While inclusion has long since become an important topic in the real world, in the virtual world, which is still under development, it is only slowly being taken seriously by the actors. From corporate governance to product offerings, the importance of inclusion is only just beginning to be recognized in the metaverse, and few companies have already built this value into their operations.
The digital fashion brand House of Blueberry also belongs to this small circle. When the company was founded by Gizem “Mishi” McDuff in 2012, it entered an area that was very different from today’s digital fashion world. Mishi first ventured into the industry because she wanted more digital clothing options in the open world platform Second Life, where she was unhappy with the limited choice for her avatar. She then began designing her own clothes, mostly using Photoshop, and eventually built the brand into what it is today.
However, Mishi’s career in engineering didn’t start there. Prior to House of Blueberry, she was responsible for a number of start-ups including Peanut Labs, a marketing and gaming data company, and also briefly served as Sony’s chief publishing officer. Eventually, she came across virtual concerts and otherworldly avatars, a world that intrigued her and prompted her to become part of this industry. “Before I knew it, House of Blueberry was making $1 million a year because other people were buying my designs,” Mishi told FashionUnited. “I basically hit an underserved market of Metaverse users, who want beautiful, trendy pieces that are made with the same care as IRL [in-real-life] Fashion.”
New funding and cross-platform access options
The true scaling of House of Blueberry began around the time the term “Metaverse” emerged in 2021 and the industry began to evolve rapidly. The brand outgrew its home of Second Life and built digital wearables in The Sims and Roblox on – an open-world platform on which it was able to build a community of over 13,000 people in just a few months.It was only in early January 2023 that the company announced that it had secured $6 million in funding for consumers lies in the direct-to-avatar products that can be purchased through catalogs and marketplaces in-game and across the various virtual platforms.
Another area where Mishi broke down barriers was representation. As a female founder in the tech industry, she was part of a minority. But her own experience only strengthened the way she approached the business. This is reflected both in the products of her company and in the 20-strong workforce, 90 percent of whom are women. Mishi added that while this wasn’t entirely intentional, she likes to look for strong women to work with in hopes of increasing their presence in Metaverse-related businesses. After all, only nine percent of companies in this industry are founded and managed by women.
Representation of women in tech and gaming
This has also had an impact on the House of Blueberry product range. On the subject, Mishi said: “Considering that women and girls make up almost half of all gamers, I believe it is crucial to increase representation in the games industry – especially when it comes to female founders and executives. How can we expect games to reflect the desires and needs of female gamers when women are excluded from the development process? When I founded House of Blueberry, one of my main goals was to create a brand that was developed by and for women in the digital space.”
This sentiment is reflected in both House of Blueberry’s products and the choices made by the people who work with the company. Not only representation, but also diversity is important for the values of the brand. The decision to offer an inclusive product selection was also supported by consumer response. For example, one of the brand’s biggest sellers is ripped jeans, where you can see stretch marks through the rips. To push this space even further, House of Blueberry has also implemented a number of initiatives that are fully inclusive of diversity, including the inclusion of plus size avatars.
“Self-expression is important…”
“Self-expression is important. This is just as important in real life – where the first impression you make on someone is purely physical – as it is in virtual places. Your avatar represents who you are, and as more people spend more time online, self-expression becomes more important,” says Mishi. “I believe that people see beauty in what they would normally see as a flaw and get that validation from their community. That helps with those insecurities. It erases the damage. I don’t think our clients want to look perfect, they want to embrace their true selves and be unique.”
Building a sense of community is one of House of Blueberry’s core values. This is also reflected in recent collaborations with modern streetwear label Boy Meets Girl and Roblox influencer Leah Ashe, for which the brand launched a digital clothing line and hosted a virtual event. For the digital fashion community, which is made up in large part of users who invest in games, it is notable that the traditional celebrity is not as well received as those who are already fully immersed in the sector. These types of influencers resonate best and drive more loyal engagement. “People don’t buy for a specific brand or product, they buy for a community. It allowed us to tap into the Leah Ash community – a group of people who follow their adventures in virtual spaces,” Mishi said. “It’s even more intimate. The bond and loyalty to this influencer is much stronger. It also means that the Customers who see creators themselves as influencers.”
Looking ahead to House of Blueberry, Mishi hopes to continue to infuse these ideas into every aspect of the company in the virtual world, while embracing the company’s four core values: creativity-driven, community-driven, data-driven, and collaborative. “Gaming communities and the talented creators who populate them are at the heart of what we do,” said the CEO. “House of Blueberry’s goal is to be present on every digital platform where self-expression plays a role. In This year we want to work towards that vision while staying true to our core values.”
This translated post previously appeared on FashionUnited.uk.