SLentrepreneur Profile: Swaffette Firefly, Owner and Founder SF Designs

January 6th, 2010  |  Published in SL Entrepreneur Magazine, SL Entrepreneur Profiles  |  5 Comments

Swaffette Firefly, Second Life fashion designer and entrepreneur, was nominated as SLENTRE’s 2009 SLentrepreneur of the Year by the 2008 winner, Mimi Juneau. SF Designs has been around since 2004 and we’re excited to count Ms. Firefly among our 2009 award nominees. SL residents will be able to vote for the winner later this month.

Swaffette was kind enough to take time out of a very busy holiday sales season to answer a few questions.

How long have you been in SL? Why did you come?
I came to Second Life in the summer of 2004 – I was an infant teacher but as soon as the summer break came I was looking for ways to create online which had become a hobby of mine – I had been creating on a vrml based 3d world when a friend from there introduced me to Second Life and from that minute, I was hooked.

What Second Life business activities do you engage in?
My business, SF Design,  has been supplying clothes to the men and women of Second Life since Autumn 2004. Because I noted a lack of men’s clothing  when I entered Second Life, the men’s fashion line has been my priority, but the female line and shoes and boots soon followed. Designing, marketing and customer care takes up all my time in SL now.

What is your RL profession?
I was an infant teacher for 22 years and left for a variety of reasons in 2007 – a deciding factor was Second Life. The business was demanding more and more of my time – not just creating, but customer care and marketing. After 3 years of building, I really didn’t want to lose the business – I knew it needed my full time attention.

Discuss your SL business, business model, profit margin, who
are your primary clients, monthly expenses, etc.

I had no business experience before coming to Second Life  and I’m still learning.  Luckily, I have a business partner (Jamir Jimenez) who helps me with the daily running of over 80 satellite stores – making sure we are up to date on rent , checking out prospective places, checking sales, leaving me able to concentrate on customers and designing.
I’ve had considerable help from friends and colleagues in Second Life who have helped me consider things like marketing more carefully. I’m always keen to hear customer feedback – even if  it’s negative – because it’s helped me develop and improve my fashion line.
We have always aimed to keep prices reasonable even though hours of work go into the clothes.  I’ve always hand placed prims – not used a skirt machine or script – and always make my own alpha masks for the designs.  I think this is important to keep the company brand unique.
I started creating primarily to fulfill the needs of the people of SL so as their needs have changed so have our fashion lines – with more emphasis on the business and high street fashion lines.  We have tried to keep up with the ever-changing face of Second Life in other ways too – embracing flexi and sculpties into our designs and always trying to bring something new. I’m very wary of saying we were the first to do anything as SL is so vast it’s almost impossible to know, but we certainly were one of the first to use the skirt layer for men’s jackets back in 2005.  And more recently, the back flap to get rid of that tight issue with jackets.
We have a wide range of clientele with many wedding groups coming to us for formal wear (we work closely with a few wedding planners), club owners coming to us for outfits for their dancers and businesses coming to us for business wear.
I employ my PA Jamir Jimenez , my shop floor manager Melinda Jensen and several models and I own 2 sims and a large part of a mainland sim – so overhead is high, including advertising , wages, land tier, satellite rentals, magazine ads and fashion shows.  Profit fluctuates depending on the time of the year.  This spring and summer was a hard one for many of us designers and I often wondered if SF Design would survive.  But we updated our store, brought out many new lines and high quality free items to attract new customers and this winter is looking good so far.

Is your business growing?
It’s definitely growing in stock and growing in execution – sales fluctuate greatly in Second Life.  Summers tend to be slow and last summer was particularly bad – however, things are very much back on track this season and we’re happy we seem to be reaching a lot of new customers as well as returning ones.

Does your SL business impact or influence your RL?
Very much so.   Especially when I was teaching, it was very hard to do both well.  I was trying to sort out customers from overnight IMs before going to work and I take my hat off to all the amazing designers who are balancing SL work around their real life jobs as it’s not easy. Second Life business is 24 /7 – because of all the different time zones involved, it means you have customers round the clock. I also have a family who like to see me occasionally! It’s important I find time for them. I try to keep Sundays for “real life” but often end up having to come in for some reason.

Any RL skills translate into SL business?
Unfortunately when I was at school there were no computers or graphics lessons – sounds archaic, doesn’t it!  But I’ve always loved art and been involved in drawing and creating in some way or form. I developed an interest in using the computer to create when I started teaching ICT to children.

What is the most promising industry for new business in SL?
That’s a difficult one, but I’d say anything that is innovative and has room for development and which takes into consideration the people who use and play in Second Life.

What types of businesses shouldn’t come into SL and why not?
I know a lot of people panicked when the biab (business in a box) enterprises started – and I can sympathize when I see you can buy just about anything on xstreet – templates, shadows, creases and textures.  So there has been a huge influx of  ‘designers’ and stores. But the more I work here the more I feel there is a place for everyone – it really makes you consider your own business: how can you improve it and keep your customers. Competition is healthy. The only businesses I totally disagree with being here are those built on ripped and stolen content.

What is your opinion on RL business in SL.  How will it
affect the community?

I must admit I thought “that’s the end then” when I heard that real life fashion designers were entering Second Life. But surely, the important thing is to know your market – how can you address your customers needs if you don’t know the customers?  And the best way to know them is to spend time with them – doing what they do.  Some of these RL businesses came and went quickly.  They didn’t succeed because they didn’t know their customers or Second Life. The ones that survive are the ones that do that.

What are the biggest mistakes SL entrepreneurs make?
Some ‘wannabe’ SL entrepreneurs make the mistake of thinking this is an easy or quick way to make money – it’s not.  It means hard work, time and effort – the same as any real life business. Again, it’s important to remember your customers.  There’s no point in making a new product if it’s not what the customers want.

Any predictions about the future for SL? New technology?
Growth? New potential uses?
I’m continually amazed by the development of content in SL by the ‘players’ and I don’t see it stopping any time soon.  It’s especially great to see artists and musicians using it to reach a wider audience, language schools and education using SL, charity fund raising and more recently, I heard a U.S. hospital was using it to teach their staff how to evacuate in case of fire.  I don’t see this ending any time soon.  Hopefully we’ll see more and more exciting developments –  it’s all up to us; that’s the most exciting thing.

What does having a Second Life give you?
Freedom to develop talents in a way I never thought possible, to learn every day, to meet people from all over the world and to be in control of my own business –  it’s wonderful!

Is there an element of fantasy or escape?
Definitely.  That’s where it started – an escape from RL work and stress to a place where I could be what I felt like .  A place to explore, relax in and create.  Now I sometimes need to escape from SL!  But it’s still a wonderful learning platform for me and I’ve met some great people.

Will SL change the landscape of business as we know it
today?  Will it change any landscape – cultural, social, etc?
I think SL is already changing the landscape of business in the same way the internet and technology is changing it. It means more competition, which encourages change and development. In these days of recession, it has provided an opportunity to develop skills – which in the RL business world would be hampered by high overheads, restrictions and regulations. It gives us opportunitie to move out of our comfort zones and explore new ventures.

SF Design Mainstore:


  1. Pie Psaltery says:

    January 10th, 2010at 5:00 pm(#)

    Swaff is one of the most gracious, charming and talented people I have had the privilege of knowing in SL. The sheer longevity of her business in an environment as fluctuating as SL Fashion would be reason enough for her nomination, but it is her relentless creativity that always humbles me and reminds me of what is best in SL.

    Congratulations on your nomination, Swaffie!!

  2. SLENTRE.COM» SL Entrepreneur 2009: And the nominees are… says:

    January 27th, 2010at 2:38 pm(#)

    […] Swaffette Firefly Patty Cores Honour McMillan Peter Stindberg Ayesha Lytton John Zelnik Steve Cropper Xion Hax Lissa Maertens Truman Laryukov, aka Professor Larry Mullen Syd Chase Iki Ikarus […]

  3. Max Gabreski says:

    January 29th, 2010at 5:44 pm(#)

    Swaff has been a SL friend of mine for long, and I have always appreciated her talent as well as her generous personality. She really deserves to be the 2009 SL Entrepreneur.

  4. Poppy Wylder says:

    February 8th, 2010at 5:21 am(#)

    Swaffette is my mother and though I have moved away from home this year, I have seen the effort and the amount of work she puts into SF Designs over the last four years. This effort has really not just been focusing on the designing, which I know she loves and would love to have more time to do, but all the other things that you may expect a business owner to pass on to an employee. I’ve seen the time she puts into Customer Service, answering emails for hours on end, which I’m guessing is one of the supporting factors why customers come back, the main one being the wonderful clothes she designs. She’s also built this company from the ground upwards starting with virtually no business experience and certainly this business is still growing. Surely that deserves an entrepreneurial award.

  5. SLENTRE.COM» SLentrepreneur of the Year 2009: And The Winner Is… says:

    March 2nd, 2010at 5:01 pm(#)

    […] Swaffette Firefly is the new 2009 SLentrepreneur of the Year! […]