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Estonian jewelry designer Krista Raak was selling hand-embroidered and embellished necklaces at a small artisan fair in Paris earlier this year when the founders of Boticca.com spotted her work. They invited her to join their new global accessories marketplace, and Raak, itching to showcase her work beyond street fairs and the occasional boutique, agreed.
Three months into the partnership, Raak has brought in around $10,000 in sales (of which she collects 80 percent) and has quit her day job in graphic design to focus full-time on her textile designs. “Until now, I had no idea so many people around the world were interested in my work and what I do,” said Raak.
Boticca.com is an online marketplace for unique, high-end jewelry, handbags and accessories from independent artists around the world. The London-based startup aims to tap into a growing consumer set who seek a personal connection with the creators of the pieces they buy, as evidenced by the site’s tagline: “I’d rather wear a unique story.”
Indeed, venture capitalists believe Boticca has a unique story of its own. The company has just received $2.5 million in Series A funding to expand internationally. The round was led by ISAI, a French super-angel fund led by PriceMinister.com founder Pierre Kosciusko-Morizet, as well as Annoushka Ducas and John Ayton, the founders of Links of London and current owners of Annoushka Jewelry. Other investors include Bobby Yazdani, the Silicon Valley founder and CEO of Saba and an early investor in Google (s goog) as well as Japanese incubator Digital Garage.
The Boticca concept was born two years ago, when then-private-equity specialist Kiyan Foroughi and his girlfriend discovered a designer in a crowded marketplace in Marrakesh and bought several of the woman’s pieces. When Foroughi returned home to Paris, he realized he’d never be able to find her again or recommend her to others.
Foroughi and Co-Founder Avid Larizadeh, a former eBay (s ebay) product manager, launched the site last October. Boticca now represents 180 artisans from 30 countries, and the items on the site range from $20 to $5,000. While the company won’t release its revenue figures, it pins its average cart size at $160. Boticca holds no inventory itself and designers are responsible for shipping their own items. The company takes a 25-percent cut of all sales, or 20 percent if a designer agrees to sell exclusively with the site. And while 25 percent might seem like a hefty cut to the uninitiated, the team says it pales in comparison to the 60- to 70-percent take luxury retailers like Barney’s or Bloomingdale’s (s m) ask for — assuming, of course, a designer can place their wares in the store and meet the large inventory demands of such retailers.
And while the marketplace model is similar to crafting-giant Etsy.com, Boticca is, according to Larizadeh, “a heavily curated environment. It’s all meant to create this special environment, this feeling of discovering items and products that replaces the sense of smell and the sense of visuals you get in the marketplace.” Designers, who hail from Lebanon to the United Kingdom, must be invited to join. Guest curators, such as the editor of Vogue London and international fashion bloggers, are invited to share their favorite pieces on the site’s blog. Larizadeh, Foroughi and their team of seven employees do the majority of the editorial work. But the company plans to use some of the funding to hire a full-time editorial director and expand designer outreach.
Seven months after the launch, the founder’s instincts for both fashion and marketing are proving correct. Growing largely through social media and word of mouth, Boticca is collecting celebrity followers from Gale King and Cameron Diaz. “There is a clearly real market for high-quality, distinct jewelry, bags and accessories that come with a meaningful story,” Larizadeh said. “And the best part is, we are changing lives for these artisans as the same time.”