By Bixyl Shuftan
I recently interviewed Alejandra Jumanya. She is known on Second Life as the owner and clothes designer for the Wetherby's store, with the display name of Mrs. W. But what makes her time on the Grid even more notable is that she is able to come inworld and operate a business despite her real-life troubles in her home country of Venezuela.
She went on to say things have been rough lately, "About 10 days ago I made the resolution to close my store. ... the past few months have been specially rough for me in real-life. Things have changed drastically, 2 years ago you could exchange $1 for Bs.4,30. Today you exchange $1 for Bs.800."
"That's quite a value drop," I commented.
"So my priorities have shifted," Alejandra stated, "Before I went on to close the store and open a new (one) ... more refined... with less objects, with higher prices.. and paying clientele... I thought maybe I should give it another shot at getting a bit more sales and trying not to close my shop. I was accepted in the SLF&O group, which has like 65,000 customers. And I made a plan to give (the store) a real second chance. If by December things don't change, then I will close and open a new shop."
"It is, I think, one day in Second Life, is like the equivalent to one week in real-life." She laughed a little,"One week in Second Life equal to one month in real-life, one year in SL is like ten in real-life ... regarding work and friendships."
"How did you find out about Second Life?" I asked. Alejandra answered, "On TV, there was an article on Anshe Chung, the virtual land baroness. I thought it would be fun. This is actually my third avatar. The first one I got, I tried a fox costume and I couldn't find a way to take it off. The second time I couldn't get out of the newbie zone." "And the third time was the charm?" I asked. "Exactly," she answered. "I met some friends and together we were able to get rid of our newbie looks and into our trashy ones!"
"Why do you say they were 'trashy?' " I asked her. She answered, "Most clothes were trashy 7 years ago. It was hard to find nice everyday clothes that made you look nice, elegant, simple and yet, beautiful. That's why I started the store and the 'freebie of the day.' I created a four story building with 8 mega prims, I would send a notice to a fashion group, rez my building in a sandbox and let it there for 4 hours until it was sent back. That's how I got money to pay for my first week of rent. I seriously didn't think I would last a month."
"So you found mesh clothes a challenge?" I questioned. Her answer, "It is, I have no formal background as a designer, so to suddenly start working with Marvelous Designer, Zbrush, Maya, Mudbox, Rhino Gold and photoshop amongst other programs it's hard. You will always be learning something new or a new way to do things faster and nicer."
"So what have been some of your more noted designs?" I asked next. Alejandra replied, "I made over 3000 designs so far, it would be almost impossible to choose. But I do have some personal favorites. It has been a wonderful journey."
Alejandra then began to describe some of her real-life difficulties, "The most difficult thing I find, when it comes to designing is to separate yourself from real-life and what is going on. I remember vividly almost two years ago, I was designing a beautiful red gown, with lace. So feminine and exquisite. While outside my window I could hear people screaming profanities at the National Guard Police, gunshots, tear gas coming into my home. My daughter in her crib, sleeping quietly. I sat there for a few seconds, not knowing if i should cry, keep designing or do something. I finally snapped awake, took my daughter and sat in a mattress we had set in the hallway floor between the bedrooms we had set up for emergencies. It is not safe to be near windows. Sat there with the baby sleeping in my arms. Once the gunshots were over, I put her back in her crib and I sat back in my computer. After all that, how could I go back in the zone and create something beautiful? That's the hardest part of designing."
It took me some moments to respond, "That's quite an experience." "It is, indeed," she answered, "I normally take about six to eight hours waiting in the street every Saturday to buy food at the supermarket, and not what I want, but what I am so lucky to find. So, when I get home, I am tired, both physically and emotionally to come to Second Life and finish that cute little black dress with large logo embossed dress i was working on the previous night. But after a few hours, some warm tea and music, I am ready to start working."
"That sounds pretty tiring," I commented, then asked, "Have you met many others from your country in Second Life?" "I belong to some Venezuelan groups," Alejandra answered, "and met a friend named Nazirah Avro, she is an amazing singer!!! But I think life is so hard here, we (Venezuelans) try to blend with people from other nationalities to be able feel and act like any other person here in SL."
"Interesting about the singer," I then switched to a topic related to her real-life, "You mentioned the inflation rate of your country earlier. Was that making it more difficult to do business in Second Life?
"It certainly changes things" she told me, "You should never negotiate in a position of weakness, the political and economical turns Venezuela is having in real-life, make you stand in a position of weakness. Making SL money was a game for me a few years back, today (it) is the difference between my daughter having a Christmas present or not. So I work harder, but also, I do it for the money, when before I did it just because I liked it. That is stressful. Basically what I do, is gather all my sales, and buy in America things that are very hard to get here, for instance baby shampoo, Tylenol, deodorant, sometimes toilet paper, clothes and toys for my daughter and ship them over to myself here, and do it again next year. That is quite stressful."
My next question was, "Do you ever mention Second Life to your friends in real life?" Alejandra's answer was, "My husband knows, so does my best friend and my mother. But it's not safe to tell people you make money in US currency, because others might get the wrong impression and you end up in a express kidnapping or even worst, one of your relatives."
My response was to wince, "Ouch, that's something we in North America don't usually think about, except worrying about our kids."
"Things are insane here," she told me, "For instance, Jails are handled by the prisoners. They move the drugs, kidnappings, from jail. They also have complete power inside the facility, only letting guards come into certain areas. Some prisoners are 'fritos' which means they are weak and they must pay their PRAN (jail leader) a royalty every week if they want to stay alive. Some jails are so big they have three or four prans. One of this prans got an early release recently for 'good behaviour,' He slaughtered the other two prans days before he got out and left his brother in charge of the prison. Now his brother gets married and throws an spectacular party inside prison. Prisons have nightclubs, booze, even pools."
"That's hard to imagine here in North America," I told her.
"Oh yes, things are crazy here," Alejandra went on, "My friend's neighbor goes out to the bakery for fresh bread, two blocks from his house. He finds a friend and they stay to talk. Two kids in a motorcycle tried to rob his friend and he tells the kids they need to listen to the Lord, because the Lord died for them! and they shot my friend's neighbor right in the neck, he tried running away from them and died in the middle of the street. They made it very clear they don't like to be lectured."
"Two brothers, 22 and 28 years old, are in a McDonalds with their kids and wives. They came from the christening of one of their kids, the youngest was talking to his dad who lived in another city. Two guys came into McDonalds to rob them. They brothers got nervous because their dad was listening on the other end, the thugs saw that and they shot them both, one was killed the other one on the way to the hospital. Their dad was devastated."
"Things like that happen everyday. A lady left her home at 2 AM to make a line to buy food, she carried with her Bs.2000 (roughly US$2,5) to buy government priced food for her three kids who she left alone at home. On the way out a kid tries to rob her but she recognizes the kid and says 'Oscar, I know your mom, I knew you since you were a kid.' In the struggle, the kid shoots her in the arm (aiming to the heart) and then on her jaw (aiming to her brain), she played dead and he left. She crawls back home, wakes up her kids, they call an ambulance that doesn't come, so they put the agonizing woman in a motorcycle and take her to the near medical center, with her jaw in several pieces. I truly hope she was able to recover."
I was a bit of a loss for words, "Sounds like quite a mess. Any sign of improvement at all?
Alejandra simply answered, "I hope so."
After some moments of quiet, I broke the silence, "Well, I certainly hope that improves for you ... assuming all goes well, what are your future plans for the store?"
"I'm not sure," she answered, "Things are changing drastically fast here. What I would like to do is move to America with my family and start my own organic makeup line, which I already do in real-life here. I make makeup from scratch using only organic fruits, veggies and minerals I extract from the soil myself and process at home. I have been working on this for years now, and hopefully when we live in America I will be able to open my own makeup line. I guess I will always play Second Life, because I have so many friends here and I truly love designing, so I am not going anywhere, no matter where in the world I live."
"Well, hope those go as planned," I then asked one last question, "Was there anything else that you wanted to add?"
Alejandra answered, "I would like to thank you for this opportunity, and all my customers, thank you for your support and love. You can join our group and get the freebie of the day here, or come visit us at our mainstore http://maps.secondlife.com/secondlife/Pergola/158/9/22."
It was about this time the interview came to a close, "Thank you again Bixyl."
Alejandra's store is still running at Pergola (158/9/22), has a page on Marketplace, and has it's own blog at http://wetherbysfashion.blogspot.com .