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London-based Sknups (pronounced Skin Ups) is a new digital collectibles platform for fashion and beauty creators in the metaversethe universe of virtual worlds that are all interconnected, like in novels such as Snow Crash and Ready Player One.
The funding comes from fashion and Web3 investors including angel investors and traditional funds, including Redrice Ventures, Blue Wire Capital and Adelpha. Sknups also plans to work with Dolce & Gabbana to bring its Italian signature style into games.
To commemorate the Dolce & Gabbana announcement and lead into the first collectible campaign, a new inaugural digital drop is now live at sknups.com.
Founded in 2020, Sknups wants to empower gamers, crypto and fashion followers to level up their skins across Web2 and Web3 digital worlds. Sknups launched in stealth open-beta in December 2021 and has since signed a mix of global fashion brands and emerging young streetwear designers such as Benny Andallo and James Mack. Sknups will shortly be announcing further collaborations with leading brands and cultural icons.
“We saw the opportunity for brands to move more in a digital world to connect better with Gen Z consumers in the places where they were having fun and socializing,” said Fred Speirs, CEO of Sknups, in an interview with GamesBeat. “And that’s happening so much in games now. It was the excitement of how do you bring those two worlds closer together.”
The mission is to enhance online self-expression by bringing unique skins and collectibles to people’s favorite digital games and worlds.
“We’ve got a really great team that brings together strong expertise and background on the fashion side, really strong deep tech know-how behind the platform and what we’re developing, and then a lot from the game side as well,” said Spears. “I come more from the fashion business side. For close to a decade, I was a global lifestyle brands analyst. So a covered a lot of the brands that we are talking to and focused on now. And then more recently I moved into actually building businesses. And I’m very excited to now be leading Sknups.”
“We have our first major brand that we can publicly talk about, in the form of Dolce and Gabbana. So we felt like it was the right time to come and talk about it,” Speirs said. “We have a tech platform which is super scalable. We have the ambition that we can help build repeatable and scalable drops for partners.”
The Sknups team has built a hybrid Web2/Web3 ownership platform that combines the finest quality digital fabrication with massive metaverse reach:
- The world-class team creates digital collectibles with couture 3D models crafted in Sknups’ metaverse atelier.
- The Sknups platform scales to billions of users and includes Airdrop tools which offer democratic drop access to the whole community of fans, with climate-friendly Solana NFTs for collectors, social flexing tools, fan composability and Web2/Web3 game integrations.
“Brands and creators who want to establish a scalable presence in digital worlds have to balance high-end with access,” said Speirs. “Fashion in the Metaverse should be accessible beyond a small core of celebs and high net worth VIP’s to communicate the transformative power of style and craftsmanship to the next generation of fans.”
Luke Alvarez, cofounder of Hiro Capital, services as cofounder and chairman of Sknups. Other founders include Speirs, Simon Low, and games tech innovator Alistair Hopkins. The team has 20 people spread out around the world, with some based in London.
Moving into games
Robb Chiarini, former Ubisoft esports leader and a gaming veteran, is helping to spearhead the company’s connections with the gaming ecosystem and game publishers.
“We are in different stages of discussions both internally on how they handle things like skins and introductions into the game, as well as all the things that we’re trying to offer,” Chiarini said. “I would say there is quite a bit of interest but there are different levels of readiness.”
Chiarini said skins have been around a long time in gaming, and now there are storefronts inside of games for both digital skins and even physical goods. But lots of things are changing at a very fast pace, he said.
Bridging Web2 and Web3
Speirs said that the company is looking to solve problems for different parties. The company is bringing desirable brands and creators on one side and then connecting them with game experiences. On the other side, the company is focusing on making the experiences fun, he said.
“We are making it easy and making it something that both sides can trust and want to move forwards with,” Speirs said.
The company starts out in the Web2 space making digital collectibles. And it provides an option to integrate that digital collectible with a non-fungible token (NFT). But at the moment, it’s not something that every single brand has to do, Speirs said.
“Each brand we talk to, and each game we talk to, has a different view on NFTs,” Speirs said. “An important part of our solution is we have the flexibility to really onboard a really wide range of consumers. If a party involved wants to move that to an NFT, we can do that. But we don’t have to do that.”
In that way, Sknups lets decide partners if their customers are ready for NFTs are not. In gaming, NFTs have run into some resistance from gamers and game developers. But others have been more receptive to the notion of using the blockchain to authenticate unique digital items.
To NFT or Not to NFT
I noted how a lot of gamers have reacted poorly to NFT announcements from Ubisoft, Team 17, GSC Gameworld, and more.
“It’s an interesting question because the space is evolving, interests are evolving, and products are evolving,” Chiarini said. “Our space is digital collectibles. NFTs might not be the direction that these different brands go. At our core, we’re a digital collectible. And we’re working with various gaming initiatives to bring brands into gaming. That doesn’t necessarily mean NFTs in the game. I think the space is evolving.”
Speirs said that the Web3 has limited reach now and the company wants to take its products to a wide group of people.
“Web3 is super interesting, but it’s a smaller addressable audience than Web2,” Speirs said. “That’s why it’s important for us to have a hybrid solution. We want to empower a combination of gamers of crypto fans and fashion fans to level up their skins and avatars across Web2 and Web3 worlds because we don’t want to be exclusive to a subset of them. As the business grows, as the environment changes, then of course, we’ll be responsive to that.”
Into the metaverse?
In some ways, brands see the metaverse as a kind of Wild West. They may want to move into a platform for user-generated content (UGC), but they may find that the brand has been pirated and is already on those platforms.
Going back for a long time, “you always had this question if you mind people making counterfeit goods or physical items. And often the conclusion was, well, no, you don’t, because at least it means you’re a hot brand and people are excited about you,” Speirs said.
Brands have different opinions on that subject. They want to control their own brand, but they are quite clear that it is important that they need to embrace the gaming community, Speirs said. The question is how to make the metaverse safe for brands and to help them maintain quality with things like UGC.
“It’s not about the old modes of communication,” he said. “It’s about finding the right ways to empower communities, to really be a part of the conversation. And for us, it’s why we don’t want to just be a platform. We are also a partner to really help connect these two very different worlds together.”
Speirs knows that some brands will move into games directly without using partners. Gucci is an example of that. But others look to Sknups to accelerate their entry into the metaverse in the right way, Speirs said.
“We’re a great way for brands to start moving into this space,” Speirs said. “At the same time, we also want them to have a great experience with us.”
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