From Katrina to Talamasca
Oddly enough, Ginny Talamasca's appearance today in New World Notes was made possible by the greatest natural disaster to hit the United States this year. After Hurricane Katrina raked its way across the Gulf Coast, Second Life Residents launched a number of in-world relief efforts; one of them involved a lottery in our virtual New Orleans, with all ticket sales going to benefit Katrina's victims via the American Red Cross. For one of the prizes, I offered a screenshot and a short writeup on this blog. But rather than use his winning ticket on himself, George Backbite coyly sent me to the clothing emporium of Ginny Talamasca with instructions to take a screenshot of her as a gift from him.
Which is how, by pure double-barreled happenstance, I ended up meeting a fashion entrepeneur who makes a real income from her virtual clothing sales-- when she's not studying, that is, to find a better cure for cancer.
"When I came into Second Life," Ginny tells me, "many of my friends told me 'I Wish I could find this or I wish I could find that', clothing that was a bit more wearable but that still had real-world detail to it." Her avatar is an impossibly slender blonde with emerald eyes and a jeweled crown, constantly arranging her slim limbs into provocative poses (she models the clothes she sells.)
Inventing a new way to use "prim" building blocks to enhance clothing designs, she launched her own fashion line, and in three months since inception, earns the L$ equivalent of $2000-3000 a month, she says. Her current bestseller is the Noel Holiday Ballgown, a lustrous affair of red silk and white feathery trim. "I think that the holidays bring about a lot of cheer and a lot of virtual 'retail therapy'," she says, speculating on its success. The secret to her general success is a real life background in retail.
"My father owns a couture jewelry store, so I was raised around retail/fashion retail... you have to know your products inside and out and the technical side of it too." With that in hand, "If you can create a brand loyalty you only have to do minimal marketing. This means less wasted rent, less heartache, and all-around reward for you and your customers."
Then there's the reward for helping find a better treatement for cancer. "I am a student, but I have finished my work for my honor's thesis-- biochemistry and biomechanics." She giggles. "A bit of an odd dichotomy no?"
"Oh yes. And I wasn't quite expecting 'dichotomy' to come out of your chat window."
Because up to then, her dialog has largely involved a lot of "LOL" and "you're too much fun!" and even the occasional "::winKZ::"
"A great many things come out of my chat window, Hamz!" she informs me.
And so they do, especially after I ask her to explain her graduate studies.
"My thesis treats potential alterations for chemotherapeutics identifying specific marker proteins on cancer cells and constructing auto-immune factors that attach to them," Ginny explains. "Those factors can then be chemically synthesized and put on chemotherapeutics making them direct-target interface drugs no more mass chemo-bombing the entire body. Only harmful tissue would or could be affected."
"Basically," I venture, after understanding a fourth of what she just said, "you're trying to help find a cure for cancer."
"There are all sorts of cures. I'm trying to better those treatments. Make them less invasive. Less harmful."
"OK, so you sell lingerie, ballroom gowns, and the latest fashions in an online world, so you can complete your studies to find a better cure for cancer?"
"Actually," she says, "all of the money I've made to date, other than paying various [land ownership] tier fees, I've donated to charity. I don't use it to live on, though I refer to it as my real life job. And as far as my plans after college? I'd love to go back into jewelry."
"What about the curing cancer stuff though?"
"I need a bit of that," she says agreeably. "I'd love to cure cancer. I feel like maybe one day I'll have been a part of it in some way. But I'm a bit too soft to do that sort of work for too long. Case studies ruin my psyche."
I wonder aloud if this means she's independently wealthy.
"A bit, yes. And I sell gemstones and jewelry. In a venture capital sort of way."
"This is starting to get a bit hard to believe. Curing cancer and selling jewelry and donating all her SL money to charity?"
Ginny just laughs. "You can believe it or not, Mr. Ripley. But that's the beauty of SL. You never know who you'll come across." She runs off a list of people she's met in-world, sometimes making their acquaintance later offline. "Famous makeup artists… using their trade to cash in virtually," she begins. "Real estate investors, of course… One of my dearest friends is a bored millionaire who spends his days in here. I've met people who couldn't disclose their military jobs, but who had to go away, for 2-3 weeks at a time.
"This is a game that touches many, many lives. It's why it intrigues me."
And that's how I came to Ginny Talamasca, and a small write-up and a screenshot became quite a bit more.