The co-founder of Imaginary Ones saw 8,888 of his project's NFTs sell out in four minutes earlier this year. Now, he’s planning to take the metaverse by storm in partnership with Hugo

Amid the vast sea (the vast OpenSea, in fact) of NFT projects out there, it can be hard to stand out from the crowd. Singaporean Gen.T honouree Clement Chia, though, did so in spectacular style with Imaginary Ones, a collection of 8,888 NFTs of cheerful cartoon figures, their bodies collections of tactile spheres, which sold out in just four minutes in April 2022. This indirectly resulting in Chia briefly becoming one of Foundation's top global artists.

To date, the collection has seen more than 12,000 ETH (about US$20 million) in sales on OpenSea.

Now Chia and his business partners, who are also behind creative agency Offset and motion design platform Offeo, have announced a special collaboration with fashion brand Hugo, one half of Hugo Boss, featuring a whole collection of newly minted, special edition NFTs, linked to a collection of physical t-shirts. Launching on October 4 at 4pm GMT+8, it’s the beginning of a long journey that is also set to include the development of an Imaginary Ones metaverse.

“It’s a strong validation for the Web3 world and for Imaginary Ones,” says Chia of the collaboration. “A lot of big brands are starting to jump in, and once they do, smaller ones will follow.”

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Above The main characters of Clement Chia's Imaginary Ones NFTs are recognised for their cherubic 3D image (Photo: Darren Gabriel Leow)

Chia is, on the face of it, a fairly unlikely candidate for runaway artistic success.

A computer science graduate, he spent six years as a web developer for various advertising agencies, working for clients including Heineken, DKNY, Adidas, Emirates and Sony. At the same time, finding himself increasingly interested in the creative side of the business, he gradually taught himself how to animate, via the painstaking route of following online tutorials every day. As someone with a technical background, it was challenging to be accepted as a designer, he says.

“It was definitely tough; there was a little bit of resistance. But I did an Adidas campaign that gave me a shot at creating animation in my early agency days, and it won quite a few awards.”

He became a creative group head within his agency and eventually decided to leave and set up his own. That was and is Offset, of which he is co-founder and chief creative officer.

“It started off pretty rough, with just two of us [the other being his business partner David Lee], hustling day and night. But we tried to create really high-quality promotions.”

The company ended up working for a fairly spectacular line-up of blue-chip brands, including Apple, Facebook, Coke, Heineken, Unilever and Google. In four years, it grew to more than 30 people.

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It set up Offeo as a way of making the same sort of motion design services available to companies with much smaller budgets.

“I realised that we were just spending all day creating content. We decided to try to create something a bit more scalable. We started investing a lot of our profits to create Offeo. It’s meant to help small businesses create content easily, marrying technology and motion design together. The content is very short-form, very message-driven.”

It now has more than 300,000 users and monthly traffic of about three million visits. Ironically, its users include a lot of really big companies: the likes of Ford, Twitter, Gojek and Binance.

However, Chia was still focused entirely on customer-facing businesses—and that wasn’t scratching his creative itch.

“On the back of Offset and Offeo, I wanted to just create something, to escape,” he says. “I was doing a lot of client work, and sometimes I just wanted to do a bit of my own expression.”

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When you do something out of passion, it can become something bigger

- Clement Chia -

About seven years ago, he started experimenting with purely creative animation work and posing it on Instagram. After plenty of trial and error, he finally came up with several works that went viral, the most popular among them a surreal yet soothing and oddly tactile animation of various spheroid objects falling haphazardly through an abstract landscape.

“It became very significant in what I am today,” he says. “When you do something out of passion, it can become something bigger.”

Next, as a reaction to the male-dominated world of NFT projects, he decided to create an inclusive collection that could appeal to all ages and genders. The result was Imaginary Ones, with its wildly creative approach to character design and its cheery, optimistic vibe.

It was launched purely as a fun side project. After he created the first five characters, he went to bed, not expecting much to happen. When he woke up the next morning, however, he discovered they’d gone viral, picking up 24,000 followers in 24 hours, a number that has now risen to 450,000. He had to rethink the entire design process so that it was scalable up to 8,888 variations.

They sold out in a pretty much mind-blowing four minutes.

As a result, collectors started to snap up NFTs of his old animations too. The total sales volume came up to about 196.3 ETH, which was worth about US$580,000 at the time of the last auction in April 2022.

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A few months before, in February, Hugo contacted Chia on LinkedIn to discuss a potential collaboration.

“It was a case of trying to find the right synergy for what we do together,” he says. As conversations went on, both sides began to realise that the collaboration could create a huge impact on both the Web2 and Web3 worlds. The project has been in the making for more than six months—and it’s now ready to be revealed.

The collaboration features 1,001 NFTs, including six so-called Legendaries, five of which represent a different emotion: love, fear, joy, anger and sadness.

The Legendaries are depicted on 500 T-shirts that are on sale at Hugo’s website; owners will be able to mint one of the NFTs, while a QR code on the shirts will link them to a Snapchat filter that combines physical and digital elements.

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Above Imaginary Ones' collaboration with Hugo, one half of Hugo Boss, features 1,001 NFTs as well as merchandise and access to experiences among other offerings (Photo: Imaginary Ones)

Buyers of the NFTs will receive a “golden ticket” that entitles them to a 10 percent discount at Hugo’s online store that is valid for 10 months. They will also have access to Imaginary Ones’ staking ecosystem, which grants them a separate set of Hugo x Imaginary Ones merchandise, experiences and content, including digital Hugo wearables and Hugo-themed Imaginary Ones drops.

The sixth Legendary, representing mental health, will be sold to raise funds for YAM, a school-based programme that has reached more than 85,000 teenagers in 16 countries, encouraging them to discuss mental health. That chimes in with the whole cheery vibe of Imaginary Ones, which is all about putting a smile on people’s faces while encouraging awareness of mental health issues, says Chia. “We’re trying to help the community open up, in a world where people are OK to express emotion.”

The projects have high-level buy-in from Hugo, he adds. “They trust us a lot on this. It’s a truly collaborative effort with the belief of making a huge impact in both the Web2 and Web3 spaces. We believe this collaboration will help to evolve the space more rapidly.”

Next up for Chia is Imaginary World, a fully developed metaverse inhabited by the characters, which he says Hugo will be involved in, with everything from its own premises to its own digital clothing.

“The majority of people want to belong to a community. People will spend a lot on a digital identity. There’s no digital representation of people right now beyond social media. With NFTs and Web3 in general, that’s where digital communities are being built. There’s a lot more connection.”

See more honourees on the Gen.T List.

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