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American Apparel Finds the Right Fit in Second Life

Aimee Weber is helping the retailer create marketing strategies for the virtual world.

Location Is Everything
American Apparel's virtual private island

A retailer's first step in entering the virtual world should be to "hire popular Second Life architect Aimee Weber to design the store,"

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Indeed, American Apparel was smart in hiring Weber, who is recognized as one of the best in creating and marketing products for San Francisco-based Linden Lab's 3-D virtual universe. Her 6,000-square-foot, two-level virtual replica of the hipster fashion destination cemented American Apparel as the first real-world retailer to open shop in Second Life.

The Los Angeles-based clothier is best known for provocative, salacious advertisements of its 1970s-era disco-trash fashion. American Apparel is proudly sweatshop-free, finding a niche among teens who are tired of designs from Abercrombie & Fitch (ANF) - Get Abercrombie & Fitch Co. Class A Report and American Eagle Outfitters (AEOS) .

For a business that doesn't appear intimidated by anything, the union between the real world and the so-called metaverse was a perfect fit, especially in Aimee Weber's eyes.

"People think of the two as separate worlds," notes Weber. "I think that both are becoming more closely intertwined."

American Apparel was compelled by Second Life "because it has been so successful," says Raz Schionning, Web director at the retailer. "Everything is created by the population. It's wide open, and you're only limited by your imagination and skill. The people in Second Life are the type of people we want to be talking to."

Weber began using SL in January 2004 -- "I found it originally when I had a knee injury," she explains. Her first reaction was that SL wasn't a game but instead a platform that featured plenty of user-driven content.

So Much to Choose From
Shop till your avatar drops

"My next move was to find out how to use this content," Weber says. "The culture is a good fit."And it certainly has been a good fit for Weber. In addition to the American Apparel shop, she has designed virtual residences for the American Cancer Society's Relay for Life, an audio kiosk for

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recording artist Regina Spektor and a model for the proposed New Globe Theater on Govenor's Island in New York.

American Apparel's virtual hub can be found on the cleverly titled Lerappa ("apparel" spelled backwards) private island. The store boasts familiar items available for shoppers' online character, called an avatar. Most of the virtual clothing retails for less than $1, which translates to about 270 Linden, the currency of SL.

Weber's design for American Apparel dutifully combines both a virtual shopping experience for avatar clothing with the benefit of purchasing the same item for real-life use. Within the virtual outlet, browsers can purchase the real-world version of an item through the company's Web site and have it delivered.

In the early stages of the Internet's development, many people didn't understand the concept of purchasing goods online, Weber points out. She hopes that shoppers will embrace SL, continuing the movement that began with catalogs and moved to HTML-coded Web pages.

"With Second Life, you can see a model of an item in 3-D," Weber says. "You can see the front, back and sides of an item, which you can't do on a normal Web site. It becomes a more immersive experience."

Schionning echoes Weber's sentiments about the shift to a 3-D model. "There are flat pages of text and pictures on the Internet. People have to take a leap of faith with whether our clothing will look good on them," he says. "Second Life allows a much more convincing representation of yourself that you can map products onto."

American Apparel seemed destined to migrate to Linden Lab's online world, as the clothier's carnal image is a perfect fit for the sometimes


nature of SL. However, there are countless other hurdles that many retailers may encounter while attempting to penetrate the virtual market.

"You have to understand what you can and cannot do," Weber says. "There is no standard formula that will work for everyone. You first need to identify the benefits that SL will bring you."

Schionning admits that American Apparel considers SL a laboratory for the moment as opposed to a profit-making venture. "When we look at this as part of digital marketing, Second Life doesn't have an objective return on investment. We have no way to understand what the possibilities or limits are yet," he says.

"The fact that we built a virtual store feels predictable now," Schionning concedes. "In a virtual world where people can fly, there's no need to stick to the rules."

Robert Holden is staff reporter Robert Holmes. He reports often from Second Life.