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StyleOwner lets fashion bloggers be more than a pretty face

Personal style curation is a huge thing online, especially among females. Sites such as Polyvore and Pinterest have become massively popular by allowing users to assemble collages comprised of their favorite clothing items, accessories and beauty products.

These platforms are addictive because they let users express themselves creatively and get positive feedback from other users who dig their personal style. Brands, naturally, are increasingly keen to have their products featured on such sites because of the great sell-through potential they provide. But what if the people who spend hours curating fashion and style products online could make money from the experience as well?

Enter StyleOwner, a new e-commerce platform that lets anyone in the United States create and run an online boutique. Users can customize the decor of their online shops using a variety of templates and fill them up with clothing, accessories and beauty products from over 2,000 StyleOwner brand and retail partners, including Saks 5th Avenue and Nordstrom. The site opened in open beta in early October.

Hours online can equal real money

But the site doesn’t just give users a platform to get social kudos for having great taste — it can be a source of actual income. Store owners get a ten percent cut of everything they sell through their StyleOwner pages. Users can choose to receive their payment in a check, use the money toward buying products on StyleOwner, or donate it to a charity. It’s totally free to own and operate a store.

Examples of StyleOwner stores (click to enlarge)

It’s an interesting departure from most fashion-based social sites, where users have fun but the only ones making money are the site owners and brand partners. “We really take seriously the idea that we are empowering people to become business owners,” StyleOwner founder Joel Weingarten told me in a recent interview. “We’re enabling our users to earn enough money so that it can become a significant business for them. We constantly talk about how important it is for us to create a platform where everyone wins.”

Mixing high tech and high fashion

There’s a lot of complexity underneath StyleOwner’s pretty exterior. On the tech side, Weingarten has serious chops, having worked for years in high tech (previously he taught robotics at the University of Pennsylvania in the Electrical and Systems Engineering Department.) “From a back-end perspective, we spent a lot of time building proprietary technology” that lets the payment and shipping process go smoothly, Weingarten says.

Meanwhile, it’s no small feat to persuade big name luxury brands to allow their products to appear in new stores. Brick-and-mortar boutiques have to prove themselves worthy to designers if they want to sell their wares, as brands are very careful about not sullying or diluting their image. That names such as Alexis Bittar and Lauren Merkin have given the OK for their products to be sold through StyleOwner is a big coup.

“I’ve been amazingly lucky to build a team of people who have real connections in the fashion world,” Weingarten said. For instance, StyleOwner’s president of fashion operations is Michael Kors veteran Jordana Silver, and its chief strategy officer is Tracy Gardner, the former president of J. Crew retail. StyleOwner was founded in January 2010 and has taken on around $2 million in seed funding to date. The company, which is based in New York City and has 11 full-time employees, plans to conduct a formal series A round in the coming months.

Power to the fashion bloggers

StyleOwner shop "Carpe Denim" (click to enlarge)

I think it’s a fantastic idea, and even an empowering one. There’s a growing legion of fashion bloggers out there who have attracted loyal followings just by posting images of the outfits they wear daily — but if those bloggers want to make money, there are not many really natural ways to do it. Ads and product endorsements can pay, but their readers want to see genuine opinions, not shills. With StyleOwner, there is potential for these kinds of online style-setters to make money by doing what they already do: Showcasing their favorite looks. If their readers like what they see enough to buy it, the bloggers get a direct cut.

So far, Weingarten says StyleOwner has seen lots of demand since it launched in open beta last month. The company has been measured in how quickly it has accepted users — “It was important for us to make sure that each of our store owners could have a really great experience,” Weingarten said — but it now has around 1,000 stores and is slowly opening the gate wider to accept new users more quickly. “We’ve been really overwhelmed by the response from the community.” The online fashion landscape is a crowded and fickle place, but StyleOwner has a good chance at becoming part of the in crowd.

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