20 of a kind

Here's a new, untapped market: Offering wealthy Internet shoppers limited editions of luxury goods.

By Lindsay Blakely, Business 2.0 Magazine

(Business 2.0 Magazine) -- Fashion designers and high-end retailers speak of "editing" their collections, a way of signaling exclusivity and artistry as much as commerce. Web retailers, which often thrive on vast selections and overnight shipping, have stood for the opposite -- until now.

Enter, a London-based luxury e-tailer whose editors offer an ever-changing mix of 20 limited-edition items. Need a $21,000 chess set or a $6,000 kimono bedspread? You won't find 20ltd's versions anywhere else.

The site is the brainchild of Jolyon Fenwick and Marcus Husselby, former ad executives who worked on campaigns for Asprey, Fortnum & Mason, Land Rover, and other luxury brands. The startup showcases the work of trendy or up-and-coming designers, made in small batches exclusively for 20ltd.

The company treats its pricey collection like a museum exhibit, refreshing it every six weeks, or sooner if items are sold out. "The new luxury customer no longer simply defaults to brand names. They want the 'real deal' -- the chair, the necklace, the motorcycle that the cognoscenti in those fields would buy," Fenwick says.

With the global luxury retail market now topping $1 trillion, the field seems wide open. But the founders had a tough time getting top-notch designers to work with their unknown website. They did find investors, however, working their luxury-brand connections to get meetings.

And after they raised about $300,000, Fenwick and Husselby built a working prototype of their stylish site to show designers how their work would be "curated" online. It took two years, but 20ltd signed on partners like French luggage company Long-champ, Italian fashion designer Emilio Pucci, and Alabama-based Confederate Motor, which makes a $79,000 motorcycle called the Hellcat. That helped the founders raise the additional $1 million they needed to launch the 20ltd site in April.

The majority of the 4,500 daily visitors to 20ltd are browsers. Still, 25 percent of the first batch of items sold out; the company even attracted one die-hard fan who laid out $155,000 to buy 19 of the 20 products.

20ltd keeps about 40 percent of each sale, and Fenwick says it made a profit after its first month. "Limited production is sexy and appealing," says Milton Pedraza, CEO of the Luxury Institute, a research firm that studies the buying habits of the wealthiest U.S. residents.

Even more important, "the Web has become the most important channel for wealthy consumers," Pedraza says. Top of page

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