Asian digital designers have been powering the Web3 scene since before it cracked the mainstream. Developing from niche forward-thinkers into high-profile influencers, these early movers today comprise a sizeable proportion of Web3’s creator economy — a market now estimated to host more than 50 million innovators and entrepreneurs.
Advancements in Web3’s technological tools are opening doors for these creatives to explore the Asian diaspora, contemplate their identity through new mediums, and introduce worldwide audiences to Asian aesthetics.
Thanks to the expanding prominence of Asian virtual artistry, the region has grown to become the epicenter of the global NFT craze. In 2021, Central and Southeast Asia accounted for 35 percent of the $22 billion global trade of NFTs, according to research firm Chainalysis Inc, with the industry in the APAC region growing by 54.8% on an annual basis to reach around $22.6 billion in 2022.
As for siloed markets like China, it’s difficult to measure the popularity of the mainland’s vast and growing cohort of virtual artists due to government restrictions and lack of official assessment measures. Following April’s closure of ByteDance’s Pheagee — once a major digital fashion platform in China — the absence of a dedicated channel poses challenges for next-gen creatives seeking to gain exposure and amplify their work locally. Domestic artists are relying on social media platforms like Xiaohongshu and Weibo to stay relevant.
Despite the hurdles, a select few are commanding the field. Jing Daily spotlights these mavens, plus the spearheaders making a name for themselves globally.
Linxi Zhu and Peini Yu
The brains behind Formless, a London-based fashion tech startup and marketplace, co-founders Linxi Zhu and Peini Yu have cemented their status as pioneers in digital materiality and 3D design. Since launching Formless in 2021 after graduating from the Royal College of Art, the pair have gone on to collaborate with the likes of Samsung and leading fashion publication ShowStudio on its ikon-1 NFT project in November 2022.
“Asia is a major player in the digital space, diversifying the NFT ecosystem with different approaches” Zhu says. “We integrate culture, technology, and innovation into our practice, delivering unique solutions to the industry. We aim to magnify the advantages of digital fashion, making it seamlessly fit into our digital lifestyles.”
Zhu and Yu found success in digital accessories after moving away from their previous points of interest, which included knitwear and physical jewelry design. Now, they specialize in constructing elements crafted from what they describe as “impossible materials,” such as ethereal velvet flowers inspired by those from ancient Chinese palaces, to make the once unwearable, wearable.
An advocate for better representation of women and marginalized cultures in Web3, Jessie Fu is the founder of London-based digital fashion startup and studio altr, which aims to preserve fashion heritage by giving it new life and contemporary relevance in digital spaces.
“Web3 has ushered in a new era for the creator economy, where creators are fairly incentivized for their on-chain artwork. It allows for decentralized, borderless collaboration, enabling artists to connect with their cultural roots and global communities in new and profound ways,” Fu says.
Fu was one of the first individuals to participate in the Farfetch and Outlier Ventures’ Dream Assembly Base Camp accelerator. Since then, altr has hit several metaverse milestones such as participating in Decentraland’s Metaverse Fashion Week. During the 2023 event, Fu spotlighted 10 underrepresented cultures through archival fashion pieces created by local designers and Paris-based institution ESMOD. The collection demonstrated what future heritage could look like and champions cultural diversity in Web3 fashion.
Boasting almost 100,000 followers on Instagram, 3D fashion artist and Twitch streamer Stephy Fung has made a name for herself as one of Web3’s most influential female creatives and an advocate for better representation in the space.
Fung’s work pays homage to both her Chinese heritage and British upbringing, educating audiences on her multicultural identity.
“Being able to express my Chinese heritage with digital fashion NFTs has been a true mission of mine. Since I was born in London, a lot of my knowledge is Eurocentric, and as I have grown as an adult, I realize that I want to reconnect back to my heritage more,” Fung says. “I believe that being able to tell my story via my artworks and experiences within Web3 will not only provide a new insight with a different voice in the field but also help inspire other similar minded people to also join the space to showcase their culture and identity with their creations.”
The creative has collaborated with major brands such as Dell during her internet reign, in addition to partnering with leading metaverse collectives like The Fabricant and NFT project Deadfellaz. She is also the latest participant to be announced in SYKY’s debut digital fashion accelerator, which will see mentors from across the fashion board nurture this new wave of industry voices.
Alex Xu aka Zagabond
Alex Xu, more commonly known by the pseudonym Zagabond, is arguably one of the most prolific Asian designers to rise to Web3 fame. The key founder behind Web3 studio Chiru Labs and Azuki, an anime-inspired Web3 brand built in Los Angeles, Zagabond has made an indelible mark on the NFT world.
Azuki was a success from the get-go, after the project’s original 10,000 piece profile picture (PFP) collection sold out in just three minutes when it launched back in January 2022. Since then, Zagabond has built the brand into a full-fledged universe, complete with physical collections, sidekick projects like Beanz, and partnerships alongside the likes of Japanese streetwear label Ambush. Azuki’s latest ‘Elementals’ NFT collection, which dropped this week, sold out in 15 minutes, raking in $38 million.
With over 86,000 followers on Twitter, Zagabond is a widely respected voice in the Web3 community.
Fanrui Sun is part of the wave of next-age fashion designers turning to Web3 to push the boundaries of creative expression. A designer at virtual accessories platform Xtended Identity, Sun is one of the most interesting artists to come from China. Although her presence is still minimal across social channels, leading brands and media publications have already recognized her creative impact.
Now based in London, the talent joins Fung as one of the participants in this year’s SYKY Design Collective incubator. She has previously worked with Cosmopolitan China, Mercedes Benz, and ShowStudio on the publication’s ikon-1 NFT drop (like Formless).
Sun’s work takes the art of technological design to new heights, diving into the world of physical 3D printing and augmented reality.
More commonly recognized as her transhuman and alter-ego “Ruby 9100M,” Ruby Gloom is a Hong Kong-based digital artist who has collaborated with multiple brands including Adidas, The Fabricant, Chanel, and Heir. The creative has also extended her presence to the world of virtual entertainment, after producing 3D content for a number of Chinese rappers and working on an avatar-powered cover image for musician Grimes.
Today, the artist has amassed over 80,000 followers on Instagram, but only 7,175 on Xiaohongshu. This disparity in follower counts suggests that the creative is resonating more with an international fanbase than with China’s local netizens.
Gloom began her career as a fashion KOL, during which she launched her own fashion brand, before venturing into music and unveiling her virtual human representation of Ruby 9100M.
UV Zhu is a Chinese NFT digital fashion artist and the owner of the pop art-tech fashion brand Zero Cosmos. The creative shot to fame in China and across the globe after their exaggerated and skillfully bizarre designs, which took inspiration from traditional fashion brands like Balenciaga and Balmain, went viral across social media.
Conceptual designs like Zhu’s puffy-soled sneakers took the next-gen fashion scene by storm, and have helped the talent garner almost 60,000 followers on Instagram. But, like Gloom, the Chinese creative seems to be reaping more rewards overseas than with domestic audiences. As of now, Zhu has less than 10,000 followers on Xiaohongshu.
UV Zhu has partnered with Adobe and had their work published in major media publications such as Vogue. The digital artist has also collaborated with Adidas, Bosie, and other clothing brands to co-create digital art collections, as well as domestic names like Huawei, Tencent, and Pop Mart.