The metaverse is shaping up to be the place to be. No longer limited to digital natives, the realm has slowly—but surely—entered the mainstream, what with virtual fashion wearables becoming popular and the initiation of an entire fashion week—complete with showrooms, runways, after-parties and more.

Despite these developments, the community on the metaverse remains the most welcoming and inclusive—something Frank Smits, co-founder of Hong Kong-based fine art platform, The MetaArt Club (TMAC), can attest to. “The beautiful thing about the metaverse is that it is a very decentralised space where everyone is open for collaborations and here to learn,” he reflects. “The ability to connect is very high and the community is ultra-receptive to partnerships and exchanging information. I used to spend over 12 hours a day cultivating conversations with artists and collectors and nurturing those relationships at the genesis of the NFT (Non-Fungible Token) movement.”

Here, Vogue Singapore speaks to Smits and the other co-founder of TMAC, Levina Li, about their journey in the metaverse, what inclusivity means in this emerging digital space and what we can expect from their upcoming NFT drop.

Tell us about your journey in the NFT space—when did you first hear about NFTs and what made you decide to start The MetaArt Club?

Frank: I first heard about NFTs in October 2020 and I began formally collecting them in March 2021 after the Elon Musk/Beeple Twitter storm. My focus has always been on fine art and I didn’t fully understand the collectibles or the importance of community around this phenomenon. It was around April or May 2021 that I asked myself—living in Hong Kong, one of the world’s fine art hubs, with its own collecting community and crypto community—why was no one talking about NFTs?

TMAC was born out of a desire to concentrate the NFT collector community in Hong Kong and Asia. We onboard collectors and enable them to acquire NFTs by linking them up with artists and galleries. We also aim to be a bridge from collectibles to fine art. We believe in fostering the creation of an NFT collectors’ community around digital fine art by promoting and supporting burgeoning talent in the digital art medium.

What advice would you give to someone interested in collecting NFTs?

Frank: Read as much as you can. There is so much content out there, so the credo in this space is “do your own research”. Don’t be shy to reach out to fellow collectors and artists—it goes back to the same decentralised world where people are actually quite open to help and participate. It is also good to join a community—on Discord or on a platform where you can join a movement. TMAC is a good example where we are combining artists and collectors into one club, making it easier for new collectors to start their collection and find their voice in this space.

What part do NFTs play in carrying the conversation of inclusivity and body positivity forward?

Frank: The beauty of the digital world is that everyone—in all shapes and sizes—can be connected. You can have a different name or avatar without disclosing who you are. People are valued on their results and creations and not on their looks. I would say that at least half the people in this space don’t even use their real name and NFTs play a significant role in normalising and promoting this inclusivity.

What excites you most about the future of NFTs and where does fashion fit into this picture?

Frank: What excites me most is the ability to connect the world and recognise talent. The space is so open that there are no steps you must take to join an elite group. There are also no barriers of entry in creating an artform. It is all very socialised and community-driven. It gives artists from all over the world, wherever they are, the opportunity to be celebrated.

Regarding fashion, I believe that NFT communities will be the driving force behind the development of this space. Fashion brands will have to interact with these communities to be part of the future. The creation of phygital collections will also be an avenue for fashion to align itself with NFTs.

Levina: To quote Morgan Stanley, the market size of NFTs is slated to reach $300 billion by 2030, of which $56 billion will be a new source of revenue for the luxury industry alone. NFTs are a huge part of the intersection between the lifestyle, luxury and fashion industries. Already we see the merging of the fashion and the NFT world, with Gucci, Balmain, Dolce & Gabbana and even Adidas building utility into NFTs and creating a hybrid model of virtual and physical collections to bring totally new narratives to brands and brand collaborations.

What can we look forward to in The MetaArt Club’s upcoming collaboration with Vogue Singapore?

Levina: We are excited to showcase the breadth of talent and the variety of artistic styles present amongst the artists of TMAC. The March issue of Vogue Singapore is all about body positivity, body-consciousness, how young people perceive their bodies, how to be positive about your body, self-image and inclusivity—and we want to highlight this theme in a meaningful visual way.

We will be working with Keiken, Liu Jiaying (CryptoZR), Owo Anietie, SuzyQ and Wu Ziyang for this upcoming NFT drop for Vogue Singapore. Their artistic styles fit the visual and conceptual thread for this theme—for example, Keiken’s whole rationale is about how they want to be known as the “protectors of the metaverse”. To quote Hana Omori from Keiken: “Our work is not just about saying ‘we are going to build a metaverse and we are going to instantly allow people to live in a space’. A lot of it is considering what kind of avatars, what kind of technologies, what kind of systems, structures, stories and beliefs we want to include in this space. The beauty in it lies not just in looking at it from an aesthetic point of view, but in questioning the soul and really thinking about what is functional for humanity and what are the ramifications of the choices we make in this space.”

In light of the events unfolding in Ukraine, Vogue Singapore’s NFT drop with The MetaArt Club has been postponed to a later date.

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