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Brands have been experimenting with virtual footwear for decades, except, it never quite took off. Most early virtual shoe try-ons via AR required downloading an app, which turned out to be a high point of friction. Now, the shift to WebAR - the ability to visualize a product directly from a website - or from a QR code, is reigniting interest. But there’s also something else. 

The recent hype surrounding the metaverse has seen a new use case for creating virtual shoes. Through the introduction of NFTs, fashion-conscious consumers are buying and collecting millions of dollars worth of virtual goods, attracting a new wave of brands from Addidas to Balenciaga. Should you join them? Let’s take a closer look.  

What is Virtual Footwear?

Virtual footwear is essentially 3D models of real or imagined shoes. Although they can’t be worn on your feet, 3D models are being used to virtually try-on shoes at a swipe, dress characters in games, and even sold as coveted collectibles. 

As brands evaluate their roles across emerging opportunities in digital, such as the metaverse, footwear is just one of the latest sectors to experiment with virtual goods. 

Who Is Making Virtual Footwear?

A variety of sportswear, sneaker, and apparel brands have shown serious recent interest in creating virtual shoes. One of the most pioneering brands in the footwear industry, Nike is making several bold investments into virtual worlds. 

Towards the end of last year, Nike filed trademarks to sell virtual branded sneakers. And shortly after, launched an online game called NIKELAND on Roblox, where users can choose Nike products for their avatar, display collectibles in a digital showroom, and play games. 

Most recently, the sports giant announced the acquisition of virtual shoe brand RTFKT Studios, aimed at delivering a new generation of collectible sneakers that merges sport, culture, and gaming. 

Following on Nike’s heels, several other sportswear brands such as PUMA, Adidas, and New Balance have also announced plans to sell virtual branded goods. As these brands vie for position, we explore 5 ways that virtual footwear is being used.  

5 Ways Virtual Footwear Is Being Used by Brands

It’s a fact that today’s younger generations with an interest in fashion and sneakers spend more time on their mobiles than they do shopping in stores. Increasingly, the bulk of their purchases are being made through websites and social commerce. 

Still, tech-savvy consumers look for the same tactile and immersive shopping experiences online as they would get in-store. Using 3D, AR, and video, we look at 5 ways that footwear brands tell their stories to reach this customer segment. 

1. Generate Revenue by Selling as NFTs

Demand for NFTs, especially in the art world, has taken the world by storm. And collaborations between artists and brands can fetch millions. 

A collaboration between "crypto artist" Fewocious and virtual shoe brand RTFKT Studios (acquired by Nike) sold out in just seven minutes, raising $3.1 million for shoes you can't even wear. With figures like those, it’s no surprise that a lot of big brands and celebrities are looking to launch similar collaborations. 

Adidas Originals, for example, recently released its first NFT collection titled “Into the Metaverse.” NFT owners receive exclusive access to Adidas experiences and products, including virtual wearables for gaming world Sandbox and other platforms, as well as exclusive physical products. As virtual sales can also work to encourage purchases for goods in real life.

2. Dress Avatars in the Metaverse

While the grand vision for the metaverse remains under construction, several early metaverse platforms can be accessed via an avatar of yourself. And how to dress that avatar is where virtual footwear comes in.  

According to Strategy Analytics, the market for transactions in the metaverse - everything from buying virtual real estate to concert tickets and virtual goods - is expected to reach $6.1 billion this year and nearly $42 billion globally by 2026. 

That’s a huge market to tap into, and already we’re seeing a lot of sports and high fashion brands successfully enter this space. 

3. Offer Virtual Shoe Try-Ons with AR 

Through a virtual shoe try-on, users can browse a range of shoes quickly, and see what they look like on by positioning their foot in front of a smartphone camera. 

While the popularity of virtual shoe try-ons still has some way to go, there are numerous benefits to this functionality. 

  • Visualize shoes on your feet when you can’t try them on in-store. 
  • Try a wider range of styles than you physically could. 
  • Take photos to save or share on social media. 
  • Get feedback from friends before making a purchase.

4. Generate Hype Over a Product Release 

Before releasing a product onto the market, brands can use 3D technology to pre-release a virtual version for customers to examine and explore in AR. Or even to test demand before going into production. 

Addidas, for example, released an AR virtual version of its Deerupt sneaker before the physical launch of the shoe to generate hype and circumvent product leaks. And turned the unboxing moment into an augmented reality experience. 

By developing an app-less, mobile web platform, Sneakerheads were able to use their smartphone cameras to see and interact with the AR rendering. As a result, Addidas achieved 110 million views, with over 50,000 virtual unboxings. 

5. Reach New Audiences 

At the National Retail Federation’s 2022 annual conference, Ralph Lauren’s CEO Patrice Louvet spoke of chasing opportunities in the metaverse as a way to attract younger shoppers. 

“One of our strategies is to win over a new generation and the new generation is there. So we have to be there. We are learning. We are experimenting. I do think that we are going to see consumers continue to be attracted to these spaces as they expand.” Patrice Louvet, Ralph Lauren CEO

Already, metaverse platforms like Roblox, Decentraland, and Sandbox have a growing number of daily users. And as these platforms develop, brands are finding lucrative opportunities to advertise or sell directly to this user segment. 

Ready to Take Your Brand Virtual?

If any of the use cases above sound like a match for your brand, getting started is simple. And that’s where we can help. Transform your shoes into cutting-edge 3D models and AR experiences with ARsenal by CGTrader in just 3 simple steps:

ARsenal is a leading 3D production engine for enterprise-level clients and uniquely positioned to help any footwear business achieve its 3D goals. To find out more, get in touch or sign up for a free account to get started today.

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Why Are Shoe Brands Making Virtual Footwear?

Lara Oliveira is a Content Manager at ARsenal. With over a decade of experience writing across corporates and startups, she is now focused on helping companies innovate with 3D and AR technology. Reach out to her at pr@cgtrader.com to talk about possible content collaborations!

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