Retailers Ask: What Brand Will Your Avatar Be Wearing?

You got up this morning. You put on your sale-bin sweater and hand-me-down jeans, or perhaps your second-hand suit. But what will your avatar wear? With the fashion industry tapping into social networking sites, it’s no longer a silly question.

Retailers have targeted a new niche market: online alter-egos. Brand name designers (Mark Jacobs and Valentino to name a few) are collaborating with online entertainment media to offer their products for purchase and use online.

But the spillover of the fashion world onto the digital world has many people uncomfortable: on the one hand, it seems retailers are polluting an edenic online space, imposing the production-consumption model of Western capitalism onto the virtual world. At the same time, virtual brands are more affordable and accessible for online consumers compared to their real life counterparts.

Toronto Star writer Leanne Delap interviewed Julia Johnston, founder of Mego, a Los Angeles-based software company that develops customized avatar applications. Johnston told the Star that she recognized a consumer demand for virtual goods. “We don’t just want to create an avatar that is faithful to our own image” Johnston said, we want to then dress ourselves up to meet the world online.” (qtd in Star).

By offering fashionable clothing for purchase, designers grant access to their product for those who would otherwise never be able to identify with their brand. As branding marketer Diane Nelson Koznick said, “a 14-year-old could never buy a $10,000 Valentino gown or the hot new Marc Jacobs bag. But she can buy the $5 version for her avatar” (qtd in Toronto Star).

Fashionable clothing is certainly not the only product for sale in online worlds: everything in Second Life costs money, from land to housing. The fashion industry will simply be supplying a digital demand for users too distinguish their avatars with clothing. Even in online worlds – where we create our virtual selves from nothing – we still crave clothing as a symbol of status, and we still desire external markers to fashion ourselves.