The fashion industry is rigged and elitist. Faith Tribe is one way to start creating your own brand. It is an open-source fashion platform for aspiring designers to create a name for themselves. Join Eathan Janney as he talks to Wahid Chammas of Faith Tribe about how independent designers can get their share of that fashion pie. This session was recorded live at NFT LA.
Jeff, Josh and Eathan, along with the huge crew of Rockstar team members they assembled, just pulled off a stellar inaugural NFT LA event featuring the crème de la crème of Web 3, and leveraging the vibrant entertainment scene of Los Angeles. This episode is one of a series featuring content from the NFT LA event, March 28-31, 2022. Today’s session is among those where one of the Edge of NFT co-hosts facilitated a mainstage talk or breakout panel. This recording features Edge co-host Eathan Janney conducting an interview with Wahid Chammas of Faith Tribe on how to really win at fashion inside and outside of the metaverse. Enjoy!
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NFT LA Collection – How To Really Win At Fashion Inside And Outside Of The Metaverse: Eathan Janney Interviews Wahid Chammas Of Faith Tribe
We want to talk to Wahid, who we have talked to before on the show. He’s been friendly with us. He’s a wonderful and inspiring guy. He’s the Chairman of Faith Tribe and Owner and Steward of the Faith Connexion brand. He has worked in finance for many years, including meaningful contributions at Goldman Sachs and Janus Henderson. He owns a private equity firm.
Faith Connexion launched to critical acclaim and gained prominence under the artistic direction of Faith Tribe in 2015. It quickly became one of the leading and trendiest luxury streetwear brands. It has been regularly worn by influential celebrities that you may have heard of, like Kanye West, Beyoncé, and Rihanna. Faith Connexion is working with a top-tier software development firm based in the US with its crypto block team to design and develop the digital creative platform Faith Tribe.
Faith Tribe platform embodies Faith Connexion’s culture of collaboration, community, online marketplace, and open source platform that gives buyers easy access to production scale customization. It establishes a direct channel of communication with FC-approved creators, including designers and artists.
Wahid, it’s good to see you over there. You have an incredible history and so does Faith. It’s a really long history of open source fashion. Can you tell us a little bit about how that originated? Why open source fashion? Why way before any of this blockchain stuff became a part of this brand?
Thank you for having us. I’m in the private equity business. I’m in the business of trying to create value with fashion brands and this journey started existential, going through Corona, which is a tough, brutal experience. I back individuals. Maria Buccellati is my partner. She’s the Owner of the brand and I co-own it with her. It was a difficult conversation. We got to think about how we survive some seismic shifts that are going on.
Corona accelerated everything. What are those monumental shifts? Number one, the younger generation does not want to wait for a season. They want on-demand manufacturing. They want to choose what they want to wear now and get it delivered as soon as possible. They don’t want to listen to Vogue. If Vogue was huge years ago and had to figure out how to deal with millennials, Corona obliterated and accelerated that.
The Vogues of the world, where they dictated what the trends would be, have been disrupted. Young and middle-aged people want immersive experiences. I teamed up with Maria and said, “We got to think about how we survive the next two decades as a fashion brand that had many great years.” We had something that we felt that no one else had. What does this whole concept of open source patch mean? It means that unlike Gucci, Chanel, and other big brands that are exclusive and amazing brands, we ooze inclusivity as opposed to exclusivity.
Half the things we produce are all created by independent artists and designers. It was at that huge pickup of the NFT boom, where people were relishing to participate in a brand in a way that the big brands would not open their doors for independent artists and designers. We’ve been working for many years with independent designers.
We said, “Let’s tokenize this. Let’s make it much bigger.” Instead of working with 12, 20, or 30 at a time, we could grow up with thousands. That’s the nature of the DAO. It’s to open up our brand to not just be about Faith Connexion. The Faith Tribe is all about empowering people to create their own brands, riches and thing.
It’s beautiful and it touches me deeply. I love talking about the creator economy. I heard this talk by Sal Khan, who created Khan Academy. He was teaching kids Math online but he wanted to do a little extra on YouTube about what he saw as what the future would be. This was years ago. He said, “It’s going to turn to a creator economy. Robots and machines are taking our jobs. What’s truly human? That’s our creativity.” I love that what you’re doing is facilitating the ability for individuals to touch base with that creativity within them to develop, expand, become something bigger and make things happen because you have a full manufacturing infrastructure.
We’ve been doing this for decades and that’s what’s cool. It’s not just a digital studio that we love and we love the metaverse. We talked a little bit about that but it’s the $3 trillion industry where all the value accrues to big brands. The small young artists and designers cannot compete. You need scale to buy leather especially in this inflation environment, tweed, knitwear, logistics, and access to Farfetch and other eCommerce platforms. That’s difficult to do.
That’s why $400 and $450 billion of the industry is by independents. They’re tens of thousands of individuals. All these people do is go home, design a few things and then send a resume in the hope of getting an apprenticeship. Maybe in a couple of years, they get a shot at doing the sketch, etc. They don’t have their shared opportunity, like Airbnb or Uber, even though we’re not of that standard.
We’re a luxury-style product. At the end of the day, it’s opening up a platform where someone can graduate from university, apply and use their skills to design for us. We give them logistics, buying power, access to the platform, all that real-world stuff and put them on the metaverse. That is powerful. That’s what we’re trying to create. It’s a numbers talk. It’s a huge industry. If anyone took a share of that independent design, they’re helping the community but there’s a lot of money to be made, a 1% share of $450 billion. It’s $4.5 billion.
This is a completely underprivileged sector. Last but not least, I’m wearing this. I do not own this. This is created by an independent design and it’s all art. This jacket costs $100. We can sell it retail after the marketing set for $800. It’s now worth $5,000 to $6,000 all because of that artist and designer. Inside here, there’s an NFT tag where this has a digital twin. That artist can sell this as a unique piece to a good-looking gentleman.
That digital twin exists on the metaverse too. That artist is exposed to thousands and thousands of people when this young gentleman goes to a bar, a lounge, or another shindig. That’s the immersive experience. What is the lowest common denominator here? It is this unknown artist who suddenly has a platform as opposed to just our own designers. That’s what we’re trying to create here.
Thank you for facilitating things like that. I’ve been thinking a lot about branding since we’ve been talking about NFTs on the show. All these brands are being built. We’re thinking about the IP sitting there, which has a long and storied history, Disney brands, Mickey Mouse, Daffy Duck, and Marvel Universe. Brands with staying power and with these new brands like Bored Ape, what is going on with that? How is it being built and maintained and a community built around it? Tell me about the staying power of brands and how you feel about that.
Building brand equity is difficult. You cannot create brand equity easily. I’ll give you an example of how the Bored Ape manifests itself. I know various people that own expensive Bored Ape collectibles but they’re getting bored of showcasing that on their phones, “I own this. Look at my picture on WhatsApp. It’s my Bored Ape.” That gets old. They approach us and say, “Can you make us a unique collectible that I could wear?” If you own that Bored Ape, you could make business. You could have 10, 20, or 30, as much as you want to dilute collectibles that integrate that art.
Having a Faith Connexion brand with the logistics, brand power, and partners is important. The previous session was about fun things on Decentraland, etc. We had a great marketplace in Decentraland. I do believe the brand power Natalia was saying at DRESSX, who did a beautiful pop-up store for us. The big brands want to showcase as much reality as possible to get that immersive experience going.
Faith Tribe Fashion: One monumental shift in fashion was that the younger generation doesn’t want to wait anymore. They want on-demand manufacturing. They want to choose what they want to wear now and as soon as possible.
When we do a Bored Ape or our clothing on the metaverse, we want to partner with people focused on true immersive experience. The immersive experience is one where the transition between digital and physical is almost seamless. We’re in that camp of trying to integrate both our worlds as opposed to focusing on one or the other. That’s the brand equity that is important.
What about the death of brands? Is there a shift in what a brand is at this moment in time?
I believe Faith Connexion’s brand is going to be monumentally enhanced because it’s going to be fun. Faith Tribes are going to create their own brands and they’re always going to pay homage to the community that helps them get there. We are a brand that our designers came from that man from Paco Rabanne. We’ve done the whole thing and have seen it. Every season, we got to create something cool and fresh.
It’s cool and excellent. We love it but it’s not fun. It’s not community. It’s not immersive. It’s not integrated. That’s the transition we want to do. I’m not going to name names. I usually only boost people I don’t like but let’s take the huge brands. You’ve watched the movies. They’re beginning to look the same each and every single time. Please don’t take this the wrong way. I mean it in a positive way. I look at the fashion and this conference and I’m like, “Those brands are dead because no one gives a damn.”
A lot of people have the buying power to buy the big brands and they’re not into it unless you’ve become community-based and immersive and focus on that thing. No one cares about that fur jacket. They care about belonging to the community. That’s why they buy a Bored Ape on their phone and show it off. That’s different than it was years ago.
As I look around this conference, I see people creating their own individual brands, even if it’s comprised of the various tribes and communities they’re involved with. I’ve got a CryptoPunk. My way of expressing that is going to walk around with a mask where there’s a digital CryptoPunk face in front of my face or something like that. It’s fascinating the way people are taking it on as their own and bringing it into a way of self-expression as opposed to the traditional wear a Coca-Cola t-shirt. You can advertise for Coca-Cola. Would a big multibillion-dollar brand dare to do a line with the Bored Ape?
That remains to be seen.
Let me pick on the emperor with LVMH. Would Louis Vuitton have a leather bag with Bored Ape?
We shall see.
You like to improvise a little bit. First of all, I want to let everybody know out there. We’d love for some questions in a little bit as we move further into the session. Think about if you got something interesting you want to ask about crowdsourcing fashion and open source fashion. I’m going to come out in the audience to grab your questions.
Before that, we have edge quick hitters on our show where we ask the fun, quick questions to get to know people a little bit better. We’ve asked all those with Wahid. Go check out the episode. Look up Edge of NFT. Look up Faith Tribe. You’ll find our episode. He impromptu gave away a tremendous amount of the FTRB token as part of our show as a giveaway, which went nuts on our socials. He’s a generous and spontaneous guy. Anyways, we asked him all those personal questions. You can catch up on that. I’m inspired to get to know you a little bit better.
You seem like a great big kid. You’re playing and creating. It’s all this wonderful universe of like, “I’m uninhibited with my personality and creation.” Can you go back to your childhood or kindergarten? What spark in you led to what you’re doing with open source fashion and DAOs and cryptocurrencies? Where do you think the seed of that came from? Can you find it?
That’s a tough one. I’m originally Lebanese. It’s a Phoenician country where we create nothing. We do hashish. We used to export some terrorism, which I’m not proud of. We’re great from the days of the Phoenicians. We had a lot of bankers from Lebanon historically when Beirut was the Paris in the Middle East. I am accustomed to trading, relationships, and looking at trends.
I’m not going to claim full credit but as Lebanese, we are prone to finance. When you get into finance, we do quite well because we monitor trends. We back the right people because we’re extremely relationship-oriented. We’re not geeky. We’re not looking at algorithms to pick a company. When I backed Maria Buccellati, I believed in her, the famous family Buccellati jewelry but wanted to create her own brand. We did that.
My job is to shake her and other entrepreneurs that I back because I own other brands to make sure they’re in tune with the trends. Every day, I go to bed thinking that I have an existential crisis because I get paid to worry. That’s what I do. I’m always challenging the status quo up from the time I was young. I like to think that I’m a good investor because I’ve had a lot of failures. I’m incredible at understanding things because I have failed so many times. In portfolio management, you have 20 companies and 3 fails.
I fail many times because the failures hurt you the most, make you learn the most, and make you ironclad so that you succeed over and over again. That’s my kick from when I was young but I never had a homeland. There was always a war. We are always going from country to country, trying to learn different languages. You learn to be a bit street smart, see trends, build relationships, trust people, and what have you.
I’m going to grab some questions out there. I’m going to defer you guys a little bit. You’re an insider crew or something. I want to go way back there.
I wanted to ask you to take a step back from this fashion element. Similar to a history of fiat investment, how do you feel about NFTS and the future of investing with that? How do you derive from the failures of fiat and apply that in principle to NFTs?
Faith Tribe Fashion: Aspiring designers go home, send a resume, and hope for an apprenticeship. And, maybe they get a shot. Faith Tribe is a platform for them to use their designing skills while also being in the metaverse.
I’m going to answer that question. I’m probably going to surprise you. I’m going to do it in two parts. One is I don’t like to be a hypocrite. I was a crypto bear for many years. It’s important to say that because I got the Eureka moment during COVID. I need tangible things. I’m a gold and silver guy. I own a lot of real estate. You look at my portfolio companies. It’s hard assets.
I’m a deep-value manager. I know a lot of people here like Elon Musk and all these great crypto billionaires. I love Charlie Munger. I’ll have for many more years to come. That’s how I grew up as a value manager. I still feel like that but everything we did with Faith Tribe has a lot of tangibility clothes can be in a change NFTs, etc.
You will see a lot of deep value management utility in what we created. Having said that, COVID was a punch. I got sick and tired. I saw the artificialness of the world, the money printing, and the Big Daddy whether they print or whatever, creating all this artificialness around the world. COVID was the gut punch.
When Apple was getting a Fed that was buying bonds at negative rates when they have trillions in market value and $200 billion they didn’t know what to use with, that pissed me off. Midsize companies like ours did not get that support. We are a small business, etc. We got a few top-like deals but we didn’t get that. I got a revulsion to fiat, let alone the fact that, in Ukraine, Russia and Lebanon so many people cannot have access to banks and transfer money.
You transfer money in order to buy a bloody leather to make jackets and they ask you 1,000 different questions on some with no vested interest, yet you get trillions of dollars sent around the world with no questions asked. I became a crypto fan not for respect but because of respect. The blockchain guys make our company what it is because they funded Faith Connexion. They said, “Screw that world. Let’s tokenize. Let’s completely pivot.”
I come with a lot of humility. I tell everyone I’m not in crypto or the blockchain because of spec. I’m there because of existentialism and because you supported us. I’m forever loyal to that. With fiat, every time I go to a transfer, banks are dead. I can’t even get the words to even start. More importantly, fixing the economy for the haves versus the have-nots pissed me off. There is a rebellion going on of epic proportions.
I’ve got one next to me here that I’m going to run closer upfront.
I’m a startup financing attorney based here in LA. I do corporate organizations. I’m here on behalf of my client. He couldn’t make it. He wanted to ask you this question. He said, “For someone who’s starting a fashion brand that wants to sell their brand in real life but have each piece as a replica and corresponding entity use in the metaverse, if you had three pieces of bullet-point advice to make that venture successful, what would it be?”
I went on a whole charade of talking about how the world is rigged. The fashion world is ten times more elitist and rigged than what I explained to that young gentleman. Factories and brands don’t take you seriously. They push you over. You go to the mall. It’s all dominated by the same people. I want to qualify it because if I come and say, “We democratize fashion. We’re there for the little guy,” it sounds cheesy and shallow. I needed to give in the context of our history for us to prove this to you.
Fifty percent of what we do is created by independent designers and artists. We’ve been doing it for many years. The only thing I can tell you is to give us a shot. Talk to us. I want young designers to come to us because when you come on Faith Tribe, you create your own brand. We take a small stake depending on the deal, 10% to 20%, that’s it. Other than that, you used our scale purchasing. You used our digital studio. You used our partners for their beautiful metaverse creations. We get you on Decentraland.
We had an epic closing party with Blond:ish in Paris. We repeated that on the metaverse. It was beautiful and successful. It’s the same thing with our stores. We give you Decentraland and DRESSX. All that becomes accessible. If your artist says, “I want to succeed for sure. I want baby steps,” they can come to us.
If they’re good, we could find a way for them to integrate within our own brand. If they say, “I’m ready for the next step. I would like our own brand,” we empower them to create their own brand. I don’t have any advice. I’ll tell you that it’s rigged and difficult, so give us a chance. Allow us to help them become successful. I can’t think of anywhere else you could. Unless you have unlimited funding, it’s difficult to break through.
I got the next one here. She was making her case.
I am an artist. I make one-of-a-kind items. To your point, I’ve been in the industry for many years. When you say the industry is rigged, my profession where I made my bread and butter was a sales rep. I went around and was at all the trade shows. I saw that the NFTs, not just eCommerce but NFTs, have the potential to elevate smaller brands like myself that are not in the mass production or opening doors. At the end of the day, brick and mortar is dead.
If you would’ve told me that back in 2008, that my bread and butter wasn’t going to come from brick and mortar, we all watched Web 2 but couldn’t believe it. I’m scrambling. If you’re not an Instagram girl, bought and sold eCommerce now, you win it. There’s the all part where stores are gone, still trying to scramble for Web 2. I’m here now, not as an artist like, “The NFT thing, there is a space where you can’t create one of a kind items.” With all that said, how do you submit your accelerator program for Faith Tribe?
We are extremely competitive. Nine months when we started this, I said, “How much time do we have to build out a platform and everything?” They said, “You could stay as a white paper for four years.” We were not interested in that. We know that because we do everything we’ve been doing for many years. We launched quite successfully because our luck is always screwed up.
We launched on February 24th when tanks were rolling in and I was in my gym closing. I sent the video saying, “Everyone almost called me to cancel.” I said, “No. We’ve been through COVID. We’ve been through 9/11. We’re going to persevere.” We did well. People noticed and then said, “We like the utility.”
We created a beta portal where you have to go and submit it. We don’t have the portal already. We don’t have the seamless where you can go and submit without even talking to anyone permissionless, etc. The way it works is you need to use FTRB tokens to use all our tools. If you don’t have FTRB tokens, you come and use our FTRB tokens. They’re staked by another investor. It’s like borrowing but not really. You share your gains with that staking. You technically can use everything we’re creating for free.
Faith Tribe Fashion: The fashion world is very rigged and elitist. Brands don’t take you seriously and push you over. Malls are all dominated by the same people. But with Faith Tribe, you get to create your own brand.
People were relishing to start now. I said, “You want to start now? You got to do it my way. My way is phone number and phone call. You submit your designs. We contact you. You go through a digital studio. If it’s good, we’ll coach you. We’ll manufacture your clothes. We’ll put you on our eCommerce. We will mint your NFTS. We’ll put you on the metaverse where you want based on your needs, etc.” I say this apologetically because people want to start away and we have everything ready. Let’s start away but we got to go to Web 2.0 or Web 2.2 with you until we build our portal.
Is it like private labels so all your artists are under your brand?
No. Your NFT is your brand.
Since 2008, I have seen this shit. I saw everything and how our game changed.
This is going to be your brand. It’s up to you if you want to.
Our time is about up but we can go over one more question. Before I go to this, I’m going to go to this gentleman for the next question. I want to wrap it up here because I’m inspired to say without making some fashion and having the token of Faith Tribe, we’re all in the tribe.
This is great. You’re all in the tribe. I wasn’t going to do this but we like to give a few giveaways. This lady is not a problem but you are now the owner of 25,000 tokens. There is a catch which is that we are going to engage with you. You can’t just disappear from us.
I’m not. I’m not trying to bomb rush before everything.
This 25,000 FTRB, it’s worth almost $2,000 or $1,500. You can use that to start your businesses. How about that?
I’m finding a way to convince the audience this was spontaneous. I don’t think they believe this was spontaneous.
I don’t care. Wrapping up what I said, Edge of NFT and NFTLA was in the Faith Tribe. The last question, better make it good.
I’m a Founder of a decentralized independent designer sneaker brand. It’s similar and aligns with what you’re doing. How do you feel about these big brands not going to come in? Nike just jumped into the metaverse by an artifact. Adidas jumped in and made a counterpart with Bored Ape. We know all those fashion designers at Nike are not getting paid properly. The whole point of Web 3 is for these designers to get paid properly. Our struggle is we’re doing the right thing. We’re doing Web 3 properly. It looks like the big guys are going to come in and recreate the universe in the metaverse. How do you feel about that? How do you stop that?
I’m not going to bullshit you. I cannot stop that and they will. That’s the threat. Everything I told you in the real world, $3 trillion, $400 billion, $450 billion independents with all the dominance and the economics going there. Let me put this in perspective. The $3 trillion is occupied by 100 to 200 designers. The $400 billion is occupied by 30,000 designers. It’s crazy. It’s a pyramids scheme, for instance. Nike is something interesting. That was the only example of a brand that got created on the metaverse that got purchased. I asked, “Could that happen in fashion?”
Andrea Abrams, Owner of Phygicode, said she couldn’t find it. They told me that that’s probably not going to happen. Sneakers are unique. They are what they are. You could improvise and people always want cool-looking things. I’m not so sure that’s the case. The one thing I would say is I would want to create brands for people, both the physical and digital. We’re all about twins because we’re in a boom. There is a lot of hype.
The digital might die. You say it always exists but unless you wear it and do different things, you cannot create a lot of brand equity. Nike is going to create brand equity around this purchase. For them, it’s free with the synergies, etc. The big brands are going to dominate. We’re trying to make empowered, independent brands. I’m sure you’re doing the decentralizing. It’s the same thing. It’s going to see who’s going to sell to a big brand. I’m already a big brand so I can’t sell to anyone else but are you going to sell to a big brand?
We plan not to. Our sneaker brand will be our own forever and not sell even if it’s a $1 million deal. We want to empower the brand. I’m saying that as a designer. When that money was in front of me, I thought I was going to do it but from where I’m sitting now, we don’t want to do that.
Can you meet with Maria? Maybe we can join forces. We would be a little bit more powerful than we were before.
Faith Tribe Fashion: The future is digital and the authenticity of a product comes from connection. For some people, experiencing connection is worth more than the actual label on the brand.
One thing that’s important about what you’re saying is authenticity. You’ll hear about Phygicode. I got into Web 3 a few years ago and I was in the fashion and retail industry for many years before that. All the people you saw are my friends. I don’t know if you heard it, but the future is not digital. It’s Phygi-tal. The authenticity of the product comes from that connection.
This jacket, Maria and I have been friends for many years. This is authentic. I bought up the store in New York that doesn’t exist anymore. These are my initials. An artist customized this. This is one of my favorite jackets. That experience that we had in the physical store is authentic. This is not a big brand. To me, it’s more important that we live through that event than the actual label on the brand. We are trying to recreate that in the metaverse.
I’m not a Gen Z-er. I’m a Gen X-er but I talk about the fact that Gen Z-ers don’t buy things for possessions. I was a mall executive many years ago. Everybody talked about possessions, money, and how much you can buy. We talk about access. I love that the Gen Z community buys for access. This was access. Maria introduced me to the best musicians and artists at a little shop in New York. I wore this because I want him to see that, for me, in some of these new items, the iconic moments that create collaboration are still important because they’re authentic.
You may do some collaborations with the big brands and us. For as long as the values and the communication through your values stay the same, you can have an authentic brand. I personally believe that the next decade of consumption is the consumption for access and it’s all about authenticity. I’m more interested in finding people like you. I work for all of the big brands. I still advise them. There’s a place for everybody but they want authenticity. We’re all trying to be a little more authentic. COVID made us all reevaluate how much stuff we need.
This jacket was when I opened the store on Mercer Street was our beginning. We brought the brand from Paris and we wanted to open source to the community. I created an art studio for everyone. I had guys coming from Brooklyn, Chinatown, everywhere. I had artists from all over the world coming and painting. We would give them a special donation for the work. Clients could also donate to them but we always admired, respected, and made sure that they were going to get paid.
This is the main concern because, on the first panel, I heard Corey say, “I can work with Givenchy. Why should I work with anyone else”? For me, that was a big mistake. Why? Because I know the Givenchys and the Balenciagas and all of them. I have young artists and famous artists. This is why they’re with Faith Tribe because we respect, honor, and ensure to give them value. That’s the most important. This is an example. The most important about Faith Tribe. What I wanted to revert is that we honor and give respect to the artists. It’s free the artists by giving them that possibility to make them a product inside our house.
It’s not about creating a big brand. I’m a big shopper. I don’t go for all those big brands. My jacket is a Faith Connexion jacket. The artist is a renowned artist. He made my face in the back. This piece is chipped with authenticity where you can scan it with your phone and know everything about that artist, the material, and where it was made.
For me, this is unique. Why should I wear things that are all over the place? With Web 3, this is the possibility that we’re taking. Before, Web 2 was all this mass of fashion and it gets discounted. With this, we can value the artist. We can value the piece. It’s not going to go discounted. This is unique. That’s what the world is looking for.
Before we wrap up, thanks so much to Wahid, Faith Connexion, and Faith Tribe. I keep saying over and over again. People are telling us how we put this thing together. We don’t know. You guys put it together. Wahid, you put it together. Everybody in this room put it together. Lynette, you put it together. Big thanks to you for being a big part of putting everything together. Thanks so much, guys.