While inclusivity is undoubtedly important in the real world, with the virtual world still in development it has only just slowly become a topic of discussion among those in the industry. From company leadership to product offerings, the significance of inclusivity within the metaverse is sifting its way through, with only a few having already truly incorporated the value into the foundation of their operations.
Among them is digital fashion brand House of Blueberry. When the company was founded in 2012 by Gizem ‘Mishi’ McDuff, it entered into a realm that was a much different landscape to that of digital fashion today. Mishi initially started venturing into the sector due to her desire for more digital clothing options in open world platform Second Life, where she hadn’t been satisfied with the limited choice for her avatar. As a response, she started designing her own clothing, primarily through Photoshop, and eventually built up the brand to become what it is today.
Mishi’s career in tech didn’t begin here, however. Prior to House of Blueberry, she was responsible for a number of start-ups, including Peanut Labs, a marketing and gaming data firm, and had also served as Sony’s head of publishing for a short period. Eventually she stumbled across virtual concerts and otherworldly avatars, a world she was intrigued by and drove her to become a bigger part of this industry. “Before I knew it, House of Blueberry was generating one million dollars per year in revenue from other people buying my designs,” Mishi said, in a conversation with FashionUnited. “I basically stumbled upon an underserved market of metaverse users who want beautiful, trendy pieces that are made just as meticulously as IRL (in-real-life) fashion.”
New funding and multi-platform accessibility
The true scaling of House of Blueberry began around the time the term ‘metaverse’ blew up in 2021, as the industry began to rapidly evolve, and saw the brand grow out of its Second Life home to introduce digital wearables into The Sims and Roblox, an open world platform where it has already built up a community of over 13,000 in just a few months. And earlier this month, the company announced it had secured a six million dollar financing to further back its efforts. Its appeal to consumers is in its direct-to-avatar products, which can be bought via in-game catalogues and marketplaces across the multiple virtual platforms.
Another area where Mishi has broken down hurdles was in representation. As a female-founder in the tech industry, she was part of a minority group. Yet her experience has only been a force in how she has approached business, as reflected in both the products the company puts out and its 20 person workforce, of which 90 percent are women. Mishi added that, while this was not completely intentional, she does like to seek out powerful women to work with in the hope of building up their presence in metaverse-related companies – only nine percent of which are founded and operated by women.
Female representation in tech and gaming
This has played into House of Blueberry’s approach to product assortment too. Speaking on the topic, Mishi said: “Considering women and girls represent nearly half of all gamers, I believe it’s crucial to increase representation in the gaming industry — especially when it comes to female founders and leaders. How can we expect games to reflect the wants and needs of female gamers if women are excluded from the development process? When I started House of Blueberry, one of my main goals was to create a brand built by and for women in the digital space.”
This sentiment can be seen in both House of Blueberry’s products and its choice of collaborators onboarded to work alongside it. For this, not just representation but diversity is important within the brand’s values. Its decision to offer an inclusive product selection has also been backed by consumer response. One of the brand’s biggest sellers, for example, are ripped jeans where through the rips you can see stretch marks. To push this area even further, House of Blueberry has also implemented a number of initiatives that fully integrate diversity, including the incorporation of plus size avatars.
“Self-expression matters. It matters in real life, where the first impression you make on someone is purely physical, and it is the same in virtual places. Your avatar represents who you are, so as more people spend more time online, self-expression has become increasingly important,” Mishi stated. “I think people are embracing, or finding beauty in what they would normally perceive as a flaw and getting that validation from their community. It's helping with those insecurities. It’s erasing damage. I don’t think our customers want to see a perfect look, they want to be able to embrace their true self and be unique.”
‘Self expression matters…’
Building a sense of community is one of House of Blueberry’s defining values, as mirrored in its recent collaborations with contemporary streetwear label Boy Meets Girl and Roblox influencer Leah Ashe, for which the brand dropped a digital clothing line and hosted a virtual event. For the digital fashion community, much of which includes consumers invested in gaming, it is notable that the traditional celebrity does not connect as well as those who are already completely immersed in this sector. These types of influencers are their entertainment of choice and drive them into more loyal engagement. “People aren’t buying into a specific brand or product, they’re buying into a community, so we were able to tap into the Leah Ash community – a group of people who follow her adventures in virtual spaces,” Mishi noted. “It’s even more intimate. The bond and loyalty to that influencer is a lot closer. It also means customers see creators as influencers themselves.”
Looking into House of Blueberry’s future, Mishi hopes to continue pushing these ideas into every aspect of the company’s space in the virtual world, incorporating its four main values; creator-led, community-obsessed, data-informed and partnership-ready. “Gaming communities and the talented creators who inhabit them are at the heart of what we do,” she said. “House of Blueberry’s goal is to be on every digital platform where self-expression matters. This year, we plan to work toward this vision while remaining true to our core values.”