8Sian founder Nicole Yap

The Mother of 8,888 Asian Women NFTs Who Partnered with UNIQLO is a Leading Lady of Luck

17 min read

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8Sian: We had the delightful opportunity of meeting the mother of the most successful Asian NFT project in the Web3 space, Nicole of 8Sian. Her sprawling community across the region — and the world — aims to represent Asia whilst empowering Asians to be proud of their heritage, culture and upbringing.

This transcript has been taken from our recent Twitter Spaces and dives into the project, representing Asia in the metaverse, her recent partnership with Uniqlo and her goal to be the Web3 of Disney.

Jie Yee:

Our Twitter Space topic today is ‘Representing Asia in the Metaverse, navigating Web3, and more.’ So without further ado, introducing Nicole — she’s the founder of the 8Sian NFT project. As a starter, why don’t you introduce 8Sian to our listeners to explain what it is, when it started, and why and how the idea came about?

Nicole Yap: Yep, thank you. Thanks for having me here. My name is Nicole. I’m the founder of 8Sian, the largest and most successful Asian and Asian women NFT project.

We have a collection of 8,888 unique characteristics that represent Asian women. In the team, there is myself — people call me ‘Asian mom’ — and then we have a co-founder and lead artist, Mr. Hike. He’s the one that does all of the artwork. A lot of people thought that I was the one who drew the art and I’m like, no, I can’t draw anything. But I have the concept.

I’m really proud of what we have created. We launched our main collection in December last year, and we sold out two weeks later … ever since then we have been building our IP, doing partnerships, collaborations, and building the brand. My goal is to be the Web3 of Disney. I do believe that IP is so undervalued.

If you look at what Disney did — they are 99 years old — it’s actually pretty crazy how Mickey Mouse and a long old brand is still relevant today. We go to Starbucks, you go to Coffee Bean, every year [their merchandise] is the same and they’re still relevant. They’re still making so much sales because it resonates with everyone.

People think that ‘Oh, Coffee Bean is only for adults, old people, right? But old people were young before, and Mickey Mouse was part of their journey growing up. So with NFT, crypto, blockchain … this will be the next generation. Our kids will be in the metaverse, we will be in an IP space, and H&M will be part of the story, you will be a part of the brand name.

I’m here for the long run. And I do think that Asian representation is really important [in this context]. It is who we are. It’s part of our cultures, regardless of where you live.I’m all about that. I’m so bullish on 8Sian. We basically just got started.

Jie Yee: Speaking of Asian representation, what are some of the challenges you face, not just as a founder, but also as a woman or as an Asian woman?

Nicole Yap: Wow, okay, challenges, there’s actually a lot, honestly. Even up to now, I feel that I am still facing my own challenges like every other day.

In the beginning, I had to wear a lot of different hats. The team actually had to wear a lot of different hats. It’s just like, oh, we need a coder, we need someone to design the website, create the artwork, make announcements and do social media. And then we just had to pick up the skills. I had to go to YouTube to learn how to read code and how to deploy tracks, because our first dev threatened us.

Jie Yee: So this was halfway through [developing the project]?

Nicole Yap: Yeah, I learned the hard way that you can’t really trust your developers and you need to be the one holding all the keys. Just in case everything goes wrong, you are in control. So that’s something that I had to learn – I think that was one of the biggest wake up calls for me.

I’m here for the long game and I’ve been saying this since day one. I think you know, people in the team like coming here. I met him about a year ago. It’s crazy, right?

And we are still so supportive of each other. I think holders actually see how far we have grown especially like the team and the founders. And I think that’s part of the journey, although it has only been a year. At the end of the day, I’m now happy to face the challenges and it’s important to not feel like you’re not good enough or not big enough. But that can be a challenge. It’s this constant thing where you always need to prove yourself like, I am worth something, we are worth something, although we have to smile.

I will say that in whatever that you do in every stage, there will be a challenge. But yeah, I think that is also what makes it exciting, right? Because if you’re able to overcome that challenge, you will be able to get the results, which is something really fulfilling.

Jie Yee: That’s amazing. One of the biggest and most notable collaborations that 8Sian has done is landing a partnership with UNIQLO. Can you share with our listeners the journey to landing the partnership with Uniqlo, what you’ve learned from it and what was the community’s response to it?

Nicole Yap: So, the story of how UNIQLO came about was after we first minted in January. This was [around] the same time when Qualidade announced that they were collaborating with Adidas and that was huge news.

Everybody on Twitter was talking about it… and then I actually asked myself and our team: if there is one big brand that I want to collaborate with [what would it be?]. The first thing that came to my mind was UNIQLO. I’m a huge fan of UNIQLO: it’s good quality, the colours, the palettes, everything… the thermals are so good.

When I told the team about it at first, they were laughing. [They said] “come on, there’s no way UNIQLO would want to collaborate with [an NFT project].” Because if you go to their website, they actually have a statement [that says] they will never have any association with NFTs. 

And even today, that’s the state of regulations in Japan as well… and crypto is kind of a grey area. So corporate brands shouldn’t be associating themselves with that.

So this is why when I reached out to UNIQLO, they actually said, oh yeah, too bad. Like, we don’t collaborate with NFT projects. And then that’s where I kind of looked at things at a different angle. I said: “Okay, what if I own the artwork in the real world?” I felt well, why trademarked? I reach out to you, as a collaboration of IP. So put, yes, we are an NFT company. But we’re also artwork. And then that’s how I managed to successfully convince them to give us a chance because they love our artwork, which is something that was quite surprising, right? And then they got in touch with us. It took us five months with so much back and forth until we got approval on the artwork, and then got the licensing deal. 

8Sian founder Nicole Yap holding up 8Sian’s merchandise, created in collaboration with UNIQLO. Source: 8Sian, Medium

UNIQLO explicitly says on their website that, you know, they will not accept collaborations with NFT products. This is undoubtedly a huge step forward, not just for us but also for the NFT space in general. You see a lot of Web2 brands collaborating with Web3 brands, especially when it comes to fashion.  I really think that this is a sign that Web2 brands are slowly realising the value that lies within an IP attached to an NFT.

8Sian merchandise, in partnership with UNIQLO. Source: @8SianNFT, Twitter

Jie Yee: Moving on from UNIQLO. You had a partnership with Miss Universe Malaysia. Is that right?

Nicole: Yeah, so that is our latest collaboration. It’s really exciting.

It was pretty random, honestly. We were just talking to someone. I was at a networking event  and I was telling them that oh, you know, I have a few products and it’s all about empowering women. It’s all agents, women. And they said, “why don’t you guys come in to do the artwork?”  But then the confusing part is that the organisation actually doesn’t really know much about NFTs, right? [So] it’s kind of from ground zero, but the event will be happening soon.

So we needed to go through a quick course of what NFTs are and just had to make it happen. Then, we collaborated with one of the largest jewellers in Malaysia. It’s this company called Habib, they have been around for many, many years. They specialise in gold, jewellery, diamonds, and then they were the one that actually did the crown [for the Miss Universe Malaysia pageant]. 

So right now, we’re exploring a partnership with them, and they have a really strong Malaysian market. They have been dominating the market for many, many years. So that is also a really good opportunity for us and that’s something that we are in the midst of discussing. Yeah, so there’s just a lot of exciting partnerships.

Jie Yee: Can you share with our listeners about the Royal Selangor partnership, because that’s also one of the latest partnerships that 8Sian has embarked on? 

8Sian’s Jade Lady pewter figure, created in partnership with Royal Selangor. Source: Royal Selangor

Nicole: Yeah, so that is also something really exciting. I grew up in Malaysia, so for us Malaysians, we all know who Royal Selangor are. It is one of the largest pewter brands in the world.

And a long time ago, this was I think, after WWI or WWII, Malaysians were actually famous for timber and pewter, so we had a lot of hidden mining sites in Malaysia. We were exporting it to India [and other countries]. That’s how the story of Royal Selangor came about. They’re about 200 years old, So I was talking to the managing director… right now, it’s still pretty amusing how the whole company is still owned by the same blood, whereas most companies are of one generation, right?

When we had the Jade Lady NFP collection [part of 8Sian’s wider NFT collection], that was one of the rarest pieces that we have released. It’s the second highest sale that was bought in the entire collection. Matt Higgins bought it for close to 10 ETH. He bought it when ETH was about USD$3000. So, he paid quite a lot of money for the Jade Lady.

Matt Higgins is deep in the community. He always felt like you know, NFTs are this IP, and [believes that] when NFTs become part of the mainstream, the project will be kind of like the OG . And that is what he believes, which I think is 100% true, right? Because he’s an entrepreneur himself… so then, I had this idea. I thought, okay, how can I bring Jade Lady to life? That’s where I spoke to Royal Selangor and said, “hey, we have this IP that is Malaysian-owned, and we came to a three-way collaboration and made this happen.

So we made this [Jade Lady] pewter, and it’s also quite costly, because it’s about four kilos. And it’s a full pewter. For retail, it’s about U$6000. We created 100 of them. The first one is owned by Matt Higgins himself, obviously. And then the second piece is owned by Mr. Hike, our lead artist and the third is owned by Randi Zuckerberg.

We have other prominent holders as well, [do] you know JJ Lin?

Jie Yee: Yes. Oh my gosh, he’s one of my favourite singers. 

Nicole: Yeah, he bought [Jade Lady] number seven. I sent him [the] piece last week. He’s huge into collecting, and he is a huge fan of it as well. 

Left to right: 8Sian’s lead artist, Mr. Hike, JJ Lin, and 8Sian founder Nicole Yap. Source: @8sianNFT, Twitter

Jie Yee: Speaking of your NFT holders, how did you feel when you knew that Steve Aoki got one of your NFTs? 

Nicole: So what happened is that we didn’t know that he bought it, and it turns out he holds  8Ssian in a few other wallets as well. He actually DMd us on our main account, but he’s like, “Hey, this is Steve. Love what you’re doing. What’s your WhatsApp?”

I mean, sent to the team chat and was like, is this a scam? I thought his account may have been hacked, right? And later on one of the guys on my team actually just gave him his number. And turns out it’s actually Steve Aoki. It’s not a scam. Then later on, he had a show in Melbourne, which three of my team members were at. They met up after his show, which was really cool. So yeah, he’s a really cool guy.

Steve Aoki’s 8Sian collection. Source: Opensea.io

Jie Yee: Then you [also] have Randi Zuckerberg. Is there a story behind how she acquired the NFT? Do you guys manage to get on a call with her?

Nicole: Yeah, I actually met her a few times. We even did a few interviews together. And she’s our advisor [for 8Sian]. She’s really sweet and super funny as well. So yeah, we do [also] have other prominent holders and also a lot of business owners in Malaysia, including a company that’s a top auditor in Malaysia. Like, [they’re] not the kind of people that are buying to flip, right?

Jie Yee: Let’s talk about the metaverse. What attracted you to the concept of the metaverse and what are 8Sian’s plans for entering the metaverse?

Nicole: Honestly, the truth is, I don’t even know what the metaverse will look like. I don’t think anyone knows. No one knows. I think ever since Facebook changed their name to Meta, they just started this whole trend where everything [has] the word “Metaverse”. I just feel like every article has the word “Metaverse”, because people are just trying to figure out like, well, what the hell is that? Like, what is it? So I would say that [for now, the metaverse] would just be a space where we will all just kind of hang out together.

And actually, we are already somewhat in the process of doing that right now. On this Twitter Spaces, we are all live tuning in from our homes, our office, different parts of the world, we’re all here living together. This is already some sort of [metaverse]. So, I would say that right now, I do think the kinds of methods [to accelerate the metaverse] are out there. But [as to] what we have, there’s a lot of improvement needed.

In March, we actually attended a part of the campaign of the largest metaverse Fashion Week ever held. It was a huge campaign, right? Forbes and Vogue were writing about us and then we had Tommy Hilfiger, Dolce Gabbana and all these top brands. The whole idea was that we will be creating digital wearables. 

And then if you buy it, it comes with a physical item. It’s called a “phygital” item, right? We were there with four brands, and our Jade Lady was a part of the product. And  we had a booth and a show and everything [for Decentraland’s Metaverse Fashion Week].

An 8Sian holder’s metaverse avatar on Decentraland. Source: @rawdoodles, Twitter

But then the issue was, none of us had sales [during the event]. Not even Tommy Hilfiger, I think. But then the problem is that the service started crashing on our team and our members. We were all on it, but it kept on crashing.

The majority of us who don’t have a fast computer won’t be able to access [the Metaverse Fashion Week]. So I managed to get on my cousin’s laptop. And he has one of the newest MacBooks, so his didn’t crash. I was like, wow, okay, but the rest of my team, no one could get onto it. Then I had to screen record it and showcase it live on Discord so that our community could go in and watch it.

So, you see, there is a problem there — it seems like the metaverse is not ready, or it seems like the device that we have at home is not compatible with the software. So to me, I think there’s a lot of things that we need to improve [in Web3]. And then later on, I also found out from the team that in decentraland each pixel can only accommodate up to 200 people at a time. Which means [that] if there are 201 people, the other person will be on a completely different server and you will be alone. Because the whole idea of having metaphysics so that you can accommodate everyone in one server like Discord, you can accommodate 200,000 people in one chat room, right?

 Yeah, so I think the metaverse is far from being perfect. [But] I like the ideal concept of what is supposed to serve: as a function which is to get everyone on the same server at that point of time. I did see how fashion brands would actually have their own space, or use the metaverse as a platform to showcase our product to give customers this whole new brand immersive experience.

Jie Yee: I’d also like to speak about not just the metaverse, but the Web3 space in general. I’m just curious to know your thoughts on why, as a founder based in Asia, do you think Asia is still, you know, underrepresented in Web3?

Nicole: I think that’s a good question. But I do think, although there’s a lot of people that are in crypto, generally, in Asia, a lot of brands or a lot of companies and tech companies are actually investing in crypto, but not, not a lot of them are actually into . 

And there are also types of people that are into crypto, like heavily invested in crypto, but they just hate NFTs. Right? So there’s a few categories of people. It’s really interesting, because when you go to crypto events in Asia or like in Singapore, most of them are Asians… most of them are Chinese. 

But then if you go to [international NFT] events, most of them are Westerners and it’s hard to even find an Asian person there. It’s kind of like a gem. Right? When I was at NFT New York. I was like, the only Asian woman, I met a lot of people and they forgot my name. I was that Asian woman.

So I think that kind of shows how rare we are. This is why I do think that we need more Asian representation in the space and in this NFT space. Yesterday or the day before Instagram actually announced that they are integrating NFTs. This is like a ticket to mass adoption. And it’s already been opened. The bridges are there. So I do think that the months to come are gonna be really exciting.

Jie Yee: Full disclosure for people here, I own an 8Sian NFT – you can see it on my Twitter. 

Nicole: That photo is really cute! 

Jie Yee: Thank you. I was browsing on OpenSea and I was like, oh, she looks cute. It looks like this selfie that I took this afternoon. So I’m just like, you know what? I’m gonna buy it. 

Nicole: The thing with NFT’s is that some people think it should be genderless or, you know, they should be a representation of an alternate identity. But for me, personally, I feel that, you know, it’s really nice to have an NFT like, in my likeness. But it’s really subjective, right? Like some people want this complete other identity, but as long as you like it, I don’t think anything else matters or anyone else’s opinion matters. Last time, there was a thing called ‘Invisible Rocks’, and it was trending, right. And a lot of people resonated with ‘Invisible Rocks’. When I first started the space, there were a lot of cute little animals and stuff like that. And my first NFP was actually a Pudgy Penguin.

But then my wallet got rugged and then I lost it. But then back then I was like, oh, you know, it’d be great if I can get a PFP that looks like me. And then back then the trend was to buy little animals, then it was worms and squiggles and stuff like that. And I was like, okay, but it would be great if there was a character that kind of looked like me. So this is why this [8Sian NFT PFP] will be my forever.

Someone actually [purchased] mine and then I had to buy it back from a user. When we first launched, a guy named Michael saw that this was my PFP and then he bought it, I think for about 3-5 ETH. I had to buy it back from him and we were in this negotiation. It was really funny, but we ended up with 8.8888 [ETH].

Jie Yee: It is a very good number! Do you have anything else coming up in the pipeline for 8Sian?

Nicole: Yeah, so I think for 8Sian right now there are a lot of things that I personally need to kind of figure out as a founder. Because I think right now, it’s also kind of like a good problem to have… it’s not a year yet [since 8Sian’s launch]. Ever since we sold out and we started building, there’s been a lot of opportunities that we could access. There’s been companies and brands that want to buy the entire collection. Of course I say no – just to put it out there – I would never sell.

There’s a lot of offers and a lot of people that say they want to have full rights to our community. So many proposals, right? And then a lot of them say, wow, instead of you doing it yourself, why don’t we just merge together? I think people see it as an opportunity they want to be a part of, which is great, right? But at the same time, as a founder, I will also need to block out the noise and focus on the collaborations and partnerships that would benefit my goal.

I’m strategising in the bear market, which has been good, because people have been off screens and Discord. The overall community has been mostly quiet but at least it’s not as intense as before. I needed to roll out something every two weeks. Right now it’s more of the team and I sitting down really just discussing, okay, what is the direction? And filtering out these partnerships. Although some are great, some of them can make a lot of money… that is not the end goal here. The end goal is for me to build an Empire. 

So, everything that I do needs to make sense. That’s where I’m at right now, which I think it’s a good problem to have. But then there’s a lot of partnerships that we’ll be focusing on with beauty, fashion cosmetics. I also want to kind of venture into the animation side, because I did connect with a few people that produce movies on Netflix around movies and cartoons. 

And most of the IPs that are out there in the real world started off with animation. I’m trying to see how I can integrate that into 8Sian, I’m trying to think of the whole picture not just by doing things just for the sake of it.

I do think that once everything is aligned, once my story is out there, the foundations are being built, the price [and everything else] would kind of reflect that. That’s where I’m at. I really appreciate that my community is one that is patient. 

Some people said: maybe nobody’s thinking about you, but at the same time, it means most of my holders are comfortable. They are gonna support it and wait to see what will happen. Good things take time and nothing is built overnight.

For the past year, I’ve been living and breathing 8Sian. You gotta chase the dream and some things you need to sacrifice for the bigger dream. So, I’m here for it. We take life one step at a time. And at the end of the day, it’s about what makes you happy.

8Sian has most recently launched its official merch site with Boson Protocol, a Web3 e-commerce platform. Holders of 8Sian are able to purchase both physical and digital goods.