Why a Boston Sneaker Design Veteran and Crypto Entrepreneur Are Making NFT Shoes


What Endstate really sells are NFTs, or non-fungible tokens, which it periodically releases in limited quantities. Customers buy an NFT, specify their shoe size and receive a real pair of sneakers in a few weeks.

The shoes come with a wide variety of benefits and access to real life experiences. (I wasn’t kidding about the cheesesteak thing.)

During NFT.NYC in June, Howard and Collen met me at a coffee shop days after raising a $5.5 million seed round from investors including Archetype Ventures, Accomplice, and Castle Island Ventures.

Endstate co-founders Bennett Collen, left, and Stephanie Howard, right, wore matching sneakers at NFT NYC this summer.Anissa Gardizy

The co-founders arrived in matching sneakers, which looked like normal shoes until Collen tapped his smartphone near the laces. A 3D rendering of her shoes appeared on her screen, along with the word “authentic” in green.

In doing so, Collen verified that his kicks were one of 50 pairs made for Endstate’s first sneaker drop. The company embeds a chip in the tongue of each sneaker, which is linked to its corresponding NFT.

Why is this important? For Endstate, NFTs are much more than digital art. The startup operates in the “utility NFT” space, which means that digital assets come with certain rights and privileges for owners, much like a contract or membership.

This is a key development in the industry, as the market for NFTs as digital artworks has largely collapsed.

Nic Carter, partner at Castle Island Ventures, wrote in a recent blog post that several “tech-savvy luxury brands” likely thought about selling NFTs last year that didn’t involve a physical good or utility component.

“Now that the hype has died down,” he wrote, “these brands will start to realize that real innovation isn’t exploiting fans by selling them overpriced JPEGs with dubious usefulness, but pairing commodities with persistent digital property”.

Indeed, Endstate’s goal is to partner with artists, athletes, and entrepreneurs on NFT sneaker drops, and then connect those digital assets. physical goods and real experiences and rewards.

The “Ukraine Aid” sneaker by Endstate.Lane Turner / Globe Staff

The company is currently selling $250 sneakers in collaboration with Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver DeVonta Smith. Sneaker owners can attend an event hosted by Smith in Philadelphia, as well as an exclusive game watch party. (Because of the chip in the shoe, “the sneaker is the ticket,” Howard said.)

The perks will keep coming all season – after his first touchdown, and for every run over a certain number of yards, NFT holders will receive a gift card for a free cheesesteak.

“It’s fun, but it shows how NFTs are unlocking that other world, beyond the physical sneaker,” Howard said.

Although Howard couldn’t share details, she said Endstate has been in conversation with musicians, designers and a well-known sneaker and streetwear brand.

Endstate is also selling limited-edition sneakers for this year’s Boston College “Red Bandana” game next month, honoring Welles alum Remy Crowther, who died after saving at least a dozen people during the September 11 terrorist attacks in New York. .

The company’s co-founders both have experience at the forefront of innovation.

For Howard, it’s with sneakers. She joined New Balance out of college and was the Boston-based company’s youngest employee when it designed the New Balance 850 in 1996., a groundbreaking shoe that the company re-released in 2019. (It was the first pair where the “N” logo didn’t appear on the side of the shoe.)

Designer Stephanie Howard poses for a portrait circa March 1996. At 23, Howard is the youngest designer at New Balance, the Boston-based company that is the nation's third-largest <a class=running shoe producer. ” class=”height_a width_full invisible width_full–mobile width_full–tablet-only” src=”https://bostonglobe-prod.cdn.arcpublishing.com/resizer/F1mdtI7XlGX-HMet8g_OufGddOU=/960×0/cloudfront-us-east-1.images.arcpublishing.com/bostonglobe/OFBIMVO7JLFKLROAQQE2TK5QWA.jpg” srcset=”https://bostonglobe-prod.cdn.arcpublishing.com/resizer/760HYHibd57_3aDURcmBsUG9gsE=/1440×0/cloudfront-us-east-1.images.arcpublishing.com/bostonglobe/OFBIMVO7JLFKLROAQQE2TK5QWA.jpg 1440w, https://bostonglobe-prod.cdn.arcpublishing.com/resizer/vgX626KAmOKO7dTGr8Xqj4XkFnM=/1280×0/cloudfront-us-east-1.images.arcpublishing.com/bostonglobe/OFBIMVO7JLFKLROAQQE2TK5QWA.jpg 1280w, https://bostonglobe-prod.cdn.arcpublishing.com/resizer/BQ7E9d-KFRcoq18eMb8mA1KaeFQ=/1024×0/cloudfront-us-east-1.images.arcpublishing.com/bostonglobe/OFBIMVO7JLFKLROAQQE2TK5QWA.jpg 1024w, https://bostonglobe-prod.cdn.arcpublishing.com/resizer/EhitMNogNRq3MDYNsusMmbwsAmk=/820×0/cloudfront-us-east-1.images.arcpublishing.com/bostonglobe/OFBIMVO7JLFKLROAQQE2TK5QWA.jpg 820w, https://bostonglobe-prod.cdn.arcpublishing.com/resizer/XX0yXdKQcTbXksL6_22eeyhh8mI=/600×0/cloudfront-us-east-1.images.arcpublishing.com/bostonglobe/OFBIMVO7JLFKLROAQQE2TK5QWA.jpg 600w, https://bostonglobe-prod.cdn.arcpublishing.com/resizer/HdCtPsrFNA2P1AV-0Fv2RVWRZ34=/420×0/cloudfront-us-east-1.images.arcpublishing.com/bostonglobe/OFBIMVO7JLFKLROAQQE2TK5QWA.jpg 420w, https://bostonglobe-prod.cdn.arcpublishing.com/resizer/gdhXVvKQ_Jl646qmH5A-NiZJrNA=/240×0/cloudfront-us-east-1.images.arcpublishing.com/bostonglobe/OFBIMVO7JLFKLROAQQE2TK5QWA.jpg 240w” bad-src=”https://bostonglobe-prod.cdn.arcpublishing.com/resizer/vvg_w1hb2Q0rFSDVaVaNn_yq1A0=/20×0/cloudfront-us-east-1.images.arcpublishing.com/bostonglobe/OFBIMVO7JLFKLROAQQE2TK5QWA.jpg”/>
Designer Stephanie Howard poses for a portrait circa March 1996. At 23, Howard is the youngest designer at New Balance, the Boston-based company that is the nation’s third-largest running shoe producer. Lane Turner/Globe Staff/Boston Globe via Getty Images

Howard went to Reebok before becoming design director at Nike. Over the past decade, she has consulted on innovation for brands such as Timberland, Vans and Converse.

Collen, a BC alum, brings some cachet from the tech world. In 2014, he founded Cognate, a company that attempted to verify and enforce trademark rights on the blockchain. “Trying to sell this to lawyers in 2016, 2017, was an uphill battle,” he said.

GoDaddy, the internet domain registrar and website hosting company, purchased Cognate in 2018.

Collen teaches blockchain and cryptocurrency at BC and wanted to start another blockchain business during the pandemic. He met Howard after attending a webinar on sneakers and the law, on which she was a panelist.

Collen and Howard believe that in the not-too-distant future, everything important to consumers in the real world – sneakers, clothes, accessories – will be reproduced digitally. (This is what they believe to be the “end state” of product ownership.)

“This water bottle won’t have a digital counterpart, but something that has value or meaning to me, I will want a digital counterpart,” Collen said. “We want to be at the forefront of that.”

Anissa Gardizy can be reached at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter @anissagardizy8 and on Instagram @anissagardizy.journalism.

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