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Nike and Fortnite Level Up Their Partnership

It’s the most immersive branded fashion experience in the popular game yet, even if you still can’t wear .Swoosh sneakers on a Fortnite avatar.
A wide shot of the Airphoria cityscape featuring a large building in the shape of an Air Max 1 sneaker and a tower made from orange Nike shoeboxes.
Airphoria. (Epic Games)

If Nike ever decided to make a video game, it would probably look something like “Airphoria,” the new digital world it debuted in Fortnite on Tuesday.

In the Air Max-themed experience, users drop into a floating city to hunt for different Air Max styles, along the way encountering different Nike iconography, like its signature orange shoes boxes stacked into a tower, and bits of Nike folklore, including an Air Max 97 reimagined as a Japanese bullet train, the shoe’s original design inspiration.

In that regard it reflects both Nike’s push further into gaming and digital goods as well as the ways Fortnite’s maker, Epic Games, is working to draw more fashion and footwear brands into its orbit. “Airphoria” is the first branded experience from a fashion or footwear company made with Unreal Engine for Fortnite, a recently unveiled 3D creation tool from Epic that gives brands more flexibility to build an environment using their own visual language through abilities such as being able to import custom assets.

A silver Air Max 97 sneaker serves as the front of a train in Airphoria.

“It totally changes the way that brands are able to interact inside of Fortnite and create experiences,” said Nate Nanzer, vice president of global partnerships at Epic Games. “Brands are no longer constrained to the Fortnite art style.”

The game platform Roblox has let brands customise its spaces, too, as more fashion and footwear companies turn to gaming as a new marketing venue.

For Nike, it shows how the company is trying to connect with the large audience of gamers in the world and using the medium to expand its brand. At the end of 2022, Nike announced the launch of a new digital platform called .Swoosh that allows members to buy Nike-branded virtual goods in the form of NFTs, though Nike doesn’t call them that. It recently hinted at an upcoming partnership with EA Sports, publisher of the FIFA and Madden NFL game franchises, during its first sale of its new virtual sneakers. Fortnite is a force of its own in the gaming world, with 500 million registered accounts, according to Epic.

“It’s really a way to build new canvases for storytelling,” said Ron Faris, vice president and general manager of Nike Virtual Studios, pointing out that the abilities offered in a game environment are unlike anything Nike could do in a physical product display.

Faris and Nanzer described “Airphoria” as the start of a blending of their two ecosystems. In the future, Nike could conceivably introduce other worlds, such as one centred on its Jordan Brand, which in 2021 created a smaller interactive experience in Fortnite to tease the return of the “cool grey” Jordan XI.

Other brands, including Balenciaga and Ralph Lauren, have worked with Fortnite as well. Nanzer said it’s in some ways a fashion company, since the game, which is free to play, makes its money from sales of cosmetic skins.

Owners of .Swoosh sneakers who were hoping to use their virtual shoes on a Fortnite avatar are going to have to keep waiting, though. While the companies said they’ve considered that possibility, there’s no timeline for making it happen yet. Currently, players can only buy the in-game cosmetic items they equip their avatars with in Fortnite.

Digital Fashion & Avatars Decoded
Further Reading

LVMH is increasing its use of Epic Games’ technology to create new virtual experiences across its brands, such as virtual fitting rooms and fashion shows and digital twins, the luxury conglomerate announced on Wednesday at the Viva Technology conference in Paris.

About the author
Marc Bain
Marc Bain

Marc Bain is Technology Correspondent at The Business of Fashion. He is based in New York and drives BoF’s coverage of technology and innovation, from start-ups to Big Tech.

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