gm gm. I was inspired by fellow Azuki community member Insight by an incredibly thoughtful review and recap of Azuki’s history from pre-mint to today. If you haven’t read his substack post or on the redbeancoffee blog - it is well worth the read. Before I go into my own thoughts about Azuki, this is a perfect example of the kind of intellect and care that community members contribute to both helping the core team improve their own process & mission and to expand the Azuki narrative outside the bounds of the highly engaged but niche community. I’ll endeavour to build on Insight’s post and add some of my own thoughts and nuance to this decentralized brand we’re building.
Azuki Community - A Critical Lens
In a past life, I worked for a global vertically-integrated retailer with one of the most profitable retail stores per sqft in the entire industry and stock that was a leader in its category for several years. While there were many reasons for this company’s success, the ones that were obvious to me as differentiators against competitors were building a loyal following of customers who loved the brand (created their own blogs about product drops for example, sound familiar Azuki fam?) and being meticulous about execution and impact to customers and frontline store employees. For a large global company, this singular message and focus was truly impressive. Why is this relevant in a post about Azuki? The ability the Azuki team has shown in creating a narrative, experiential events twice now and fostering a highly engaged community, in my opinion are strong indicators that these cultural elements can expand beyond the bounds of the current holders to a much broader community of prospective customers.
One of the most impressive parts of the Azuki community is its ability to be self-critical. This is not a group that blindly accepts everything shared by the core team or to shrug off issues in judgment or execution. As Insight mentions in his post, there are still discussions and critiques within the community over the handling of past projects by our founder, Zagabond, and many people opted out who were less invested in the long-term growth of the Azuki brand. Like many others who are here to stay, I believe he’s the best man for the job and also think most of the claims for him to step down came from outsiders with both little context of Azuki and likely a lack of experience seeing the impact that visionary founders play in crafting and operationalizing an idea into reality. Would Apple be Apple without Steve Jobs? He was actually ousted at one point and then brought back when the company struggled to pave their way. I’m not saying Zagabond is Steve Jobs but he certainly is a visionary in this nascent space.
On Apparel & Takeda the Tailor
One of the topics Insight addresses in his post at-length is the role of fashion in the Azuki brand and future drops. I agree with the sentiment that while the first Twin Tiger silk bomber jacket is super dope, I’m more likely to hang it up on my wall than I am to wear it out in public - I’m a 36-year-old dad and constantly having food spilled on me so if the purpose of these drops is to have holders represent the brand out in the real world through our daily wardrobe, there probably needs to be a balance in more everyday wear like the track jacket and hoodie that were teased in a promo video back in the spring. While Insight has written this product drop off (and as he was a moderator for the core team has more inside information than I do) I’m not convinced we won’t see this in the future as Takeda rolls out new products.
On that note, one of the topics I don’t agree with from Insight’s post is that we need a big name designer to be announced as the Azuki Creative Director who goes by the pseudonym Takeda the Tailor. While a big name might signal the strength of the Azuki team’s connections and relevance in the broader fashion industry today and give us an in with more mainstream consumers right out the gate, a lesser-known designer that doesn’t come with an established style or following might be an advantage as they will 1) want to prove themselves and use this opportunity as a potential launchpoint to make a splash in fashion with a big brand behind them and 2) will allow for much stronger brand and direction from the Azuki team as they want to craft a first capsule that fits within the Azuki universe narrative. Many luxury and streetwear brands develop a cache unto their own without relying on a single designer to carry them on their backs. Assuming Azuki successfully reaches a broader audience, the larger and more relevant they become, the more likely they are in securing collaborations with established designers for future capsules or limited edition drops that can increase the allure of the brand.
Another interesting note on the Azuki apparel front is how apparel will show up from community-led initiatives vs. those led by the core team. So far we’ve seen Seizuya Shop drop some custom Beanz apparel and Ikuzo Wear getting ready to launch a line of jackets based on Azuki clothing traits. The Azuki team has designed the Twin Tigers Sakujan jacket so far and teased a few other apparel pieces that may or may not be in production. I’m keen to see how the variety of options that will be available in the coming months influences purchase decisions by holders and non-holders alike.
One area I wanted to expand on from Insight’s post is the concept of community-led initiatives as this one is close to my heart. The concept of decentralized brands is a new one and was one of the reasons I was most attracted to the Azuki project and community at the beginning of this year. Azuki has been stressing the importance of community-driven IP development and brand building and the last 2-3 months have exploded with a wide range of use cases and activations of community IP by holders. A note here that I’m one of the holders commercializing IP rights so I have some bias but will try to keep this as level-headed as possible.
The first iteration of community-led IP building was really centered around art and Insight does a great job highlighting the extent to which the incredible artists within our community have churned out beautiful work to add texture to the Azuki characters among holders. More recently we’re seeing the emergence of rich lore through story writing, a collaborative Bobu Tales narrative taking cues from dungeons and dragons and even some short anime production. The other angle that has emerged recently which I will cover in more detail is the use of commercial rights to monetize IP and build businesses around Azuki and Beanz NFTs.
My own venture, Average Sunday, is my take on commercializing IP - it’s part narrative, part art and part product licensing. There isn’t really a playbook for how to monetize digitally-native pfp artwork so it’s an experiment and also why I more often refer to it as a “creative project” than a startup - it’s both really. One might say I’ve drank the kool-aid and since one of the core principles in web3, NFTs and decentralization is that we own these digital assets - I figured I would see what I can accomplish in that vein.
You’ll also notice one of the places I’m publishing this post is on the Redbeancoffee blog. But wait, isn’t Average Sunday also making coffee? This is the power of community building and decentralized brands - RBC and Average Sunday can actually help amplify each other’s messages as both our initiatives are aimed at expanding the Azuki brand outside of the core existing community - we both win if we both win.
There are two other community projects right now that are building on more of a merchandise & apparel business model - Seizuya and Ikuzo Wear. Seizuya was founded by two Azuki holders who have never met each other in-person and have pooled their resources and collections to create Beanz-related merchandise. They are using a made-to-order model which is really smart as they find their product market fit before investing heavily in inventory. Ikuzo is building a curated capsule collection of jackets playing off individual traits in the Azuki collection like the sakura flower bomber and track suit. I’m excited to see how both of these companies grow within and outside the Azuki community.
Zenny Popz just launched this week with a line of Beanz-inspired CBD lollipops. The packaging is on-point and their hitting a mainstream supplement trend - excited to see where this one goes.
We’re also seeing a growing number of lore-based initiatives that individual holders and the Azuki team are taking on. All of this is adding richness to the community experience. I’ve loved the community-grown “Bobu Tales” - a dungeons and dragons-esque story with voting on storylines and community involvement in writing the direction Bobu the Bean Farmer goes next on his journey, all via twitter threads.
Insight talks at-length about community building initiatives and artists within the Azuki community so I won’t add more to that commentary here.
One of the fascinating and complex pieces to community IP development is how you keep the community engaged both to go out and build on the IP and then keep reasonable guardrails or direction so that it doesn’t go off the rails and into territory that might create terrible PR for Azuki. The power of brand decentralization is tangible - you go from a small (well-funded) startup of a dozen people to thousands of brand advocates amplifying everything you put out and with mutual values for everyone’s combined success. I’ve never seen anything like it and believe this will be the success of web3 brands if harnessed properly.
The Future of Azuki
Insight does a great job of spelling out some keys to Azuki’s future success - advancing their fashion line aspirations to reality, building on partnerships with influential holders in the community for future experiences and IRL activations and leveraging community IP to expand well-beyond what the team is able to produce with content on their own.
In my opinion, the areas where Azuki should crystallize future direction and make intentional moves are:
Clarifying and commercializing the external brand building and consumer products direction
Developing a uniquely “Azuki” technology, or partnering with another web3 project to provide a new and elevated streetwear brand experience for holders and consumers that isn’t available elsewhere
Making tangible investments into print or video content to bring the Azuki lore to life with official story lines
I believe the future is bright for Azuki and I’m impressed every damn day but the care and attention this community brings to the table. Whether it’s art, music production, new ventures, lore, analysis and input, it’s all building the collective experience and so far has been one hell of a ride. IKZ!
***About the Author
***Dantheman (@niftymillennial on twitter) is the Co-Creator of Average Sunday, a lifestyle and culture brand developed to commercialize Azuki IP and tell a story. Check out his first product licensing deal with Harken Coffee and follow along on twitter and instagram.