Why Independent Chinese Designers Are So Hot On NFTs

    Given the popularity of digital collectibles among China’s young consumers, collaborations can significantly increase their public profile.
    Toy brand BuerBear collaborated with calligrapher Zhu Jingyi on a digital collectible. Photo: BuerBear
    Jing DailyAuthor
      Published   in Meta

    The following is an excerpt from Jing Daily’s market report Big in China: Brand Collaboration. Packed with detailed breakdowns of the top revenue-generating collaboration trends for brands, retailers, and more, the report is a must-read for anyone looking to attract China’s most influential luxury consumers. Get your copy today on our Reports page.#

    Given the popularity of digital collectibles among China’s young consumers, it is no surprise that collaborations can significantly increase their public profile. This is especially true for emerging IPs that want to quickly increase their brand recognition. For example, Chinese sportswear brand 361 Degrees collaborated with domestic art toy brand Fatko on a series of five collectible figurines wearing 361 Degrees outfits in April 2022.

    Consumers could obtain the collectibles by purchasing two pieces of apparel from the featured series either online or off. Alternatively, they could enter an online lottery by posting pictures of themselves wearing 361 Degrees products in the comment section of the brand’s Weibo with the hashtag “My picture with 361 Degrees.”

    This online engagement strategy was a success, with the hashtag receiving 4.2 million views and the hashtag “361 Degrees debuts digital collectibles” garnering 41.4 million cumulative views on Weibo.

    Independent designers looking to promote their work as much as possible can also turn to NFT collaborations to garner public attention. For example, Chinese streetwear designer Chi Lei, also known as DrCHI, collaborated with Chinese streetwear brand Definex for a tiger-themed collection that launched in February 2022.

    The collection included 1,000 digital collectibles depicting the same tiger from the physical collaboration jacket, with consumers able to acquire the collectible by purchasing the jacket online or spending more than 200 yuan (approximately $30) on Definex’s Tmall store and entering a lottery.

    The digital collectible was also featured in Tmall’s new section “Have Something” (有点东西), which is dedicated to branded digital collectibles. The hashtag “Chi Lei Collaboration” racked up 17 million cumulative views on Weibo. Similarly, Chinese art toy brand BuerBear collaborated with modern calligraphist Zhu Jingyi on a series of 300 limited-edition bear toys that feature Zhu’s calligraphy. Each bear includes a built-in near-field communication (NFC) chip that allows each purchaser to claim a digital collectible.

    Partnering with a well-known brand or IP can quickly broaden the public exposure of an independent designer. Even if the collectibles only drive a finite amount of revenue or are gifted, such collaborations are an increasingly popular way for designers to reach China’s highly digital young consumers.

    However, for brands, the “opposite” strategy — turning NFTs into physical products — can also be successful, despite the fact that “true” NFTs are not allowed to be issued in China.

    In April, Li-Ning licensed BAYC as the face of a new collection. Photo: Li-Ning
    In April, Li-Ning licensed BAYC as the face of a new collection. Photo: Li-Ning

    A prominent case in point is Chinese sportswear giant Li-Ning. In April 2022, Li-Ning licensed Bored Ape Yacht Club (BAYC) #4102 as the “face” of a new collection featuring motorcycle and frisbee themes with BAYC #4102 as the central design element. To promote and sell the collection, Li-Ning held a pop-up with a pixel-inspired design in Beijing’s bustling Sanlitun shopping district from April 23 to May 4.

    Yang Guang, head of Li-Ning’s BAYC project, acknowledged in an interview that it “employed a reverse approach: we materialized a virtual IP, granting it value in real life.” Yang elaborated that the collaboration is crucial for Li-Ning to win the hearts and minds of young Chinese consumers:

    "(Although) there are few people who truly understand the metaverse and Web 3.0, they have sufficient attractiveness at an advertising level...When it comes to brands and NFTs, attitude is the most important thing: as long as it is attractive to young consumers, or enables us to communicate with them, we are willing to understand it as soon as possible."

    Get your copy of Big in China: Brand Collaboration today on our Reports page.#

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