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Over the last two years one acronym has erupted into popular culture: the NFT. Nowadays, most people have heard of NFTs, and even if they don’t exactly “get” what a non-fungible token is, they’ve definitely seen an influx of brands, creatives and industry leaders adopt them in groundbreaking ways.

Underpinned by the ethereum blockchain (a peer-to-peer network that aids online exchanges FYI), an NFT is a secure digital receipt that conveys ownership. Technically, an NFT can be any digital object, whether that be a tweet (see the Fyre Festival sad sandwich for reference), a domain name or even digital flowery toilet paper (which, by the way, sold for $4100). But the most exciting application of this new tech is across fashion, art and music.

NFTs provide a radical new way to create content and art that sidesteps the middleman and allows for uncompromised creativity. Artists no longer need to rely on galleries or record labels, giving them the opportunity to take back control of their work. Anybody who has a story to tell or an idea to share can make that happen, breaking open traditionally gatekept industries with a tsunami of diverse voices.

Take Diana Sinclair, the co-founder of Her Story Dao – a crypto collective dedicated to supporting marginalised crypto creators. Thanks to NFTs, the 17-year-old has had the opportunity to curate a digital exhibition featuring Black artists all over the world, work with the Whitney Houston estate on digital art and attend Art Basel in Miami. That’s right, despite people initially not being able to wrap their head around why someone would buy a piece of artwork that wasn’t going to sit on our physical walls, major institutions like Art Basel are now championing this new wave of NFT creators and housing their digital creations via screens. A big step change.

Sinclair credits NFTs with enabling her to expand her pool of potential collectors, while providing a pathway to eschew the traditional, elitist art world. “One of my buyers fell in love with one of my pieces because the blue light in the NFT reminded him of something from his childhood that got him into graffiti. He was ready to drop $30,000 because of that connection, not because he thought he could flip it for more money,” said Sinclair in a 2021 interview, highlighting the power to connect with fans via this new medium.

Although naysayers have historically discredited them as get-rich-quick schemes which are causing speculative bubbles that are about to burst, in the right hands NFTs are incredibly disruptive. Yes, the initial hype cycle might have seen the likes of Bored Ape Yacht Club dominate headlines about individuals buying cartoonish apes for upwards of £1.7million, but a new cohort of creators and designers are leading a rebirth of NFT culture and, in the process, unleashing a boundless potential for creativity.

Take for example, Katherine Frazer, who sells NFTs of herself, asking us to question our relationship with our bodily autonomy, or leading generative artist IX Shells, who embeds algorithms and codes into ever-changing NFT artworks. While others use the technology to empower artists who are being taken advantage of by their respective industries.

The music streaming economy notably sees 90% of streams going to just 1% of artists. It’s why Bajan rapper-producer Haleek Maul has been exclusively releasing music on the blockchain via NFTs this past year. In fact, in 2020 he founded HOLDERLAND, an organisation which builds community wealth with others by helping artists and young people from his native Barbados. Through HOLDERLAND, he seeks to be completely self-sufficient while also supporting other creatives. Most notably, he’s supported Bajan artist and designer Zoe Osborne and queer Bajan creator Délyt by helping them mint NFTs and then investing in their collections.

With new Web 3 platforms such as Catalog, which is an NFT marketplace built specifically for the music industry, and PartyBid, which allows multiple people to pool capital and split ownership, going from strength to strength, who knows what underground sounds will thrive now that artists are reclaiming financial control. “One of the big things that happens is [when] people get pushback all their lives, they eventually get stuck, and don't explore what's possible,” said Maul in a 2022 interview. “I think HOLDERSLAND could really show people what's possible.”

Fashion and the metaverse have never been closer either, as evident in the launch of Metaverse Fashion Week by Decentraland earlier this year. Moreover, luxury brands such as Gucci, Burberry, Louis Vuitton and Balmain have started dipping their toes in cyberspace with the release of NFT clothing. You might not be able to hang it up in your wardrobe, but for individuals who thought they’d never own an item of clothing from their favourite fashion house, they can now dress their digital avatar in Balenciaga or Prada NFTs while playing their favourite game or visiting different metaverses.

NFTs are also eradicating the barriers to entry. Gone are the days of frenzied designer rooms filled with rolls of fabric and frantic workers. The possibilities are almost endless for a designer wielding a well-structured 3-D designer program, and they can do it all from their bedroom without any assistance whatsoever. As a result, independent organisations such as Institute of Digital Fashion and Auroboros have sprung up and are completely pushing the boundaries of fashion design. The latter of which was the first digital fashion brand to debut at London Fashion Week in 2021, where they revealed their ethereal 14-piece Biomimicry Collection. An otherworldly capsule that mimicked the natural world in inventive, never-before-seen ways.

Thanks to NFTs, art, music and fashion are being pushed to the max. By creating a world without barriers – where transatlantic creatives and consumers are connected on the blockchain and through the internet – boundless possibilities for inspiration, innovation and collaboration have arisen.

The exciting part? We’re only just getting started. Hold onto your seats as we step further into this brave new virtual world because creativity is about to go stratospheric.