The Rebels NFT Co-Founder Indre Viltrakytė Discusses the Metaverse & Inclusivity in Tech
This feature is in the October Style Issue. Click here to subscribe.
As the exploration of the metaverse grows and the rapid changes in tech move forward, there is an urge for more inclusive and approachable products on-chain. From fashion, to art and music, every facet of our identities are converging into a larger digital environment as communities fight for attention and market share. For The Rebels, they believe that quality and curation are the key for authentic experiences in the digital realm as well as a sustainable practice for fashion, in a world where traditional channels work against the values of web3. I interviewed Indre Viltrakytė, co-founder of the NFT project The Rebels, discussing the space for fashion in the metaverse and the importance of forging space for the independent, under-resourced designer.
PHOTO COURTESY OF ©INDRE VILTRAKYTE AND THE REBELS
Since your launch in January and how quickly the metaverse shifts, how has The Rebels positioned themselves for optimal success?
We’ve known from the very beginning that we were here for the long run. Since I was not new to the crypto space, I knew that the momentum could change very quickly and markets could collapse. Thus, we approached The Rebels as a business with a clear goal of finding a product market fit and a stable source of income, not relying on secondary sales which, in my mind, is a wonderful side effect of web3, but cannot be guaranteed, as we’ve seen from all the royalties debates from these past few weeks.
Some things we did were very practical, such as exchanging a big part of our treasury into stablecoins–and it wasn’t Terra ($LUNA). I feel like not that many NFT projects did that and ran out of money pretty quickly, spending them on Times Square billboards and open bars. Another thing is that our approach to finance management is pretty strict, so when the bear market hit, we knew we had to change our plans for NFT NYC, where we had an epic event in mind - but this did not make any sense for a non-hyped, smaller project like ours. So we did something way smaller, but cozy, warm and genuine — a holders’ lunch, and got to hang out with a wonderful group of people, hear their stories and get inspired for the future. NFT NYC was a bit of a showoff of “whose party is cooler”, but it was also a reminder that for some projects — it was the Last Supper. Not for us though, we have a runway to continue to experiment and innovate for at least a few years.
From the product side, we’ve been working on the proof of concept. The underlying idea of what we want to build is so ambitious that we must narrow it down to something more attainable, something we can build in a year. Now we have a few milestones to hit that look more manageable, and we’re looking at a 2-year horizon.
I come from a startup/business background, and, except for a handful of truly miraculous product stories, no lasting business in this world was built within a few months or even a year. So the impossible expectations of web3 really used to baffle and frustrate me. Not anymore though — any kind of FUD now is just another bit of motivation to push further.
And lastly, we run everything transparently. Before launch, we did a lot of research to figure out jurisdictional nuances, only to find that our country – Lithuania – is actually the best place to set up shop. Also, we have already secured The Rebels official trademark in 12 categories in Lithuania and applied for the global trademark as we’re planning to build a lot of things on top of the brand.
Indre Viltrakyte A fashion entrepreneur who has been working in the industry for 10-plus years, Viltrakyte cofounded the Web3 fashion venture The Rebels with the goal of bridging IRL and digital fashion. PHOTO COURTESY OF ©INDRE VILTRAKYTE AND THE REBELS
Because The Rebels isn't NFT native, what made you transfer the business to the metaverse?
A thirst for innovation. The fashion industry can be very conservative — it does not like change and operates the same every season. This is especially true for the luxury sector, which thrives on tradition and history. High fashion was amongst the last industries to adopt e-commerce because there was this notion that exclusivity must mean only ‘IRL shopping’ and extreme scarcity. It was COVID that finally pushed even the most exclusive brands to take e-commerce seriously. I’m betting that the same thing will happen with web3 fashion and it will pay off to be early.
Our business was born as a physical fashion house 12 years ago, so we know that's where our strength is. We don’t pretend to be as web3-savvy as a native web3 brand, but with apparel market being the 4th largest market in the world with 1.5 trillion USD size, I’m pretty sure the mass adoption of web3 fashion will come via already established physical brands acting as a bridge between the physical and digital worlds. And that’s where we position ourselves.
The Rebels has a great focus on being the Net-A-Porter of the metaverse. With Net-A-Porter being a highly curated fashion platform, how will the community effectively curate and uphold that quality that we know and love?
The “Net-A-Porter” of the metaverse concept was an early iteration of The Rebels positioning in an effort to put our idea in simple words that even people who are not familiar with the fashion industry could understand. Now we are thinking of it as something much broader, and the concept is actually closer to Farfetch than Net-A-Porter, meaning that we want to build a platform where independent creators/brands, manufacturers & suppliers (both digital and physical) and end consumers connect. It will be a highly curated platform because full decentralization just does not work for some products and people want to be told what to buy and what to wear (even digitally) by an expert and someone they respect. We are planning to include a world-class curation system, ensuring the platform’s creative integrity as well as the inclusion of our community, full spectrum of representation and aptness to the current fashion landscape.
I noticed that their website emphasized their use of Meta as a platform. Knowing that Meta takes such a big percentage off top from creators, I was very curious about the reasoning behind the use of it as an independent artist when more and more creators are opting for self-deployed contracts.
What would be the benefit of an independent designer using Meta as a platform as opposed to using their own? What was the defining factor of choosing Meta to launch The Rebels?
Perhaps this is not the question for us if by “Meta” you are referring to Mark Zuckerberg’s metaverse concept? We don’t have any relations to Meta yet, but we’re definitely not saying “never”.
I’m starting to sense a huge digital wearables marketplaces boom incoming — I know at least 6 good ones that are still in development, and, in fact, The Rebels will be part of a big launch of one, hopefully by the end of September. There is a real gap in the market for Shopify-like infrastructure solutions for web3 brands, and this gap will soon be filling up. We just need to make the right bet on the winner. So far, the most successful web3 projects mirror existing IRL concepts, with some unique web3 twists, and I think this is exactly what we’ll be seeing with web3 fashion as well.
There will be independent brands/boutiques, but the largest part of the market will be formed by web3 fashion conglomerates and high-quality marketplaces that are so well done, people might not even realize they are dealing with web3/blockchain, because the UX/UI is perfect and they don’t need to spend a week just to figure out what a ‘Metamask’ is and how to use it. Web3 has a real UX problem and until we solve it, there cannot be real mass adoption.
The Rebels NFT PHOTO COURTESY OF ©INDRE VILTRAKYTE AND THE REBELS
“WE’VE KNOWN FROM THE VERY BEGINNING THAT WE WERE HERE FOR THE LONG RUN.” -INDRE VILTRAKYTE
With the goal of The Rebels being freedom of diversity in thought and creativity, how does that translate to the diversity of your community, participants, and those who have a harder time breaking into the fashion industry like People of Color?
I: Inclusivity and diversity is in The Rebels DNA. Both I and my partner Robert were still born under the rule of the Soviet Union, so Freedom means everything to us. When Lithuania claimed its independence in 1991, people here knew that there is nothing more precious than to be free — to say, think, act freely and without fear. We’ve come a long way since then, and having to fight our own government on a topic of freedom of expression in the European Court of Human Rights is a rather bittersweet paradox, but now I see it as an unfortunate misstep of an otherwise wonderful country.
So, us having the experience of defending our 20-something selves from the Establishment, has taught us so much respect for every kind of diversity in this world. To my knowledge, The Rebels was the first ever NFT project with an actual rainbow flag trait — for example, LGBTQ+ culture was and is crucial to some of the most important cultural and fashion movements, it influenced how we dress, how we style clothes, how we define trends and so on. Thus, it is especially important that these communities feel welcome at The Rebels. We cannot claim to know what it means to be an ethnic minority, but the fact that racial issues still exist in this world is just wild to me, so we make every effort to welcome everyone equally. When we do designer calls, we’ll be making sure that even creators with less access to web3 are able to participate, we’ll have artist residences with a huge focus on diversity. And we’ll have anonymous designer calls where the works and ideas behind them will speak for themselves without any prior bias.
Also, 80% of our core team is women — and we know a thing or two about running a business as women. Again, another wild notion is that we still have value, pay, and status disparities between men and women, and we pledge to lead by example as an open-minded community with respect to all the wonderful nuances of humankind.
L’officiel cover: A digital wearables piece created by The Rebels team to showcase potential PHOTO COURTESY OF ©INDRE VILTRAKYTE AND THE REBELS