Is There Still a Market for NFT Streetwear Merch?

I’d say it’s quite fair to posit that in 2023, two years on from the explosive fascination with NFTs in January 2021, the promise of non-fungible tokens and, really, web3 in general has lost a fair bit of luster. In the intervening years, the wider public has consigned NFTs to the great Recycle Bin of history and moved on.

And, yet, internationally recognized streetwear label BAPE is only just dropping a collaboration with Bored Ape Yacht Club, one of the largest extant NFT imprints, at the tail end of 2023.

The timing seems just a tad off. In fact, it prompts the question: is there currently even still a market for NFT-branded streetwear? The answer is… yes and no.

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On one hand, the greater public is broadly disinterested in NFT going-ons. This is pretty clearly represented by things like Google search trends and even the reaction to the BAPE x Bored Ape collab.

“This is the worst collab this brand has ever done,” one particularly displeased BAPE customer seethed in the label’s Instagram comments. “I genuinely hope they lose money so they know we don’t want this.” Plenty of other commenters echo the sentiment: “this brand is dead,” “washed,” “garbage,” and so on.

In fairness to both BAPE and Bored Ape Yacht Club, this kind of reaction is pretty typical of most things BAPE does nowadays — BAPE fans loathe it as much as they love it — but it is worth pointing out that the response to the BAYC team-up was, admittedly, particularly vitriolic.

It may be representative of the broader sentiment towards NFTs but the response isn’t universal.

Indeed, there are still many BAYC fans who’ve staunchly dug their heels in for the NFT brand. These are the true believers and they still congregate at the company’s yearly Ape Fest shindigs, where only BAYC NFT-holders are allowed entry.

Apropriately, Ape Fest 2023 is where BAPE and BAYC first revealed their collab.

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This is the interesting thing about the state of NFT streetwear in 2023. No longer is every brand and its mother launching an NFT (or NFT collab) every other month with promises of turning the project into a TV show, a video game, a living, breathing community.

With the NFT gold rush long over, only the diehards are left. They are the remaining market for NFT streetwear and they are not shy about snapping up collaborative merch printed with their brand of choice.

So, there really isn’t a broad market for NFT streetwear but there definitely is a committed niche. And that might actually be a better situation for both the NFT companies and their collaborators, since a micro-community of devotees is like being able to tap into a built-in customer base at any time.

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This is all to say that though the broader group of BAPE enthusiasts may eye a Bored Ape collab with wariness, at best (and perhaps not unfairly), the BAYC collab isn’t for them. It was exclusively created for a fixed group, as all future NFT crossovers likely will be.

And though the expansive enthusiasm for NFTs and web3 projects has visibly cooled over the past few years, there’s still vested interest. Gucci, for instance, announced only this past spring that it’d be deepening its partnership with Bored Ape parent company Yuga Labs.

This reflects one of the things that got lost in the initial NFT shuffle. Early on, NFTs were sold as something widely appealing — investments for everyone! Art for everyone! — but they’re really more of a specific fixation that serves smaller clusters of loyalists. And those loyalists want to wear BAPE, too.

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