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There is no goal, just possibilities
As the first real world retailer to set up shop in second life, American Apparel has secured an absolute PR victory. In an interview with x-ray, Raz Schionning, Web Director of American Apparel talks about opportunities, frontiers and the future of second life.
Martina Mullner
March 2007

x-ray: When did American Apparel decide to set up shop in second life?

Raz Schionning: In June 2006

x-ray: Was this idea conceived from within the company or can an external agent take the credit?

RS: We constantly ask ourselves, how we can find our public in a business that uses many different types of media. The second life experiment arose from a study on the theme video game marketing. My belief at that time was that advertising in computer games would be too expensive and too risky. During appraisal I met Wes Keltner, who ran a small marketing company in Lexington. I was already a second life user at that time and a discussion about undiscovered territory in marketing led us to develop the concept.

x-ray: Did you expect and aim for so much publicity from second life at that time? Or was the second life project more an experiment and the tremendous media success somewhat unexpected?

RS: I knew the media would show some interest but the sheer magnitude took us by surprise alright.

x-ray: Did American Apparel set-up shop in second life for PR reasons or do you think that it actually helps to sell the offline brand?

RS: The aim was simple: research and experiment. We have a limited budget and no expectations. We were the first real world brand in second life - so there was nothing for us to build on really. If you take away the media impact of our second life venture what remains is nothing out of this world. It may come about that actual marketing value or business opportunities arise but that could not be put into practice yet with our limited project. I firmly believe there are paths to financial success in second life.

x-ray: There is no compelling reason to wear a brand in second life. Yet people pay for it. Why?

RS: American Apparel does not sell "brand names" in second life. To remain true to our brand, the clothing we offer in the virtual world is free from logos just like in our real life stores. You say there is no reason to wear a brand in second life. Yet in the real world there is no good reason either and yet we still do it. We probably decide for the same reasons: brands reflect an image, have charm or value with which we identify ourselves.

x-ray: What added benefits do you offer your second life customers?

RS: When we opened the store we offered discounts on real world products, where the consumer purchased the same item in second life.

x-ray: Is your second life shop linked with the real world? Can people buy the same item in your online shop?

RS: Yes, second life is linked with the online shop.

x-ray: What are your own views on second life? Is it just hype or is it the future of (fashion) retailing?

RS: Second life is the realisation of an amazing concept. It contains elements of socialisation and visualisation, which the mass public had never seen or dreamt of to now. The underlying concept is a world, built by people who live in it. Second life differs from 3D multi player games in this. Second life more resembles the World Wide Web: it is a platform, where you can meet people, visit places and join in on an experience. There is no goal - just possibilities. How this structure will influence the retail world is unclear. However, it must have amazing potential. Smart companies will try to explore these possibilities.

x-ray: Outside second life, do you think that future generations will prefer shopping online or offline?

RS: As we all have needs and desires that can only be fulfilled through doing business, I think that physical shopping opportunities will continue to be very important. But new ways of shopping, like for example, virtual web-based online stores will become increasingly popular in society. They allow us greater freedom and protect us from the boring aspects of everyday life.

x-ray: Beyond second life - how important is online business today for American Apparel? And what are the prospects for growth?

RS: The American Apparel online store is a global market place. Its sales are important to the company and it continues to grow at a much faster than the business generally.

x-ray: Thanks a lot for talking to us.

Read the German version here