Fashion’s archives are on the blockchain and being made into NFTs

Arkive is a DAO in that members are holders of NFTs that grant access to, and voting rights in, the DAO rather than owning items themselves. To join, members can apply on the Arkive site. By relegating ownership to the DAO, Arkive can open access to archival pieces that would otherwise be kept behind closed doors or in a single museum by “renting” them out to different museums, universities and exhibition spaces globally (prices are not yet determined for this type of arrangement). The smart contract will record every space in which the piece appears. Similar to the Sozzani exhibition, items will be displayed with a scannable QR code linking to information about its origin, history and who voted to purchase it. It also acts as a verification mechanism: each time an individual scans the code, they will take a geo-tagged picture which verifies an item’s location at a given time.

Digital fashion can also serve as a useful indicator of commercial potential, The Dematerialised’s Grant says, as brands can use digital versions of archived pieces to decide what to re-issue, and virtual versions offer a way to engage with the product without wear-and -tear.

Making the leap

Brands wanting to bring their archives to the blockchain, or turn them into NFTs, need to have a long-term plan and established narrative in place, says Grant, to avoid the project being seen as a quick cash-grab. Time spent to understand and contextualise a piece can lend legitimacy to a blockchain-based archive endeavor. “It warms my heart to think that someone would care to share these things,” choreographer Paterson says, noting how Arkive’s team came to his Hollywood home to meet him and learn about the items. “There’s another form of authenticity.”

Legal hoops can complicate matters. Registering items on the blockchain and creating an NFT from existing pieces ought to be (and often is) a safe bet when a brand already owns the items. In this case, the NFT acts as an extra signifier of provenance, Grant says, and the brand is in full control of the digitisation process. That said, given the nascency of the tech – and lack of legal precedent – legal hiccups may prevail. Grant cites a digital archive project The Dematerialised has had in the works with an unnamed brand for a year and a half that remains stuck in legal wranglings.

Grant points to brands’ efforts to obtain a secondary and tertiary revenue stream from products as a potential upside, as blockchain technology enables secondary market sales revenue when written into a product’s smart contract. The Sozzani project ensures a 10 per cent royalty fee is given in perpetuity to the original NFT owner each time it is sold on the secondary market. In a pivot from profit, however, this fee will be donated to The Franca Sozzani Fund for Preventive Genomics at Harvard Medical School to support ongoing research.

That said, fashion has to be willing – and not all houses will be. “Web3 tech offers clear economic benefits if a fashion brand is keen to monetise its archive, but we are still at a stage where the heritage of a brand resonates more in surviving objects over digital articulations of them,” Central Saint Martins’s O’Neill says. .

Comments, questions or feedback? Email us at [email protected].

More on this topic:

Paco Rabanne is using NFTs to buy back its archive

Karl Lagerfeld’s photographic legacy is moving to the blockchain. What does that mean?

The fight for the fashion archive: Brands, collectors and Gen Z face off


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