Mishi McDuff has parlayed luxury metaverse fashion into a thriving business. And it all started with needing something to wear to meet her now husband…in the metaverse.
It was Second Life (an online game), to be exact, that spawned Blueberry Entertainment — which has sold more than 20 million units of virtual clothing since its 2012 launch, is recently off the heels of a fashion week partnership with designer Jonathan Simkhai, and on 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 will be available for sale in the popular online platform and the physical clothing will roll out at Bloomingdale’s.
Before founding Blueberry, which she helms as chief executive officer, a now 32-year-old McDuff was suffering from an IRL scenario many can relate to: outfit envy. Even though she was at a virtual concert in Second Life.
“I felt really out of place because my avatar was a new starter avatar and everybody else looked fantastic. There were fairies, there were models and I was in my basic starter outfit,” she said. A virtually tattooed avatar caught her eye, she slid into his DMs first and they spent the rest of the night talking. “I was determined that my avatar will look cute the next time I see him. I already had some Photoshop and some 3D software knowledge, so I literally stayed up ’til the morning making myself a cute dress and I would like to report that it worked — that guy is now my husband.”
The dress — pink with polka dots — got others’ attention at the next concert, too, with attendees asking whether 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 still the real connections that you’re making or little crushes that you have or the friends that you hang out with. It’s the same motivation behind it.”
Blueberry made $60,000 selling virtual clothing in its first year a decade ago and two years later that number had reached more than $1 million — and that was then.
Now McDuff is taking on projects like the link up with Simkhai to turn pieces from his fall 2022 collection into virtual versions for avatars to wear. And after launching its digital clothing on Second Life, Roblox and iChat, Blueberry is planning an AR clothing release with Snapchat to bridge the gap between those who play video games and those who don’t but may still want virtual expressions 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 grasp about metaverse fashion and who may be the next “Chanel” of the virtual world.
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 an exact same hair that I made for my avatar trying to replicate my real life self but…skinnier. You can be whatever you want in the metaverse.
But I want to say something about that which is really cool. One of my bestselling items actually is a collaboration I made with another creator, which is stretch marks. The fact that something that we can be so insecure about in real life can be so celebrated — that people feel so comfortable expressing themselves and almost using it as a way to feel comfortable with their bodies is actually really powerful. Now, I’m not a psychologist, but it’s empowering as a woman to see other women embracing these things that are described as a flaw and really making it part of their self-expression, even in the metaverse.
2. What would your fantasy metaverse fashion industry look like? (What would be different? What would be better?)
M.M.: I think the one thing I would really focus on is making the high fashion experience accessible to a larger audience. I’m Turkish, I was born and raised in Turkey and I’m an avid fashion enthusiast. Somebody like me might have not seen a New York Fashion Week show ever, but I can see it in the metaverse. I would love for more inclusive fashion events in the metaverse and also making the price point accessible. So maybe a Balenciaga bag is out of reach for price point but a virtual Balenciaga item is within reach. And you still get that same satisfaction, you’re still showing it off to your friends. It’s still being part of the designers and brands, a feeling of belonging, if that makes sense.
I would definitely create an experience for fashion where it’s still high end, it’s still so well thought out and produced, but it’s accessible to everyone.
3. What was the Jonathan Simkhai experience like? And what does that partnership, as well as metaverse fashion weeks more broadly, mean for fashion?
M.M.: I mean, we are still all learning how merging real-life 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 is obviously incredibly talented and I learned a lot about how a real-life designer looks into how something is fitted, even on an avatar. And sometimes the little details that we add actually is a representation of something fitting wrong, like the way it falls. It was an amazing crash course in itself and I learned a lot. And I hope that I was able to contribute to him the same way about how digital native players value that worn look, that extra realism that it adds.
4. Can you tell us more about the “Dear Evan Hansen” collab?
M.M.: We are collaborating with the Tony Award-winning Broadway show to do a high-caliber fashion drop on Roblox….It’s for such a great cause, too. We are giving all the 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 percent of the proceeds go there. And the cool part about it is the physical merchandise is going to be carried by every Bloomingdale’s location, and we’re responsible for the digital distribution and I am over the moon about it.
5. How do you explain the metaverse and what you do to elders in your family?
M.M.: You should have seen their faces when 10 years ago I said, “I quit my job at Sony because I’m making virtual clothes.” And that’s exactly how I describe it: we make wearables for avatars.
My family was, after their initial “what-are-you-doing?” reaction, they were actually really supportive; they thought it was cool.
6. What do you think the fashion industry still doesn’t understand about the metaverse?
M.M.: Fashion in the metaverse, where there are so many digital creators, the trends move really fast. It’s like one week in metaverse is kind of like a whole month in real life. Everything just moves faster and I think that releasing one collection and then leaving it alone is just not the most efficient way of reaching this audience.
We are selling an experience, we are building a community and selling that fashion item is not just making a great item, it’s actually building a community around it and listening to their feedback or co-creating with them. We’ll post a work in progress and get their feedback and change it on the go before releasing it. So, I think there’s a bit of a disconnect between digital native community building with brands, which is why I think it’s such a win-win for physical brands to collaborate with digital brands who already have that community built and can provide live ops to that 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 has that had any impact on how much you buy IRL?
M.M.: I do. I totally shop. I shop way too much in real life, I shop way too much in the virtual world. Definitely more budget-friendly to shop virtually.
[Buying other designers’ virtual clothes is] a whole different thing, it’s like another artist’s take. I create very casual kind of like Forever 21 style clothing and then, for example, there’s a creator friend of mine who just creates 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 experience their idea of fashion and their style, sometimes just mix and match.
8. What do you wish you had more time for?
M.M.: Exploring more of the upcoming metaverses. I know there are a lot of really cool projects coming out and we want to be on every platform we possibly can be. So right now, what I’m wishing and working toward is having the capacity and team size to be able to do that.
9. Who is your hero?
M.M.: My mom. First of all, even my love for dressing up comes from her — she is the most stylish person I know. She’s also an entrepreneur and she’s definitely shown me everything that I know about work ethic and even just presenting yourself or just being in the moment and having fun with it.
10. What’s your vision for fashion in the metaverse in the next year?
M.M.: I believe that we’ll see more and more digital native designers get really popular, like your 13-year-old 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, a more educated high production. Everybody is just trying different things right now and learning what the capacities are and how can we do things better and what people are really enjoying and feeling. I think this year and next year we’re going to just see more and more high caliber, higher quality and higher engagement fashion events. And I’m pretty sure they’ll be in collaboration with these digital native designers.
MORE FROM WWD:
What Exactly is the Metaverse? The Simplest Explanation of What it Means for Fashion