Some people will look back at the time they spent in lockdown and have only memories of artisanal bread they baked to show for it. Antonio Krezic used his to develop what may be one of the most innovative ways to combine shopping for menswear and gaming imaginable.
As the co-founder of Poplin & Co., Krezic and his team have spent the last several years creating one of the most colourful, stylish and affordable collections of short-sleeve printed shirts I’ve ever come across.
(Disclosure: I previously wrote about Poplin on Swagger a few years ago and was gifted a shirt to try for myself. I honestly love it and can’t wait for the weather to get hot enough in Toronto to put it back into my rotation.)
Available both online and through select retailers, Poplin offers a balance between comfort and sophistication that predated what most guys are now craving amid the pandemic. Instead of a “crazy guy” Hawaiian shirt, think of an elegant button up with florals, stripes or patterns that you don’t typically see in major department stores.
Like many brands, of course, Poplin & Co. has had to weather the rough retail ride that was brought on by COVID-19. Instead of simply over-investing in online advertising, however, Krezic decided to do something completely different: develop a “gamified” virtual apparel store that you shop by pretending you’re in a tropical oasis.
The game, Paradise Island, made its debut recently for direct download via Poplin & Co.’s web stie, and this month it will also be available through STEAM, otherwise known as one of the most popular video game distribution platforms of all time.
“I was going through the fatigue of being indoors and being secluded and not being able to take vacations, and eventually watching everything there is to watch on Netflix,” Krezic told Menswhere. “I thought it would be interesting to give people a virtual vacation, where they could feel like they were going to Bahamas and could explore the coral reef and wildlife.”
People who play Paradise Island can not only take a walk on the virtual beach. They can also look at sculptures that show Poplin & Co.’s Spring/ Summer 21 collection of printed camp-collar shirts, shorts, button-down shirts, and knit tees.
Much like browsing in a physical or traditional online store, you can look at the clothes from all angles and access their descriptions, images and sizes. Unlike those kinds of stores, however, Paradise Island also sets you on a scavenger hunt where you can find treasure chests that give coupon codes to buy the clothes on the Poplin & Co. site.
Unlike most people who launch their own fashion company, Krezic had the perfect background to take Paradise Island from idea to execution. He had worked for gaming companies before and was well-versed in 3D modelling. The whole effort, he said, was completed within five months. This includes original music he created for the game.
“I was thinking about how the brand we created is really for regular dudes, who are often gamers. It’s a lot of men in their 30s, early 40s as well as the younger generation,” he said. “Releasing this on a platform like Steam opened up a new door for me to access a new audience which I already knew liked our products.”
It’s possible, though, that Paradise Island could create an inviting avenue for a secondary — but highly influential — audience. This is not a first-person shooter game, for instance. I could easily imagine couples playing Paradise Island, with wives or girlfriends enjoying their partner look through the Poplin collection the way they might come along for an in-person shopping trip.
Paradise Island is a good example of how a relatively young brand like Poplin is taking a novel approach to standing out from competitors and getting noticed by consumers lost in a sea of digital fashion choices. It’s also a way — through viewership and other engagement stats — of providing the company with ongoing intelligence about its most valuable customers and their preferences.
“We’re really data nerds here, so we’ll look at everything,” Krezic said. “But for now, this is really a way of taking people through the story of our collection.”