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Duke students kick off Tongue and Sole Lab

While one might be forgiven for not being immersed in SneakerTok depending on your FYP, it is undeniable that sneakers and, specifically, custom sneakers are an immensely popular aspect of social media. There are pages with millions of followers dedicated to tracking new releases of scarce sneakers and sneaker customizers with hordes of fans, including celebrity ones, clamoring for their custom creations. 

At the same time, the growth of new technologies are revolutionizing the way that many people do business. Web3, which has come to signify a third wave of internet innovation according to its proponents, includes innovations like decentralized blockchain developments, the burgeoning metaverse and potential implementation of AI. While critics are quick to point to the contemporary nature of these developments and some of the difficulties embodied within them, we must recognize that there is huge potential for growth in computing and business through new technology.

Riding in the wake of blockchain technologies has come the growth of NFT (or Non-Fungible Token) speculation and larger internet communities dedicated to the purchase and holding of such instruments. Over a year ago, I wrote about the sale of the original Nyan Cat.gif for $580,000, and since then the growth of NFT communities has only continued since then. Perhaps the most famous online forum is the Bored Ape Yacht Club, which can claim celebrities like Justin Bieber and Steph Curry as owners of tokens, but other communities have sprung up surrounding different interests. 

One burgeoning NFT community traces its roots right here to a group of Duke students. Uniting their passions for custom and limited-release sneakers with their desire to create their own NFT community space, Duke juniors Ari Levine, Chandler Naylon, Diego Espinosa and Oliver Greenwald have partnered with sophomore Grant Fields to form Tongue and Sole Lab

Tongue and Sole Lab (TASL) seeks to recenter the world of sneakers around the ideal core of sneaker culture - the consumer. According to Tongue and Sole Lab’s website, shoes and “NFTs are art; [they] are collectibles.” Through this new venture, these students wish to create a “tight-knit space for anyone interested in either [NFTs or sneakers].”

To achieve their dream of marrying NFTs with sneakers, Tongue and Sole Lab has partnered with experienced sneaker customizers Ty Williams, Cody Schoeni and Nate Higham, who were selected after an extensive search process by the TASL team. 

“We reached out to [several artists] and fortunately we found three artists who happened to be in our age range,” said community development manager Ari Levine in an interview with The Chronicle. “We’re extremely interested in both the NFT space and getting the word out there about their brands. [The artists] have a combined social media following of over 2 million people across all platforms, so we are very fortunate to bring them on the team.”

The project is almost a year old from its inception, when Levine, Espinosa and Greenwald first began brainstorming, and the team now has grown to encompass the added members and artists. While NFTs have yet to be minted, the path forward for Tongue and Sole Lab is very clear. As they begin to mint, there will be 1434 separate NFTs, each corresponding to a different rarity level between common and custom designed 1-of-1’s. Based on the tier of the NFT, there are additional benefits for the token owner to incentivize holding onto the asset instead of selling immediately, including proprietary information about sneaker drops, priority access to customizer orders, free sneaker raffles and many more. 

These benefits are designed to attract and retain community members, Levine said, who will be integral in building out a vibrant Discord forum. There are detailed charity initiatives based on token sellout, as a core aspect of TASL is its ability to give back and enhance a democratic and equitable sneaker culture. There are also potential opportunities to connect with Duke Athletes and students at different communities across the US. While sales are coming soon, Levine is excited for the prospects that lie ahead.

“We want to ensure that we have a strong, vibrant community before we launch, but we have considered moving the launch earlier than expected,” Levine said. “We’ve only recently started the marketing campaign, but we’re looking to have organic growth… Community members have already reached out with feedback, which has been constructive and helpful.”

Certainly, for sneakerheads and NFT enthusiasts everywhere, Tongue and Sole Lab represents an exciting new venture and opportunity for the melding of such vibrant online spaces. 

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