Josie Natori Lands in the Metaverse – WWD


Josie Natori is walking around the metaverse, among racks of luxury dresses, dragon-printed robes, leopard miniskirts and lacy tank tops, all from her nameplate brand. 

There are also books, artwork, mannequin forms and even a digital version of the long black desk the designer uses in her physical office. Her avatar, meanwhile, is dressed to the nines (not unlike the attire she often dons in the physical world) in a fitted black dress, big hoop earrings with her son’s dog, Stevie, in tow. 

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“I was very impressed, really,” Natori, founder and chief executive officer of the Natori brand, told WWD. “I have to just say, it made me smile. I mean, what do I know of that world, you know? I’m the least techie person. [But] it’s so exciting to see that adorable [avatar]. I think it’s fun.”

Natori’s first adventure in the metaverse comes by way of a partnership with the digital fashion brand House of Blueberry — which sells digital apparel and accessories for consumers’ avatars — on Roblox. Starting Thursday, the Natori store will open on the gaming platform, featuring the House of Blueberry x Natori collection. But it’s more than just a digital closet. In addition to the 20 digital fashion assets for sale, the “Natori wing to the House of Blueberry,” will capture the entire spirit of the Natori brand, according to Mishi McDuff, founder and chief executive officer of House of Blueberry. 

“With digital spaces, it’s all about the experience,” she explained. “You can’t just create products and not provide an experience for them. That’s what we did here. And that goes a long way — the authenticity of the experience. That’s what sells the product. And there’s a great story to tell here. You can see the whole East-meets-West aesthetic of the brand and how it’s translated into the metaverse without the limits of the physical world. We have a ton of respect for Josie Natori, for what she built and I believe that the Roblox community is going to feel the same.”

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Much like Natori’s physical brand — which expanded into activewear, men’s, jewelry, footwear and even pet apparel in recent years — Natori’s virtual fashion closet also includes matching sleepwear sets, Chinese infinity prints, activewear and accessories, such as earrings, sunglasses and even four new hairstyles that can be interchanged. 

“It’s head to toe,” Natori said. “Our aesthetics are so distinct that hopefully it will be different from everybody else [on Roblox]. The [House of Blueberry] uses a lot of iconic things [in Natori’s digital fashion collection.] Things that really shout Natori.” 

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Natori’s fashion assets are priced at 100 Robux per asset, or about $1 each. Once users purchase the digital pieces, they’re theirs to keep, tucked away in their virtual closets forever. 

But, in addition to consumers, both brands stand to win on Roblox thanks to the collaboration. In fact, digital fashion allows brands — from LVMH to Ralph Lauren to Alo Yoga — to experiment with new styles and price points, without the hassle of supply chain logistics and excess inventory. 

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The metaverse also exposes brands to new demographics. Roblox has 57 million active users, with an average age of 13 years old, according to Katherin Manuel, chief operating officer at House of Blueberry. While lingerie might not be a fit for that age group, Natori’s presence in the metaverse exposes the luxury brand to the next generation — a much younger audience that might not yet be ready to spend four or five figures on a luxury item. 

“We’re just really excited to get out there and find different ways to get directly to the consumer in different ways and be able to show our brand. The most important thing is to be relevant to the next generation,” Natori said. “I mean, everyone says we have to try different things, right? Nothing is going back to the way it was [pre-pandemic]. There’s just a lot of new ways to sell, to communicate, get your brand out there.

Josie Natori

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“We’ve been very blessed, being where we are today,” continued the designer, who is celebrating her 45th anniversary as a brand this year. “But, we obviously have to get out there and be at the forefront, or wherever we can in the best way that we can. In many ways, it’s just really appropriate and relevant, because we do want to be able to reach out and get that [younger] person exposed to what the brand is.”

Kenneth Natori, Josie’s son and president of the Natori business, added: “We found the House of Blueberry team and it really felt like — given their expertise and given the way their store was represented and the way they worked with other partners before — we thought it would be a great way that we could have our unique East-meets-West aesthetic really be translated in a way that we felt was right for us.” 

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Meanwhile, retail is perhaps in one of its most challenging moments in recent history, with companies navigating crisis on top of crisis — from inflation to logistical problems to changing consumer behaviors. The pandemic didn’t help much to resolve the tensions between physical and digital retail. It did however, create a greater need for firms to develop omnichannel strategies as consumers continue to show up in new channels. 

In fact, McDuff predicted that in the future, shoppers won’t be as concerned about whether they are dressing for an in-person event or the digital version, rather that they just want to look good wherever they go. Same goes for their avatar. 

“The industry itself is growing and this is just another market that designers can address and it’s more opportunity for everyone,” she explained. “So, it’s not necessarily going to change physical fashion. It’s increasing the field.” 

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The Natori brand, meanwhile, said 2021 was monumental, both in terms of revenues and because it marks 45 years as a privately held, family-owned company.

“It’s very exciting in terms of the future,” the designer said. “It’s definitely very challenging times, in retail. We’ve had to pivot; we’ve had to adjust. But we feel really good about the future and the position we’re in to go to the next chapter. And it’s exactly these kinds of initiatives where we feel we’re evolving, transforming the company, to be relevant for the next 45 years. So we’re excited. And I think the best is yet to come.”

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