NOBORDER.z, a next-generation entertainment technology company based in New York and Dubai with operations in five countries around the world, created a virtual fashion show for the Unicorn Fashion Awards in Japan at Milan Fashion Week 2021, one of the four major fashion weeks in the world, in July this year, utilizing its XANA virtual space technology.
NOBORDER.z is also developing the NFT platform “XANALIA”. In this issue, we interviewed the company’s CEO, RIO TAKESHI KUBO, about the company’s vision of a virtual platform and NFT market.
RIO TAKESHI KUBO
NOBORDER.z Founder / CEO
Dubai-based entrepreneur and artist After living and working in Los Angeles, he made his major debut as an artist and composer with avex.As a DJ and music producer, he has toured the world four times and has performed in 70 cities in 200 countries.He started NOBORDER.z to combine blockchain, metaverse and other technologies with entertainment, and launched XANA, an NFT metaverse, and XANALIA, an NFT marketplace, with a potential market valuation of over 100 billion yen by 2021. The company is currently based in seven countries around the world and has grown rapidly to over 100 engineers.
■ To create a virtual platform for smartphone users
— First of all, could you give us an overview of the virtual space “XANA” and the next generation NFT marketplace “XANALIA” and their features?
“XANA is a metaverse (virtual space) that we are developing.We aim to create a platform where users can become avatars, create whatever they want, and offer various services to create a lifestyle and economic zone.
In this kind of virtual space, it is important to create digital assets, so I use NFT for all my avatars, such as the clothes I wear, and the houses and land I own. That’s why we created XANALIA, a marketplace where you can buy and sell NFTs.
— How did you get involved in this virtual industry?
My background is not in IT, but in music entertainment. The name of our company, NOBORDER.z, means “those who cross all barriers”, but it was originally the name of a multinational DJ group when I was touring the world as a DJ.The only goal was to create entertainment that would bring the world together, but at the time we thought the way to do that was to hold a global festival, so we were constantly touring and planning.
Then one day, while on tour in China, I happened to come across blockchain, and it made a tremendous impact on me.
I realized that the time had come for the world to become “NOBORDER.z”, and that technology was going to make it happen! That’s what I thought. I realised that if I could combine technology and entertainment, I could do what I had always wanted to do, so I put all my money into it, gathered my friends and started my own business.
— At the current time, Are there any users or companies that have already entered the market?
Since the end of last year, we’ve been doing test releases and helping companies with their virtual events within XANA.In May this year, we also helped companies and governments that had been working towards the Olympic Games because of the Corona disaster, as they restricted their real events and switched to virtual events.
For example, Koto Ward in Tokyo is planning to hold an exhibition of art created by disabled people to promote the Olympic and Paralympic Games, and asked us if we could create a virtual space for it.Although the schedule was tight, we were able to develop a virtual exhibition where visitors could view a variety of art works and the artists and judges would explain their work.
These activities have been so well received that we are currently in contact with a number of industries, both domestic and international, and are in the process of communicating with them about collaborations.
— What are the strengths and features of XANA?
I’ve been researching VR chat myself because I like it a lot.The communication is innovative, and it’s fun to watch users from the US and other countries having fun.
However, it is difficult to make this a business opportunity for general companies, with the exception of a few of the more innovative technology companies.For companies that target the general consumer, VR was too much of a hurdle to prepare their equipment, because the devices that the target users are familiar with are their smartphones.
That’s why we prioritized the development of services for smartphone users.XANA’s great strength is that you can experience VR, PC or smartphone, but our policy is to provide a virtual space for smartphone users first, so that those who have VR equipment can enjoy VR with upward compatibility.
We believe that it is the link with NFT that differentiates us from the existing metaverse, especially in VR chat.Until now, no matter how much you played in the virtual space or dressed up your avatar, it did not lead to business or profit.However, there will be a time when playing in the virtual space, creating the space itself, and creating what the avatar wears will itself lead to economic activity.At the moment, there are only a few businesses like this in the world, so we want to move forward with a sense of speed that only a venture can provide.
— Is the organization and development based abroad?
Our legal entities are located in Dubai, USA, India and Pakistan. I myself live in Dubai, most of our engineers live in India and Pakistan, and we also have engineers from the UK and various other countries.Our development in Japan started when we were introduced to companies and governments who were looking to develop their business through virtualization and other ways. Until then, it was difficult to connect with Japanese companies, but now, thankfully, we are rapidly expanding our circle of Japanese clients.
■ The next generation virtual fashion show (trial).
— “You have organised a virtual fashion show using XANA technology, can you give us an overview of this?
The Unicorn Fashion Award (UFA) had already decided to hold a show using Volumetric, but they needed a team that could direct the production and creative side of the show to show the world and its possibilities, so they asked us.When we presented them with the world of virtual humans and 3D virtual spaces that we were working on, they saw a lot of potential in it.Before we joined the team, many of the ideas were ones that we had already seen in real life shows, but we decided that if we were going to do this, we should create a fantastical space that took advantage of the unique expressions of VR technology.
The final show can be viewed using the AR goggles produced by KDDI, or in a VR virtual space using the XANA technology.
— What do you mean by “virtual space”? What exactly does this mean?
The world was devastated by the Corona disaster, but we decided to use it as an opportunity to look at ourselves in a new and positive way, to rediscover ourselves and to create a fashion show that would be a new way of self-expression and communication virtually.
The theme of this show is [Re-Birth], and the model walks on the water based on the image of the sea and the amniotic fluid as the landscape of the source of life, and the image of the sea in the morning sun.This is definitely something that can only be done virtually.The camerawork is not just a standard picture like in the past, but like in a science fiction movie, where the camera moves freely 360 degrees without using any cuts, from angles that would be difficult to achieve in reality, such as above the sky or just past the surface of the sea. This is the first time a fashion show has ever been shown.
— How do you think fashion shows can be enhanced by the use of virtual technology?
Like XR, we predict that the real and the virtual will coexist and diversify.Fashion shows, which until now have only been seen in person by a select group of people, many of whom have only been able to see them through a flat screen, will be able to be seen from the comfort of your own home, in a café or at work, as if you were at the fashion show.
And there you will be able to complete your purchase immediately.There’s another most important part of the process: the clothes are, after all, yours to wear.With just one click you can see your avatar trying it on, just like you.
In this way, the process from discovering new designs and trends at the show to trying them on and buying them will become a new experience in an unprecedented way.Users and creators will become more connected. This fusion of the fashion sector and the virtual is full of possibilities.
— You are planning to present this show as NFT at “XANALIA”, how do you plan to present it to the public?
As this event was meant to be a technical trial and error. NFT will not be sold at this stage.
We are discussing how to make the NFT into a product when the final designers’ products for the awards come out. We are discussing how to turn them into NFTs.
We specialise in creating NFTs that are not simply still or moving images, but that are 3D and virtual in nature.In addition to physical sales, we also offer designers the possibility to capitalise on their designs virtually, giving them limited ownership and allowing avatars to wear them.
We hope to provide a new framework and a means of monetization that has not existed in the fashion industry until now.And of course, it’s a project that involves a lot of companies and brands across the region.We would like to start with a minimal start on a trial basis, so that we can create a success story and move on to the next.
■ The future of fashion and NFT
— How do you plan to develop the NFT business in the fashion sector?
We think that the NFT of the show is just a starting point, and we would like to create NFTs of brands for avatars to wear in the Metaverse. The items shown at the show are limited edition, so it’s not easy to wear them daily, but you can wear them all you like as an avatar. Many people will find it worthwhile to buy the limited 10-piece collection and take a photo with their avatar.
It took about 10 years for everyone to set their own icons on LINE and Facebook and share selfies on Instagram. And I think the next decade will be where everyone interacts as avatars, looking and feeling the way they want to, instead of icons, selfies, and chat bubbles.
Just as it’s hard to find someone who doesn’t have an account on a social network today, it will be harder to find someone who doesn’t have an avatar in ten years.
The need for fashion for avatars will then be the same as for people in the real world.
It’s a tremendous change. In the financial world, crypto assets have suddenly appeared in a world where you used to be able to invest in stocks, and now they are a common topic of conversation every day. In the art world, where the only value was in physical objects, with the advent of the NFT, digital assets suddenly have a value of their own.In the same way that in just six months, no one in the art world has heard of the NFT, digital fashion is set to bring about a revolution in a fashion that will go down in the history of the world.
— Do you notice any regional differences in the adoption and spread of virtual and NFT?
The pandemic has greatly accelerated the wave of virtualisation that was bound to come. We wouldn’t have seen so many companies jumping into the virtual business, if it wasn’t for the pandemic. In response, players from all over the world have boosted their efforts. I think that the US and South Korea are leading the way, and China is growing at a very different pace. I think China is growing rapidly, it’s digitalising very fast, it’s investing a lot of money, so it’s hard to take your eyes off it. In my personal view, the US and Korea are leading in creativity and taste, while China is showing strong initiative in business scale, financial power, and monetisation.
Japan has many great creations, such as anime and manga, but there are only a few animated films and games that have a global market. I have the impression that there is still a lot of content that has yet to reach the world, so I believe there is a way to develop avatars and virtual fashion that only Japan can offer. We are a unique company in that only I and a few others are Japanese, and the majority of our employees are from overseas. That’s why I believe that we can use our uniquely Japanese creative minds to create something that can be used around the world.
— What would you like to pursue in the future as NOBORDER.z?
If you look at the popular content overseas, you’ll see that it’s not just the well-crafted games; it’s also the characters and games created by the users themselves that are incomprehensible. I think one of the reasons for this is that there is a vicious circle of creative users who come together to provide interesting things for other users, which in turn makes money for the creators. In order to create this cycle, we prioritize the development of a user-driven environment where users can freely create and buy clothes and items.
We also want to work with companies, brands, and creators who are currently developing their businesses based on the real world to create the forefront of the virtual business. It’s an exciting time for us because we are literally creating a new era. We’re looking forward to hearing from all kinds of people about collaborating with us.