WAKE FOREST – If you plan to journey to a virtual world such as the metaverse, you need something to wear on your avatar, right? You want to look good, too. So where do you shop? Make a journey to the House of Blueberry.

Right here in Wake Forest, N.C.

With more than 20 million digital assets sold and over 400 thousand unique customers, House of Blueberry is on a mission to empower self-expression through digital fashion in the metaverse, leading a fast-growing market from its headquarters in Wake Forest. 

And they recently raised nearly $6 million, according to a recent SEC filing.

I spoke with Founder and CEO Mishi McDuff and COO Katherine Manuel to learn what’s next for the digital fashion house. Both said that House of Blueberry is focused on gaming in the metaverse. 

“When you’re gaming, people are using their avatars, and we strongly believe that there’s a huge market for digital enhancements of people’s avatars,” said McDuff.

According to Statista, there are 3.24 billion gamers globally, and MIDiA recently reported that the average user spends at least 7.6 hours per week gaming. 

Gizem Mishi McDuff, Chief Executive Officer & Founder (House of Blueberry image)

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Meta, the technology company led by Mark Zuckerberg that operates Facebook, Oculus VR, and other products, announced significant layoffs last month, reducing its workforce by 13 percent, laying off over 11,000 people, and extending a hiring freeze through the first quarter. 

But according to Manuel, the metaverse is more significant than any single company or brand. 

“It’s truly this idea of digital spaces where people connect, and it’s not owned by Zuckerberg, thank goodness,” said Manuel.

It’s also not defined by one technology, according to McDuff.

“Virtual reality is only one enhancement of the metaverse,” said McDuff. “You can use a VR headset to enjoy the metaverse, or you can simply use your phone or your personal computer.”

McDuff said that investors understand what the metaverse is—and the opportunities. 

“We didn’t really have to explain much to the investors when we were pitching,” said McDuff. “We had to turn down so many offers, simply because we hit our limits on how much investment we could take at this round.” 

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Digital fashion brings new brands to younger generations

McDuff told me a story about a friend’s 10-year-old son recognizing her Balenciaga bag thanks to digital fashion. 

“To a 10-year-old, it shouldn’t mean anything, but he got in the car, and he goes, ‘You have a Balenciaga bag?’” said McDuff. “And I’m like, ‘What do you know about Balenciaga?’ Then I realized, because Balenciaga did a collaboration with Fortnite the game, now Balenciaga is cool to a whole new generation who shouldn’t really know anything about Balenciaga.”

McDuff believes digital fashion is “one of the most fun ways” brands can communicate with younger audiences. 

“All brands need to find a way to break into this market,” said McDuff.

The Military Tycoon collection (House of Blueberry image)

The House of Blueberry’s mission to dominate digital fashion

While McDuff declined to divulge sales numbers, she did confirm that House of Blueberry has sold over 20 million digital items and created over 10 thousand SKUs since she founded it in 2012. 

That equates to a lot of data about digital fashion purchases. 

“We don’t do anything around private data,” said Manuel. “We use data to inform our designs, inform how we manage our community, how we support our community.”

And that focus on data was a big selling point for investors. 

“We’ll change things, we’ll adapt it to be what the community likes,” said Manuel. “And that level of gathering insight and turning that into our business, creates a really strong business model as well. And investors see that and they know it.”

Another differentiator for House of Blueberry is its history of successful partnerships. The company has partnered with influencers and brands to create and sell “Collections” of digital items. For example, House of Blueberry released a line of 3D wearables this month inspired by popular YouTube creator Leah Ashe (4.8M+ subscribers). 

“With somebody like a Leah Ashe—she’s endemic in Roblox,” said Manuel. “That’s really, really powerful for us, because we just launched in Roblox in July. So it really begins to establish, we’re here, and we’re here to stay, and we understand what matters to our community in this platform.”

According to Statista, Roblox had 58.8M+ daily active users last quarter. And this year, more than 11.5 million creators designed over 62 million virtual clothing and accessory items on the platform, according to a report on 2022 fashion trends shared by Roblox. 

Today, the House of Blueberry group on Roblox has 10K+ members.

House of Blueberry has also launched collaborations with luxury brands like Jonathan Simkhai and Natori, and the Broadway musical “Dear Evan Hansen.” Still, according to Manuel, partnership creations are a small part of the brand’s offerings.

“When you look at our community, and what our community buys, the most popular designs are ones that our own creative team created under the House of Blueberry brand,” said Manuel.

The team, says Manuel, includes seven employees in the Triangle, another six distributed across the globe, and “a handful of contractors and consultants that do special work.”

The Influencers Collection (The House of Blueberry image)

Data + partnerships + community

The community might be the third leg of the stool. According to Manuel, one of the “defining principles” of House of Blueberry is creating communities on these platforms. 

Roblox users who join the House of Blueberry community have access to giveaways, party invites, and more. 

“They get all of these things, and that creates sort of this spirit that is Blueberry,” said Manuel. “That is also something that you really can unlock in these digital spaces.” 

That community mindset is foundational to House of Blueberry.

“One of the things that marks Mishi’s founding of Blueberry is that she created a network of about 400,000 users in Second Life, who felt that they were part of something by buying Blueberry wearables,” said Manuel. 

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The cost of a digital closet

McDuff, who founded and sold two companies before starting House of Blueberry in 2012, said that there is “undeniable momentum” in the digital fashion space. 

“This market is growing and scaling so fast that everybody is trying to find a way to break into the industry,” said McDuff. 

She also said that digital fashion often looks different than traditional fashion.

“There’s just so much more depth that we can add to sense of style in in digital spaces,” said McDuff. “We add, for example, flame prints at the at the cuffs of jeans, and when you run, flames come out of it.” 

Manuel called it “a level of flexibility and fluidity.”

“They can actually take what would be a very traditional garment, and they make it fight physics,” said Manuel. “It can become something that is much more living, breathing—an expression of how that person feels and how they’re portraying themselves—because of what you can do in the digital space.”

House of Blueberry offers a wide range of digital fashion items, from clothing to accessories and even hairstyles. 

The cost of digital clothing for the metaverse can vary widely depending on the specific item and the brand offering it. Some digital fashion items may be free or low-cost, while limited-edition luxury-brand-backed items are traditionally more expensive.

“One of the core tenets of our business model is that we want to be accessible to everyone,” said Manuel. “We want to make sure that on whatever platform, whatever community that we’re selling in, we are accessible to the users.” 

One item in the House of Blueberry’s current Roblox collection is a pair of virtual bunny slippers. They cost 75 Robux; the current exchange rate is 0.0035 cents USD per 1 Robux, but it’s not simple math. You can get more Robux for your buck if you buy more at a time. (Five dollars can buy 400 Robux. If you spend $20, you can buy 1,700 Robux, but if you join a monthly subscription, you’ll get 2,220 Robux a month for that price.) 

What’s next after raising almost 6M?

According to Manuel, the goal for 2023 is platform expansion. 

“We want to be on every platform where user-generated content is available,” said Manuel.