Mishi McDuff has turned luxury metaverse fashion into a thriving business. And it all started with needing something to wear to meet her husband now… in the metaverse.
It was Second Life (an online game), to be exact, that spawned Blueberry Entertainment – which has sold over 20 million units of virtual clothing since its launch in 2012, recently released heels of a partnership with designer Jonathan Simkhai for Fashion Week, and Friday launched a collaboration to do a “high-caliber fashion drop on Roblox” in partnership with the Broadway show “Dear Evan Hansen.” A virtual version of the iconic blue striped polo shirt will be available for sale on the popular online platform and the physical garments will be rolled out at Bloomingdale’s.
Before founding Blueberry, which she leads as CEO, McDuff, now 32, suffered from an IRL scenario that many can relate to: outfit envy. Even though she was at a virtual concert in Second Life.
“I really felt out of place because my avatar was a new starter avatar and everyone looked fantastic. There were fairies, there were models, and I was in my costume. basic departure,” she said. A virtually tattooed avatar caught her eye, she snuck into her DMs first, and they spent the rest of the night talking. “I was determined to make my avatar look cute the next time I see it. I already had some knowledge of Photoshop and 3D software, so I literally stayed up until morning making myself a cute dress and would like to report that it worked – this guy is now my husband.
The dress – pink with polka dots – also caught the eye of others at the upcoming concert, with attendees asking if they could buy it.
“That’s when I realized, OK, there’s an opportunity here,” she said. “Self-expression in any social setting is just as important as your self-expression in real life, because it’s always the real connections you make or the little crushes you have or the friends you hang around. It’s the same motivation behind it.
Blueberry earned $60,000 selling virtual clothing in its first year ten years ago and two years later that figure had grown to over $1 million – and that was then.
Now, McDuff is taking on projects like linking up with Simkhai to turn pieces from its fall 2022 collection into virtual versions for avatars to wear. And after launching its digital wearables on Second Life, Roblox, and iChat, Blueberry is planning an AR wearables release with Snapchat to bridge the gap between those who play video games and those who don’t, but may still want expressions. virtual images of themselves for Snapchat, TikTok or Instagram.
Here, WWD brings its “10 Questions With” interview series to McDuff to find out what her decidedly more stylish avatar is wearing now, what fashion still needs to figure out about metaverse fashion, and who could be the world’s next “Chanel.” virtual.
1. So tell us, what is your avatar wearing right now?
Mishi McDuff: She’s wearing ripped jeans and she’s wearing a button-up top, kind of like business casual. And then I have almost exactly the same hair I did for my avatar trying to replicate my real life but… skinnier. You can be anything in the metaverse.
But I want to say something about it that’s really cool. One of my top selling items is actually a collaboration I did with another designer, which is Stretch Marks. The fact that something we can be so insecure about in real life can be so celebrated – that people feel so comfortable expressing themselves and using it almost as a way to feel at home. comfortable with their body is actually very powerful. Now, I’m not a psychologist, but it’s empowering as a woman to see other women embrace those things that are described as a flaw and really make it part of their self-expression, even in the metaverse.
2. What would your fashion industry look like in the fantasy metaverse? (What would be different? What would be better?)
MM: I think the only thing I would really focus on would be making the high fashion experience accessible to a wider audience. I am Turkish, I was born and raised in Turkey and I am passionate about fashion. Someone like me may never have seen a New York Fashion Week show, but I can see it in the metaverse. I would love more inclusive fashion events in the metaverse and making pricing accessible. So maybe a Balenciaga bag is out of reach for the price, but a virtual Balenciaga item is within reach. And you still get that same satisfaction, you still show it to your friends. It’s always being part of the creators and the brands, a feeling of belonging, if that makes sense.
I would certainly create an experience for fashion where it’s still high-end, it’s still just as well thought out and produced, but it’s accessible to everyone.
3. What was Jonathan Simkhai’s experience like? And what does this partnership, and Metaverse Fashion Weeks more broadly, mean for fashion?
MM: I mean, we’re all still learning how the fusion of real fashion and digital fashion works. It was such an amazing experience. First of all, Jonathan Simkhai was the easiest person to work with and he’s obviously incredibly talented and I learned a lot about how a real designer looks at how something fits, even on an avatar. And sometimes the little details that we add are actually a representation of something wrong, like how it’s falling. It was an amazing crash course in itself and I learned a lot. And hopefully I was able to give it the same input on how digital native players appreciate that worn-in look, that extra realism that it adds.
4. Can you tell us more about the “Dear Evan Hansen” collaboration?
MM: We’re teaming up with the Tony Award-winning Broadway show to do a high-caliber fashion drop on Roblox… It’s for such a good cause, too. We donate all proceeds to the charity Child Mind [Institute, a nonprofit dedicated to transforming the lives of children and families struggling with mental health and learning disorders], 100% of the profits go there. And what’s cool is that physical merchandise will be carried by every Bloomingdale’s location, and we’re responsible for digital distribution and I’m thrilled about that.
5. How do you explain the metaverse and what you do to elders in your family?
MM: You should have seen their faces when 10 years ago I said, “I quit my job at Sony because I make virtual clothes. And that’s exactly how I describe it: we make wearables for avatars.
My family was, after their first “what are you doing?” reaction, they were actually very supportive; they thought it was cool.
6. What do you think the fashion industry still doesn’t understand about the metaverse?
MM: Fashion in the metaverse, where there are so many digital designers, trends move very fast. It’s as if a week in the metaverse equals an entire month in real life. It just goes faster and I think releasing a collection and then leaving it alone just isn’t the most effective way to reach that audience.
We’re selling an experience, we’re building a community, and selling that fashion item isn’t just about making a great item, it’s actually building a community around it and listening to their feedback or co-creating with them. We will post a work in progress and get their feedback and edit it as we go before we post it. So I think there’s a bit of a disconnect between building a native digital community and brands, which is why I think it’s such a win-win for physical brands to collaborate with digital brands who have already built this community and can provide live operations to this community and keep them engaged and make them feel part of this whole experience.
7. Since you can make them, do you still buy digital clothes? And did it impact how much you buy IRL?
MM: I do it. I totally shop. I buy too much in real life, I buy too much in the virtual world. Certainly more economical to shop virtually.
[Buying other designers’ virtual clothes is] a whole other thing is like another artist’s take. I make very casual clothes like Forever 21 and then, for example, there’s a designer friend of mine who makes these outfits that you would see on Revolve. And there’s another friend of mine, her style is more Love & Lemons. And it’s just fun to find out their idea of fashion and their style, sometimes just mix and match.
8. What would you like to have more time for?
MM: Explore further metaverses to come. I know there are a lot of really cool projects coming out and we want to be on every platform possible. So right now what I want and what I’m working towards is having the capacity and the size of the team to be able to do that.
9. Who is your hero?
MM: My mother. First of all, even my love for dress comes from her – she’s the most stylish person I know. She’s also an entrepreneur and she definitely showed me everything I know about work ethic and even just showing up or just being in the moment and having fun with it.
10. What is your vision for fashion in the Metaverse next year?
MM: I think we’ll see more and more digital native designers become really popular, like your 13-year-old daughter being the Chanel of their community – I think we’ll see a lot of that. And I think there will be a lot more brand collaborations, more educated high production. Everyone is just trying different things right now and learning what the capabilities are and how can we do things better and what people really appreciate and feel. I think this year and next year we are going to see more and more high caliber, better and more engaging fashion events. And I’m sure they will be collaborating with these digital native designers.
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