Tech entrepreneur Iddris Sandu is already wearing the future.
While the metaverse is an abstract concept to most, Sandu has fashioned a sleek and comfortable way to bridge the gap between the physical and digital worlds by allowing physical objects to be ported into the online ecosystem in what he calls the “metaverse of things” – all with the help of Jay-Z.
Earlier this month, Sandu launched a new technology ecosystem, LNQ, with the Hardwear line of clothing – which he calls “the wearable internet” – billing his invention as the first-ever blockchain-enabled garment. The tech is powering crewneck sweatshirts and hoodies at $499 apiece and clogs designed with sustainable footwear company Ales Grey at $250, now available to purchase online. The items allow customers to pay for goods, connect with friends on social media, gain access to special events and more, with just a tap of their sleeve – literally. There’s a blockchain-enabled chip sewn in.
For example, says Sandu — who has also worked as the design and tech consultant for Ye’s Yeezy clothing and developed augmented reality collaborations with Beyoncé‘s Ivy Park brand and Rihanna‘s Fenty Corp. — imagine you’re a Drake fan who wants to catch the rapper on tour. “And Drake is like, ‘Yo, remember last year when we did this specific collection? Well, guess what? Your ticket to getting into this event is your item. Just bring it, they’ll tap on it, and then you can go in,’” he says. “Or even doing listening parties in different ways, where the listening party actually happens through the clothes: ‘Tap now to gain access to the listening party.’”
The technology powering the garments is the blockchain-enabled One Chip, developed by Sandu’s California-based venture capital studio spatial Labs (sLABS). These chips port physical products like apparel into the metaverse, creating a digital ledger that displays proof and history of ownership, proof of authenticity and value. Consumers can also personalize their LNQ Hardwear by linking it with a variety of supported metadata, such as their social media profiles and playlists.
LNQ Hardwear is the first product released by sLABS since the company received an investment from Marcy Venture Partners — the VC firm co-founded by Jay-Z, Roc Nation vice chairman Jay Brown and longtime venture capitalist Larry Marcus — last October. By bringing the culture of apparel and fashion into Web3, they hope it can have widespread appeal as plans for the metaverse grow. The partnership, however, isn’t purely business. Inspired by the way Jay-Z transformed himself from one of the world’s best rappers to one of its biggest entrepreneurs, Sandu describes it as an exchange of wisdom, insight and expertise.
“I’m in a space that is heavily dominated by people that don’t look like me, and I’m advocating for certain things that some people get and some people don’t understand,” says Sandu. “Just being 25 and being able to say, ‘Oh my God, Jay-Z is my business partner’ is so unreal. But it made sense for us to be around each other. We relate to each other on how we view the world. He had this one song where he’s like, ‘We was once in your cotton fields, now we sittin’ on Bs.’ We elevated away from asking permission and complaining about why things are the way that they are and simply just changing them.”
Sandu demonstrated LNQ Hardwear’s features with a keynote presentation at Neuehouse Hollywood on May 21, when he unveiled sLABS’ many partners for its new LNQ technology, including Jay-Z’s Tidal streaming service. Through Tidal and sLABS’ explorative relationship, artists can leverage immerse, phygital (bridging the gap between the physical and digital worlds) storytelling in an effort to build deeper connections with their fanbases in-app and in-person.
“Imagine artists having a new mechanism – a tap – where they can drop products and see how people are actually engaging with it in real time through the products that they already own,” Sandu told the more than 100 attendees, including will.i.am, Vic Mensa, Roc Nation senior vp Lenny Santiago, rapper Strick and basketball star Kyrie Irving. “Imagine a world where when you invest in artists, you also receive exclusive content from that artist, whether that be access to their upcoming events, access to exclusive articles, or even videos that they want to send to you directly. These are just some of the ways that we envision changing the landscape with Tidal and increasing the mass adoption of Web3.”
Over a decade ago, when he was just 11 years old, Sandu remembers being blown away watching Steve Jobs present the first iPhone. That keynote made the kid with freeform dreads born in Accra, Ghana, and raised in Compton, California, realize “I don’t have to be a consumer if I want to be a creator,” Sandu says. That inspired him to create more representation in the tech space “through the Black lens.” He continues, “At the end of the day, I’m embodying the experience that I have within and showing the world a different narrative for technology.”
Sandu previously developed similar tech with another young man with African roots raised in South L.A., the late rapper Nipsey Hussle, when the two teamed up to open the world’s first “smart store” in 2017 – The Marathon Clothing Store located on Crenshaw Boulevard and Slauson Avenue. (Hussle was tragically shot and killed in front of the store two years later.) Through that partnership, Sandu developed an app that allowed visitors to unlock AR experiences as well as exclusive music and videos from Hussle by scanning articles of clothing.
“Nipsey and I in 2017 did NFTs before anybody even put that name on it. And that came from hip-hop,” Sandu says. “Every person I’ve partnered with in the past, I’ve tested different ideas and seen which ones have stuck. And we’ve been able to create more augmented reality experiences and more impact than anybody else, because who’s bigger than Ri? Who’s bigger than B? Who’s bigger than Ye? I feel like the previous collaborations I’ve done, it’s like I’ve dropped a lot of singles and this is the main album.”
He adds, “My time at Yeezy gave me the insight and understanding of how to make the best clothes. Even the designs, we spent so much time on [them]. We created our own clothes from scratch. We built technology from scratch. The packaging is done from scratch – nothing is off the shelf. And I learned those insights working with somebody that takes design very seriously.”
Now, Sandu says, the “proof of tap” mechanism is “a new way to crowdsource how people are actually interacting with a specific product,” which would help bridge the gap between artists and their fans. The goal is for “artists to be able to IPO themselves,” he says, “The artist should have different mediums to amplify their work. An artist should be able to create an item, whether it’s a relic, like an action figure, or physical clothing, and that’s the new model. ‘My album is not on streaming platforms, my album is streamed through my platform, through my clothing, through my hats, through my glasses. You buy that, and you unlock my album.’”
It’s similar to how Ye chose to forgo releasing his album Donda 2 on traditional digital and streaming platforms (DSPs) and exclusively released it through his own Stem Player in February. “It’s time to take control and build our own,” Ye wrote in a since-deleted Instagram post. And that’s what LNQ envisions every artist like Ye being able to do in the future.
The vision for LNQ, Sandu explains, is that it is much more than just a technology platform but a “technology ecosystem.” LNQ will also act as a decentralized platform where anyone can host in-person events, and anyone can get in with an LNQ-enabled item rather than a traditional ticket. Through LNQ, the host can see everyone who attended and even reward them for coming by gifting them an NFT that will go straight to their clothing, thus increasing that item’s value.
For the Black entrepreneurs, artists, creatives and supporters who attended Sandu’s keynote presentation last month, they were able to watch someone who looks like them helming ground-breaking technology, and inviting those who are a part of the culture, and even those who aren’t, to tap in.
“After the event, my No. 1 thing was, ‘What CEO do you know that has hair like this that would do a presentation in a sweater like that?’ Nobody,” Sandu says. “We’re usually to the Apple conferences. And we’re now sparked to create something and invite the culture there. And the tech people that would usually be at Apple were sitting in a cultural room! People will go back and be like, ‘Wow, this was the first time this ever happened in the culture.’”