Last month, in just the latest episode of the ongoing and inevitable march of the blockchain through every aspect of our lives, it was announced that StockX – one of the biggest and most popular sneaker resale platforms online, recently valued at $3.8 billion (USD) – would be moving into the NFT marketplace. This ought to come as no surprise; with brands like Nike and adidas making their own forays into the digital sphere with various NFT partnerships and even acquisitions, it stands to reason that resellers would want to pick up and capitalize on that trend.

But it seems that things with the reseller are not quite as they seem. Or at least not quite what we’re used to. Which is to say, unlike other names looking to make a claim on the NFT sphere by running with the concept as it currently exists, StockX is looking to do something different with the idea – not so much a complete transformation (it’s too early to be reinventing the wheel, after all), but something more like an innovation.

Rather than selling NFTs themselves – wherein the basic principle is that the image, existing solely in its digital form, is the “unique” object to be bought and sold – the resale platform has instead opted to create what’s closer to an avatar system. Here, the NFT represents a physical property – not so different to the way in which the numbers on your banking app represent actual money. Although, in many ways the end product is more real.

StockX’s new offering – what they’re calling VaultNFTs – are minted on the Ethereum blockchain as you might expect, but each token is tied to a single pair of sneakers that exist in the corporeal world at the company’s own vault as well as digitally. The token, then, represents something tangible – something real; a link between physical and virtual forms that is too often missing, frequently pushing conversations about blockchain into the realm of abstraction, possibility, and notions of limitless creativity at the expense of substance.

Ethereum, yes. Ethereal – not so much.

This might actually be the first time that a major name has looked to the possibilities of the blockchain to make progress as well as profit. Yes, StockX is using new technology at its disposal to create what’s effectively a secondary marketplace, but it’s also working with these systems in a practical sense to streamline and push for a greater sense of sustainability in the processes of its current marketplace offering. Or in their own words: “reduce transaction fees, minimize environmental impacts, and create provenance.”

It’s a bold claim when you consider that some of the more righteous concerns about crypto as a whole tend to center on environmental issues. Specifically, the millions of tonnes of CO2 emissions that blockchain transactions produce. But it’s also a logical next step for a resale platform to be taking – after all, one of the major selling points of sneaker and fashion resale are its green credentials in terms of production and packaging versus buying new. And historically where these claims have been rightly called into question are when it comes to the very nature of the market. That a good proportion of resale buyers are also sellers themselves, intending to flip product for a profit as quickly as possible in a chain that could – theoretically – go on ad nauseum, creating who knows how many air miles and using who knows how much packaging in the shipping process.

VaultNFTs – which see the individual token for an item transferred to the buyer while the physical counterpart lives in that eponymous vault until such a time as the owner decides to have the item shipped – have the potential to change that. Not just for StockX but, presuming some level of success, also in terms of wider adoption in the resale industry at large.

For purists, this might seem like a step back. NFTs, surely, ultimately, are about the transcendence of this mortal realm and not another way of cataloging physical possessions. But even for them, there are clear positives; if there is any chance of convincing skeptics – and in truth most people do still fall under this category at the moment – the best path is in showing a link between virtual currency and the real world. Not, as far too often seems to be the way at present, by further alienating one from the other.

And that’s the difference here – and, perhaps, the difference between brand incursions into digital space (as with Nike and RTFKT, or adidas and Bored Ape, or even with Gucci’s augmented reality offering) and actual paradigm shifts in the marketplace itself. One is simply the act of buying into a system because it presents an opportunity, while the other is the much more radical choice of looking at how that system can be bettered – yes, of course, for selfish reasons. But also for the greater good.

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