Adidas has arrived in the metaverse, strutting into the digital frontier in the form of a Bored Ape avatar clad in banana yellow Firebird tracksuit, a matching bucket hat, and a set of heart-shaped glasses resting over its disinterested eyes. The non-fungible token, which Adidas now owns, sold in September for 46 ETH (around $156,000 at the time), according to data on OpenSea.

The furry blue monkey, named Indigo Herz, is one of a handful of Adidas’ recent moves in Web3 that demonstrates how the brand wants its sportswear to live in the digital world. Beyond buying the NFT, it’s collaborating with Bored Ape Yacht Club, the buzzy outfit behind the collection of virtual simians that is among the most expensive and coveted in the space.

“Us becoming a part of the Bored Ape Yacht club with Indigo Herz was more about symbolizing us stepping in to join what’s already happening as opposed to just tossing something into the metaverse from the outside,” says Tareq Nazlawy, senior director of digital growth at Adidas.

Aside from BAYC, Adidas has tapped NFT influencer Gmoney and the team behind the Punks Comic to act as guides and collaborators in the metaverse.

On Friday, Adidas will release Into the Metaverse, its first NFT collection, for sale here for 0.2 ETH. Owners of the tokens will get exclusive access to Adidas experiences and product—both virtual and physical, starting in 2022. There will be a hoodie, a tracksuit, and an orange beanie fashioned after the one Gmoney’s avatar wears. Owners of the Adidas NFT can “forge” (essentially cash in) their token to get the connected products in the real world.

In the digital game The Sandbox, where Adidas has acquired a plot of land, holders can access wearables to outfit themselves in. With Punks, Adidas is creating an NFT comic telling the story of Indigo Herz. Adidas has also partnered with crypto exchange platform Coinbase, which will secure its digital assets.

Bored Ape Yacht Club Adidas Hoodie
Adidas' metaverse collaboration includes physical product. Image via Adidas

The projects were inspired partly by Elon Musk, whose tweet in March announcing that Tesla would accept Bitcoin as payment set off a brainstorm inside Adidas. “What’s our move going to be?” the brand asked itself.

From there, Adidas formed an internal task force to better understand crypto, the blockchain, and the movements popping up in the metaverse. In the spring, they reached out to Gmoney, the self-described NFT advocate and metaverse thought leader. In a Zoom conversation about Adidas’ collaboration with Bored Ape Yacht Club, he appears in the form of a human torso with a digital monkey head obscuring his face.

Gmoney says that he gets frequent requests from big brands looking to make their mark in NFTs, but has to filter them by discerning how dedicated to the scene they actually are. 

“I always want to be pushing the boundaries of what an NFT is,” he says. “So I’ll always take that call, the initial call, to be like, ‘Alright what is their intention? What do they want to do?’ Because if it’s something lame or something that I don’t think is cool that I’d want to collect myself, I don’t wanna be involved in it.”

Adidas Bored Ape Yacht Club NFT Indigo Herz
Adidas acquired this Bored Ape Yacht Club NFT in September. Image via Adidas

After an Adidas employee contacted him on social media, they talked about what it could do in the metaverse. It began via casual conversation—Gmoney didn’t even know for certain his interlocutor worked for Adidas—and eventually evolved into early talks around the collaboration.

The sportswear maker hopes that its efforts in Web3 can support projects from people and communities who aren’t on the level of BAYC or Gmoney. The latter is going to host a masterclass series inside Adidas’ Confirmed app to help people understand the metaverse.

The brand hopes these things can help participants create value and a sense of community online. This has been crucial to the success of BAYC, a group whose allure draws both from the sense of exclusivity and the sense of how much its NFT monkeys are worth. For Adidas, the aspect of ownership over intellectual property is key.

“This isn’t a one-off drop,” says Erika Wykes-Sneyd, VP of marketing and communications at Adidas Originals. “This really is going to be a chance for members to co-own a stake with Adidas Originals.”

Adidas’ NFT won’t grant as much freedom as some other projects with respect to letting owners create physical products they can sell that are based on the digital tokens. And it’s still mostly uncharted territory for sneaker brands, who are usually fierce when it comes to making sure there is no meddling in their designs and trademarks.

“We had quite a lot of lawyers on a lot of the calls leading up to this because it’s a totally new space of putting your intellectual property out on the chain,” says Wykes-Sneyd. “What does that mean in the future? What’s so important though in this first step is that we establish the shared values and what it is that we care about.”

Adidas’ leaders are here, they say, because they see the metaverse as an arena where new originality can thrive and people can have some ownership in the things they create in the digital world. It’s not the only brand leaning in: Nike announced this week its acquisition of RTFKT, a company that makes virtual sneakers and collectibles. Gmoney sees applications that could tie in the world of sneakers and NFTs, like linking them together to fight fakes on the resale market.

Gmoney Adidas
NFT influencer Gmoney is working with Adidas on its Web3 efforts. Image via Adidas

“An NFT would be linked to almost a certificate of authenticity, right? That will make it easier to buy and sell goods and transact on a global basis,” he says.

Exactly how and in how many ways Adidas’ NFTs could be applied hasn’t yet been determined. There are ramifications for its Confirmed app (which the brand uses to launch its most limited sneakers) that could in the future be accessed early by people participating in Adidas’ metaverse projects. Adidas is not shy about how uncertain this future is. For the brand, the open-ended nature of the possibilities ahead is all upside.

“Once you’re done forging the physical products, the token actually may have other utility after that,” says Nazlawy. “We haven’t roadmapped all of that out, and actually we don’t have to because we can crowdsource a lot of the ideas from people we’re working with and the community is going to own it.”