So there is a sense of irony that it took Red Wing Shoes, a 117-year-old footwear brand, to launch one of the most innovative metaverse activations — one that could have longstanding benefits in the real world.
Today, the Minnesota-based company unveiled the “Builder’s Exchange Program,” an industry-first initiative that brings together virtual and real-world builders to address the troubling skills gap in the U.S.
Teaming up with Roblox, the brand created the Red Wing Buildertown experience, where users can build virtual homes by collecting materials and consulting with the BuilderTown tradespeople via the digital platform. For every tiny home built on Roblox, a donation from Red Wing will be given to Settled, a St. Paul, Minn.-based organization that helps house the homeless via tiny homes.
According to Red Wing, as more virtual homes are built in the metaverse, more will be built in the real world.
Beyond the philanthropic aspect, Red Wing chief marketing officer Dave Schneider said the company has another purpose in mind for this activation. “The premise of this is we want people to realize that there are viable career paths in the skilled trades,” he said. “Too often in society we deem blue-collar work as, you know, not as significant as white-collar work. That’s something we’ve been seeking to challenge for the past several years.”
Schneider noted that there are roughy 50 million people building on the Roblox platform on any given day, and many of them are in the younger demographics. So Red Wing has an opportunity to educate the next generations of workers about potential career paths.
Those workers are indeed needed. According to estimates, for every five skilled trades workers leaving the trades, only one is joining.
And for Red Wing, that growing skills gap is concerning. “I always say, it’s not all altruistic for us,” said Schneider. “It impacts our business. We sell a lot of work boots to consumers. And so as that industry goes, so goes our business.”
To demonstrate the synergies between virtual and real-world building, Red Wing brought together Roblox community developer Naomi Clemens (a.k.a. @CoffeeNerd) and general contractor Kemi Ndolo to turn one of Clemens’ designs into a home — and documented it in a video on YouTube. To make the project happen, Red Wing also recruited help from another partner: BuildStrong Academy, a nonprofit training program based in Denver.
“Our ambition around this is that ultimately we create that connective tissue between the real world and the virtual world,” said Schneider. “It’s those two worlds coming together, all the while building tiny homes, all the while creating appeal and interest in the skilled trades, all the while doing something good.”