglements over his ghost guns, Wilson pled guilty to Injury to a Child in 2019 after he was was arrested for paying $500 to have sex with a 16-year old girl he met on a website called Sugardaddymeet.com. Wilson is now a registered sex offender and is serving seven years of probation. As a Texas resident, his guilty plea to a felony has so far had little effect on his firearms business, and part of his plea deal allows him to continue to own guns. “I’m on felony probation,” says Wilson. “I didn’t get prosecuted and I’m thankful for that.”
The spark that drove Wilson to create Zero Percenter was ignited soon after Biden won the election in November 2020. At about that time, gun control activist Christian Heyne of Brady United proposed that Biden and Kamala Harris use their executive power to broaden the definition of firearms to include unfinished frames—called 80 Percenters by gun rights groups. These frames or receivers need additional fabrication to be made into finished firearms, and therefore avoid serial numbers and tracking by the ATF. 80 Percenters are widely available via online dealers and are used by DIY gunsmiths to make dozens of models ranging from Glock style semi-automatic handguns to assault rifles like the AR-15.
Heyne argued that, besides evading law enforcement, ghost gun makers were effectively stealing from the legitimate firearms manufacturers in the $63 billion industry. “By shutting down this market, which is undermining the firearms industry, ultimately it allows that industry to operate as it should, with responsible gun dealers,” Heyne says.
Two mass shootings in March 2020 were apparently enough to get the Biden administration moving on Brady’s proposals. The following month the Department of Justice published a 72-page proposal for regulations that would change ATF’s definition of a firearm eliminating the loophole that has allowed the 80 Percenters to flourish. Registered serial numbers would be required on nearly every part of a gun.
Wilson believes his Zero Percenter puts the new government regulations in check mate. In addition to being made available on USB memory sticks he plans to release the file containing this software at no extra cost to paying members of Legio, a group of “supporters” he describes as a fraternity, founded in 2018. Legio members, who pay between $5 and $8 per month, are the only ones who can access Wilson’s DEFCAD, a Napster-like website hosting 16,000 files for making firearm and gun components. Besides his Ghost Gunner fabrication machines, Wilson’s Defense Distributed also sells 80% receivers on his site for between $50 for an AR-15 to $176 for one fitting a Glock made by Nevada-based Polymer80. According to Wilson, Defense Distributed generated $4 million in revenues in 2020, and is on track to bring in $5 million in 2021.
While Wilson initially hoped to release his Zero Percenter software on January 6th, to mark the one-year anniversary of the insurrection, is expected to be unveiled later today at the Hereticon “conference for thoughtcrime,” hosted by Peter Thiel’s Founders Fund.
Speaking from a firing range on the outskirts of Austin, the man who was twice named to Wired’s list of most dangerous people in the world, expects the new ATF definition of a firearm will “double or triple” the size of his company. By the ATF’s own reckoning in the proposal, the regulation will likely force many of what Wilson estimates are his “dozens” of competitors in the self-made firearms industry to become licensed manufacturers. Others will reduce the kinds of products they sell, or be put out of business. He believes Joe Biden’s new rules will pave the way for his market dominance among homemade gun enthusiasts.
“When I first started the company I felt more,” says Wilson, interrupted by a burst of gunfire a few yards away, “ I would tell my team, this is our vehicle to run into the ground, to crash into the tower. This company is a weapon.” He adds. “Now I don’t feel I can play it that way. People have families. I’m a man in my thirties. I have a bookkeeper.”
Defense Distributed uses two massive computer numerical control (CNC) machines to churn out parts for the desktop versions of his new Ghost Gunner 3 printers, already selling briskly in anticipation of Biden’s rule changes. Taking a page from Apple’s ecosystem approach, owning Wilson’s latest 3D printer is required for anyone wanting to take advantage of his Fed-evading Zero Percenter operating software.
“Only Three can do the work,” he says, noting that Defense Distributed has shipped 2,700 Ghost Gunner 3’s since last year and has 800 more on back order. While the final prices of the Zero-Percenter software kits have yet to be determined, Wilson has already made 100 of them, and is waiting to gauge demand before making more.
“This is no niche thing,” warns Wilson. “We’ve made millions and millions of dollars and been able to stay in federal court for years. We have no billionaire Adelson partner. We don’t have investors…And I’m quite a toxic personality.”
Rebecca Minkoff became one of the first American fashion brands to sell NFTs when it launched its “I Love New York” line at New York Fashion Week in September. Now, that same company is using similar technology to give its sustainably minded customers access to their garments’ journeys along the supply chain. For its new RM Green(e) collection, Rebecca Minkoff—helmed by Uri Minkoff, the brother of the designer for whom the brand is named—has teamed up with Resonance, a largely bootstrapped company operating out of New York’s Chelsea Piers that offers cloud-based production alternatives for designers that want to cut back on inventory. As part of a new idea gaining traction in high fashion, no new garment is produced until it’s been purchased by the customer.
“Over the past four of five years [sustainability] has really come to the forefront,” Uri Minkoff tells Forbes about the brand’s decision to invest in a partnership with Resonance: that company is currently responsible for all RM Green(e) products, amounting to less than 5% of Rebecca Minkoff orders. “Technologies evolve. Consumer awareness evolves.” Minkoff says that, less than a year into this partnership, the fractional RM Green(e) sales result in six figures of revenue that he hopes will keep growing. He adds that the flexibility of Resonance’s platform—which uses technology to facilitate real-time ordering and relieves designers of the pressure of committing to particular styles, materials, and quantities before ascertaining how demand for certain fashions will pan out—could help facilitate that growth.
“I don’t have to cut something out if it’s still performing just because I need to make room for something else,” Minkoff says. “It doesn’t matter. I don’t have an investment in that from a production capacity until it gets ordered.”
Available only online, RM Green(e) includes tops and dresses, priced between $158 and $298, as well as $38 face mask sets. Because of this unique made-to-order production method, customers can also order extended sizes, something else that isn’t available through Rebecca Minkoff’s brick-and-mortar locations. Orders take 10 to 25 days to complete, which may seem like a lifetime in the post-pandemic world of almost-instant delivery. Patient, planet-friendly shoppers receive their new, sustainably sourced garments tagged with QR codes, which, once scanned by a phone or other device, displays the purchase’s provenance via the portal created by Resonance and named ONE.Code.
ONE.Code relies on the immutable, shared ledger of blockchain technology: the owner of a new $158 Gigi top learns that it took 1.42 yards of certified organic cotton and 21.22 gallons of water to produce (additional metrics abound). According to Resonance, that’s 1.48 fewer yards of material and 81.6% percent less water than goes into making a similar mainstream garment. For comparison, the World Wildlife Foundation estimates that making the average cotton t-shirt uses about 2,700 liters or 713.26 gallons of water.
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Resonance, founded in 2017 by Christian Gheorghe and venture capitalist and Digital Currency Group board member Lawrence Lenihan, is mainly a B2B operation, producing limited clothing lines for designers. In addition to Rebecca Minkoff, the company handles the greener operations of fashion brands including Pyer Moss and Tucker, and does whole of production for JCRT, the newest brand from former Anna Wintour darlings Jeffrey Costello and Robert Tagliapietra. In 2020, Resonance ran an accelerator program for upstart Black designers, all of whom are still using its platform, according to the company. But the startup’s consumer-facing products, such as the blockchain portal it’s built for RM Green(e), give it a way in the with the ultra-savvy new growth of shoppers, who may notice its tech enabling their favorite brands in the manner of tools furnished by payments companies like Square or Klarna: there, recognizable, though not obtrusive.
The demand for clothing made by designers who are attuned to their environmental impact is here, from both shoppers and regulators. At the ongoing COP26 summit in Glasgow, textile production, a $1.5 trillion market that makes up 1.35% of global oil production by processing more than a hundred million tons of fibers annually, came under fire. Galvanized by the nonprofit Textile Exchange, 50 fashion industry companies including legacy brands like Gap, Ralph Lauren and H&M signed a request to governments to offer tax incentives to organizations using “environmentally preferred materials.” Such materials are defined as “those from certified, verified sources that can be traced from raw material to finished product, and that are connected to data-driven environmental impact reduction” and include Resonance’s.
Whether all this makes a difference depends on whether investing in sustainable fashion will in fact become viable for the average person—a $158 tech-enabled top doesn’t exactly qualify as haute couture, but that’s not chump change either. While the advocacy of companies like H&M, whose “Conscious” line blouses run in the $20-$40, is promising, getting fast-fashion companies to reveal the details of their supply chain operations will be difficult.
“If you’re spending $250 on a shirt, you’re already into that bracket of caring about what you look like, and potentially about where your product comes from. Anyone selling a shirt for $250 can certainly engineer that product in a sustainable way,” says Gianpaolo Vignali, a fashion business professor specializing in the supply chain at the University of Manchester. While Dr. Vignali was quick to laud the opportunities represented by the Rebecca Minkoff and Resonance partnership, he expressed concern about the degree of background knowledge required for the average consumer to make sense of the information contained in the Resonance portal: brands should expect most consumers to spend 30-60 seconds engaging with product information, Dr. Vignali suspects. “Everything that goes on in the background, with blockchain for example, is fantastic. That’s great. That really just acts for auditing purposes for those that want to delve deeper,” he adds.
Gheorghe, Resonance’s CEO, was adamant that despite their lip service to sustainability, brands like H&M will continue to contribute to the problem of environmental degradation until the gamut of their supply chain activities are made transparent, and public; until that happens, consumers shopping at lower price points may be left in the dark. “To reach every customer around the world, it would take retailers like H&M choosing to stop destroying the planet with their current supply chain system and transform their business with the Resonance platform,” Gheorghe wrote in an email. Of course, Resonance is not the only company capable of providing such transparency. That bigger companies can devise their own strategies for doing so without involving Resonance at all is totally within the realm of possibility.
But for consumers who are ready to spend a bit more, and who are already read-up on fashion sustainability efforts—or those who like the cachet that investing in them holds—Rebecca Minkoff’s efforts are a compelling reason to opt for the brand over others that have not as readily invested in attempts at transparency.
“For a company like AllBirds that launches with something like this as their mission statement from the beginning—people are flocking there because from the beginning they’re identifying that brand as such,” Uri Minkoff says. Rebecca Minkoff’s customers, on the other hand, are witnessing a brand in flux, one that is straddling the line between the old guard and the new.
Two of the largest shareholders in Dunamu, the operator of South Korea’s dominant cryptocurrency exchange, are the first two people in the country from the crypto industry to become billionaires as the value of their startup skyrocketed 21-fold in less than a year.
Last week, Hybe, the agency behind K-pop sensation BTS, bought a 2.5% stake in Dunamu for 500 billion won (about $400 million), valuing the crypto startup at $17 billion. The new valuation makes Dunamu one of the highest-valued startups in Korea, and its founder and chairman, Song Chi-hyung, and executive vice president Kim Hyoung-nyon new billionaires. Forbes estimates that Song, 42, owns about a quarter of Dunamu, while Kim, 45, owns around 13%. At Dunamu’s new valuation, Song’s stake in the almost 10-year-old startup is worth $3.8 billion; Kim’s is worth $2 billion. (Forbes applies a 10% discount to private company valuations.)
In 2018, Forbes estimated Song held between $350 million and $500 million in cryptocurrencies. Dunamu did not respond to a request for comment on how much cryptocurrencies Song and Kim currently personally own.
Dunamu, which runs the cryptocurrency exchange Upbit, was previously valued at about $800 million in February, when Seoul-based Hanwha Investment & Securities bought U.S. semiconductor giant Qualcomm’s entire 6% stake in the startup for around $50 million (Qualcomm invested in Dunamu back in 2015). And in September, Dunamu raised $85 million from venture capital firms, including Altos Ventures in Silicon Valley, at a valuation of around $8.7 billion.
“We believe Dunamu is a blue-chip way to invest in the crypto-economy,” says Oh Moon-suk, a Seoul-based partner at Altos, which has backed the likes of Coupang, Krafton and fintech unicorn Viva Republica. “Upbit is the primary trading exchange in Korea that interacts with the crypto-ecosystem and serves as one of the few crypto-exchanges permitted to accept fiat currency.”
Upbit was one of the few Korean cryptocurrency exchanges that survived regulatory scrutiny. Cryptocurrency exchanges in Korea had to obtain a security certificate from the country’s internet security agency by September 24 in order to be recognized as legal trading platforms, and secure partnerships with banks to ensure trading accounts are held by real people. Dozens of exchanges were not able to obtain the security certificate and had to close down.
“While the crypto-ecosystem is still in early phase of development and the adoption of crypto-currencies as an asset class remains to be proven, blockchain technology and crypto-currencies as digital assets are increasingly gaining store-of-value credibility demonstrated by the growing number of institutional investor participation and increasing regulatory clarity,” adds Oh.
Hybe is working with Dunamu to sell digital photo cards of BTS members in the form of non-fungible tokens, which have exploded in popularity this year. NFTs use blockchain technology to authenticate digital collectibles, such as works of art and music. “We are working with Dunamu to create a way to expand the fan experience,” Bang Si-hyuk, the billionaire founder of Hybe, said in an online briefing. “We will bring together the capabilities both companies have built up so far to introduce a new and exciting innovation to the global music and fintech industries.”
At the same time, cryptocurrencies have been gaining mainstream acceptance and the value of digital assets have continued to rise. On Monday, the cryptocurrency market rushed past $3 trillion in combined value as major tokens including bitcoin and ether pushed towards record highs.
Based in Seoul’s upscale Gangnam neighborhood, Dunamu was established in 2012 as a news aggregator. It launched Upbit in 2017 and, according to Dunamu’s website, the cryptocurrency exchange has more than 8 million users and $2.5 trillion in total trading volume. Kakao Ventures, the venture capital arm of Korean internet giant Kakao and Dunamu’s earliest investor, said in a recent commentary posted online that 80% of Korea’s cryptocurrency transactions are done through Upbit.
Before starting Dunamu, Song worked at local mobile payment company Danal and management consulting firm Innomove. He holds a bachelor’s degree in computer science and economics from the prestigious Seoul National University. Kim withdrew plans for an M.B.A. during the late 1990s on the heels of a massive upgrade in Korea’s internet infrastructure to work in the then-emerging field of tech. Kim also graduated from Seoul National University (though he studied agricultural economics) and worked with Song at Danal.
Once upon a time, fashion editorials and features were only ever published in print. If it didn’t make it to the next issue’s pages, it never happened. These days, anyone with a story or opinion can share their musings to the world via blog entry to social media post. Also not too long ago, clothes were painstakingly made following a tedious process of fitting, sourcing fabrics, cutting, pattern making and hand sewing. These were the golden days of tailored, custom garments—each lovingly made to be cherished and kept for ages.
Emergence of fast fashion in the 90s, however, completely changed the pace by which we consume style. It has also come at a costly price—excessive waste, pollution, carbon footprint, as well compromised standards for workmanship. Recent years, thankfully, saw the renaissance of conscious, sustainable lifestyles. It’s compelled fashion producers, makers, suppliers and to go back to the basics. It’s also opened up new opportunities for fashion and technology to come together.
The idea of a digital wardrobe, at least on the onset, registered as something straight out of a sci-fi film. Its application, main function and relevance from a consumer standpoint was lost to me when I first heard about it. But it was an intriguing proposition that inspired a new fashion adventure: my first digital fitting with digital luxury fast fashion brand, REPUBLIQU. Unlike traditional fittings with tailors or couturiers, digital fittings require that you upload a photo onto the Republiqu website. Digital artists or tailors then work to creat a “fully sustainable, ethically-produced digital garment.”
Republiqu Founder James Gaubert begins: “Digital fashion is still a very new concept. However, in the next 12 months we expect to see a shift from education to adaptation as more people uncover the possibilities.” As a company that endeavors to cater to a mass market, Republiq offers street-inspired digital garments that are reasonably priced. Most fashion digital companies currently accessible are inclined to offer ‘cosplay’ or hyper futuristic designs. James shares, “Our clothing has an urban vibe to it that ensure it’s not too far out there.”
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Gen Z consumers are the raison d’etre for Republiqu. “In our research, we have found that this consumer group are what we call natural born activists. They care massively about a sustainable lifestyle and are looking for brands that help them to achieve this. As our clothing is fully virtual it is as sustainable as sustainable fashion can be today.” That social media presence has become intrinsic to everyday life, justifies the existence of a digital wardrobe. James expounds, “As lives revolve around online and social media, we are also focused on supporting them in building their digital personas and helping them look good where it matters most—the Gram!”
Just this month, a new fashion tech start-up launched, showcasing digital garments by emerging, contemporary and international designers. Conceived as an eco system for fashion brands to engage with a new breed of fashion consumers, ZER10 bridges the gap between the sketch pad and the social media savvy.
The platform’s debut offering showcases digital clothes from designers like Ksenia Schnaider, ZNY, Av Vattev, TTSWTRS and Florentina Leitner. There are 12 genderless garments currently featured on the platform for free. Drops are slated to happen twice monthly with prices ranging from $1-$20. Special items, like the ones currently on the app, are complimentary.
By downloading the ZERO10 App, consumers can browse, fit and save photos or videos of themselves wearing their favorite digital designer digs. I’d liken the process to playing with filters on IG Stories with the addition of fabulous robes, jackets and trousers. The ZERO10 app utilizes 3D body tracking, cloth simulation and body segmentation technology. This makes it possible for consumers to fit, photograph and capture videos of themselves in digital garments.
George Yashin, CEO and Co Founder of ZERO10 expresses: “We didn’t set out to break the traditional fashion industry rules, but knew that brands and customers in the market are ready to go further. We created an app that mimicked the experience and emotions we all know and love from shopping—trying on and acquiring coveted items from our favorite designer—and a built a digital space for this where users can style and mix items from their screenwear wardrobe with their physical wardrobe.”
Unlike Republiqu or ZERO10, BMV (Brand New Vision Ltd) aims to demystify the metaverse for the fashion industry. The team writes: “BNV is plugging the knowledge gap in this area by working with brandS to create hype pieces with ease. The craze for owning a limited edition sneaker or piece of rare clothing is not new. Demand is always high for true scarcity and provenance. Putting this into digital space with BNV means working with a safer pair of hands that can be comfortably navigate from concept to completion.”
The BNV site currently functions as a showroom, educational and information portal. Visionaries behind the company explain, “What we are attempting with the site and and the app is to try and demystify the process of owning a piece of digital fashion while maintaining the core principles of Web3.0. We aim to make the journey from discovering a beautiful piece from a known brand or designer, to opening a crypto wallet, buying some ether, and purchasing a piece as smooth as possible. With each campaign we walk people through each part of the process especially if this is their first foray into NFTs.”
Application and use of the NFT fashions are boundless. They disclose, “With fashion created and stored as NFTs we can all own a wardrobe and, very soon, be able to wear those jackets, dresses, sneakers in many different digital environments—from games to metaverses to communication apps to tools and services that don’t even exist yet but are on the near horizon.” As more metaverses develop, opportunities to wear these creations increase.
BNV is currently focused on the creation of “iconic or rare recreations of outfits.” A blunt dress, for instance, worn by Rihanna for the 30th anniversary of Dazed magazine was rendered as an NFT by artist, Jawara Alleyne. The team is also developing wearable tools and apps for BNV token holders.
There are on going auctions on the platform’s showroom, featuring limited edition collectibles like a Trek Sneaker by Passport Adv or a Super Being outfit by Chill Create. BNV’s team clarifies, “We prefer to work on sales at fixed prices and encourage the community to engage by offering white lists and pre-sales for those who support communities around digital fashion and NFT ownership.” Auctions, they emphasize, are only presented on the premise of fair pricing and transparency.
Distinction between NFT fashion and digital clothing may take some time to digest, especially for one unfamiliar with all things metaverse. They explain, “One of our core principles is that once you own, a BNV token, as an NFT you should be free to do with it whatever you want. Collect and covet, showcase to friends and the wider community, sell or auction or gift to someone. This is a key difference between current fashion skins or wearables available within games or avatar based apps and NFTs.”
In a time when consumers are paying to skip advertisements, global brands are reimagining how they engage consumers by entering the metaverse. From social video sharing app TikTok to American beer company Anheuser Busch, companies across sectors are dipping their toes in the realm of NFTs.
“You don’t want to see a metaverse devoid of brands because you’d be missing a lot of the things that you actually love,” says Nick Tran, the global head of marketing for TikTok.
Leaders of the brands spoke about their NFT strategies at Christie’s Art + Tech one-day conference on Thursday where artists and thought leaders spoke about the emerging technology of NFT and its impact on art and society.
Non-fungible tokens (NFTs), unique digital assets whose prices are driven by their scarcity, have not only created a way for digital artists to monetize innovation but also a way for brands to build a community and support a cause.
In June, Anheuser-Busch minted NFTs for its premium Stella Artois beer and partnered with ZED RUN to create 50 unique horses for digital horse racing. The horses sold for millions of dollars, according to Spencer Gordon, who leads the marketing team at Anheuser-Busch. “When they sold we donated the money to help bars and restaurants in Europe that were suffering from the (Covid-19) crisis,” he says.
The 165-year-old brewery also dropped an NFT of Chef Marcus Samuelson’s yardbird chicken recipe to honor National Fried Chicken Day on July 6.
But the cut throat race to be one of the first brands to launch an NFT has resulted in a clutter of low-quality NFTs issued only for the sake of earning money rather than resonating with buyers. “There is no real functionality or even art to it,” Tran says.”There is no craft, it was literally just, let’s get this out quickly, get the headline, move on to the next thing. 95% of those are probably going to fail.”
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So who got it right? Media brand TIME, which auctioned NFTs of its most iconic magazine covers and sold a token of historical narrative, is one example, Tran says. NBA’s Top Shot, through which fans can buy and sell digital collectibles is another.
For TikTok, the creator has always been in the center of the conversation, Tran says. The company has experimented with video resumes and partnered with Postmates to deliver trendy foods to customers through TikTok Treats. NFTs are a means to give the creators to become the true owners of and fans to become investors, he says.
It’s all about the story, says Paul Budnitz, founder and CEO of Superplastic, a universe of animated characters that live on social media. Though several brands have tried to taste the nectar of NFTs, those who can create utility for the buyers and find the right story to tell will win the game, he says.
“If you look at all these different cryptocurrencies, and the same is true for NFTs, it’s the story that brings the value,” Budnitz says.
The “Charlie bit my finger” video, one of YouTube’s original and most viewed viral videos, is set to be deleted from the platform after its creators auctioned it off as a non-fungible token for $760,000, the latest meme to be sold on the blockchain as part of an increasingly lucrative NFT craze.
The short, home-style clip, published to YouTube in 2007, features infant Charlie biting his brother Harry’s finger.
The family behind the video—which has racked up over 880 million views—put the clip up for auction on its 14th anniversary.
Following an anonymous bidding war Sunday, the clip sold for over $760,000, along with the opportunity to create their own parody of the video with its original—and now grown up—stars.
The popular video was set to be deleted from YouTube after the auction finished on 23 May in order to leave the winner the “sole owner” of the clip, though at the time of writing it is still accessible.
NFTs have exploded in popularity in recent years and are a lucrative source of income for some of the internet’s earliest stars. As a concept, an NFT is a new way of buying or selling media digitally, functioning as proof of ownership for a digital asset. Numerous memes have undergone the NFT treatment this year, including Nyan Cat, Leave Britney Alone, and Disaster Girl, who scored nearly $500,000 for the image. Memes are not the only thing to sell well as an NFT—the New York Times recently sold off ownership to a column for over $550,000 and a piece of digital art sold for $69.3 million at auction in March.
Beeple NFT Sells For $69.3 Million, Becoming Most-Expensive Ever (Forbes)
What Is An NFT—And Should You Buy One? (Forbes)
New York Times Sells Column For Over $550k In NFT Experiment (Forbes)
Nexon Co., the South Korean online gaming company founded by billionaire Kim Jung-ju, said it has bought $100 million worth of bitcoin amid a rebound in the cryptocurrency.
Tokyo-listed Nexon joins a growing list of global companies, including Elon Musk’s electric carmaker Tesla, that have invested in the digital currency. Nexon’s bitcoin investment represents less than 2% of the company’s cash hoard as of December 2020.
“In the current economic environment, we believe bitcoin offers long-term stability and liquidity while maintaining the value of our cash for future investments,” said Owen Mahoney, president and CEO of Nexon.
The gaming giant has been on an investment spree since June last year, when it announced its plan to invest $1.5 billion in listed entertainment companies. So far, Nexon has invested $874 million in U.S. toy maker Hasbro and Japanese game companies Bandai Namco, Konami and Sega Sammy.
While bitcoin has been volatile, Mahoney said the investment “reflects a disciplined strategy for protecting shareholder value and for maintaining the purchasing power of our cash assets.”
Kim, who founded Nexon in 1994, was one of the biggest gainers on last year’s South Korea wealth rankings. He was ranked No. 3 with a net worth of $9.6 billion, up 52% from the previous year, as global lockdowns and social distancing gave people more time at home to play games. Major games published by Nexon include MapleStory, KartRider and Dungeon & Fighter.
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“I think we’re going to look back in 20 years and we’ll say [the pandemic] was the turning point in the entertainment industry,” Mahoney told Forbes Asia in a video interview in July.
A Thiel Fellow turned unicorn CEO, Dylan Field is known in tech and design circles for his software startup Figma, which powers much of the visual design happening at companies like Airbnb, Slack and Twitter, but increasingly also non-tech companies like several big banks. Backed by a who’s who of investors including Andreessen Horowitz, Founders Fund, Greylock, Index Ventures, Kleiner Perkins and Sequoia, Figma was valued at $2 billion last April.
Last week, Field has become known for a very different role: NFT collector. Last Wednesday night, he sold a non-fungible token of a computer-generated face – an avatar of a pipe-smoking, hat and sunglasses-wearing teal alien – for the equivalent of about $7.5 million in Ethereum, the cryptocurrency. The sale was a record for CryptoPunks, the limited series of 10,000 collectible avatars created in 2017, and an eye-popping sum just hours before Beeple set an NFT sale record when his work “Everydays: The First 5,000 Days” sold for $69.3 million at Christie’s auction. Then that Friday night, Field took to Clubhouse, joining popular room “The Good Time Show” to compare his sold punk, called CryptoPunk #7804, to a digital Mona Lisa.
Forbes caught up with Field over the weekend to talk about the sale and NFTs. Highlights of that conversation were first published in the Midas Touch newsletter on Sunday. Here, Field goes deeper on digital art, NFTs and his anticipation of a “metaverse” to come.
The $7.5 alien avatar
Field purchased #7804 in January 2018, a year after Matt Hall and John Watkinson created the limited set of 10,000, which were initially given away for free. (The two came out of the Toronto-area university tech scene, as did Field’s now-wife Elena Nadolinski.)
lready interested in cryptocurrencies and especially Ethereum, Field saw the buy as a potentially viable investment. But he was more excited to support activity happening over ETH, especially digital artists playing around on the blockchain. “I was on a road trip with Elena, and I said, this is probably the stupidest thing I’ve ever done. And I had total conviction in it, which is what I’m going to try to listen to in the future: when I think something’s both really stupid and I have conviction, I think it’s a good sign now.”
After a month spent closely tracking a CryptoPunks Discord channel, Field sold last Wednesday to an anonymous investor known on Twitter as “Peruggia,” who tweeted a thread explaining the rational of their purchase (recommended reading in its own right). Field says the financial gain of the sale was meaningful to him, but he was also motivated by the desire to spread the gospel of crypto art through #7804, sharing it with more people through the subsequent publicity. He feels a deep bond to “Peruggia,” whoever they are. “Owning #7804 is a paradox and also a curse,” he said on “The Good Time Show.” What Fields means, he says: if you believe in NFTs or digital art like CryptoPunks, you’ll want to hype them and spread the word – which eventually means selling at an eye-popping value, to prove the point.
Digital art to last
As money and interest have only continued to flow into digital art and NFTs since last week’s sales, some challenges have appeared, too. The buyer of Beeple’s record work was revealed as Vignesh Sundaresan, a cryptocurrency entrepreneur offering digital tokens, or digital pieces of ownership of works, including Beeple art, raising questions of ulterior motives. Other artists noted the risk of their own works being offered by others as NFTs without their knowledge or benefit. And Beeple himself nodded to concerns about the environmental impact of electricity-hungry crypto mining by announcing that he would donate several works to a charity auction to benefit the pursuit of climate-friendly blockchain technology.
Field remains an owner of a range of digital artworks, despite having sold another CryptoPunk, fedora-wearing ape #6965, for about $1.5 million in February. (That means of about $39,000 invested, Field’s sitting on profits of about $9.5 million.) He still owns 11 CryptoPunks, though they’re not as rare as the pipe-smoking alien, as well as one work by Beeple and several by the creators of CryptoPunks in a newer project, Autoglyphs. (List prices for those already run more than $100,000 in ETH.) Field says he might like Autoglyphs even more – not to hype their value, he says but as an experiment in generative art, meaning each glyph was generated by code running on the Ethereum blockchain itself.
Looking forward, Field believes digital art – and digital objects more broadly – will continue to enter the vernacular, especially as it comes to an area he expected to embrace the NFT before the art world: gaming. At the same time, Field admits that current NFT prices are being driven, at least in part, by a “hype cycle right now about crypto in general.’ “I think we are going to see more wealth generated with cryptocurrency, and when that happens, people want to do things with it,” Field says.
But Field thinks plenty of NFTs will remain cheap and accessible, at least in their early stages. A bigger issue to Field: the scalability of the Ethereum platform, which is currently limited in how many transactions it can support. More computer “mining,” meanwhile, could compound the environmental problem. “I think it’s important that cryptocurrency mining creates a bounty for better and more efficient energy,” Field says. Another idea he floats: a federal subsidy for such research.
As for authenticity and ownership in the digital art category, Field believes technology is already in development to better identify whether art has already been published as an NFT to avoid resharing. Technical layers of abstraction make it difficult to spoof ownership already, but Field says it “will fall on the platforms” to help determine original creators are the ones posting an NFT. Field just invested in one, Open Sea that announced $23 million in funding today in a round led by Andreessen Horowitz.
Where will such art be enjoyed? Figma’s CEO envisions a world parallel to our physical ones, in which people will increasingly invest their time, money, and identities. “We’re going to have a metaverse where people will be able to transport themselves across different areas, different spaces, and have digital items that are unique to the metaverse,” Field says.
Field says he has already had dreams about his CryptoPunks, but so far still about the real-world transactions – not as a CryptoPunk itself, at least yet. In the metaverse, he’ll have to prepare to go face-to-face with someone else appearing as his old friend, the alien #7804.