Of a Kind expands beyond stuff that's, well, "of a kind"

By Erin Griffith , written on November 30, 2012

From The News Desk

The name, Of a Kind, pretty much says it all. The bootstrapped two-year-old online boutique specializes in exclusive, limited edition goods from up-and-coming designers. It's always been a darling of the design world, precisely because of the exclusivity and curation behind its goods and its charming editorial features.

But there's a bit of a problem with the premise of curated, limited edition goods when you're a startup wanting to scale. That being, you can't. As I've written before, human curation just doesn't scale, precisely because it requires humans. Of a Kind's projected revenue for this year is $800,000, which is modest but respectable for what's essentially been a bootstrapped three-woman operation. But with a high newsletter open rate (38 percent), and revenue in the last quarter surpassing total revenue last year, the company is picking up steam. Founders Claire Mazur and Erica Cerulo realized their site's brand and relationships could translate to a bigger business -- which is what they're embarking on now.

That plan is essentially to become the back end for designers who primarily deal their goods in person. The current Of a Kind asks small designers to produce custom items for the site, which it pairs with its editorial, driven by Cerulo, a former editor at Lucky magazine and Details. The designers are typically in the stage of growth where they're too big for marketplaces like Etsy, but they haven't quite hit the big time selling to a national chain like, say, Anthropologie.

Of a Kind's 35,000 email subscribers learn about a new designer that they may shop from beyond Of a Kind's exclusive sale. Mazur and Cerulo realized they should capture those sales, too. Meanwhile, the designers are more concerned with getting their items into bricks and mortar boutiques than they are about finding distribution online.

Which is where Of a Kind Marketplace comes in. Or will. It's a back-end infrastructure to allow designers to simply list their items; eventually Of a Kind will offer analytics, group warehousing, and media buying. On the front end, called, Of a Kind Collections, it's a shoppable store with a unified shopping cart that goes beyond things that are "of a kind."

I've seen other businesses aiming to improve upon what Etsy has built, offering a less chaotic, more digestible version of the handmade online marketplace. The problem is, as has been harped upon incessantly in the blogosphere of late, it is so, so hard to structure a marketplace. Of a Kind has a few advantages in place already -- a hungry audience of buyers in 60 countries who love the editorial voice, and relationships with 150 designers needing a home online. Designers using the beta version of Collections report that they've sold a month's worth of goods in days on Of a Kind's platform, Mazur and Cerulo say. Current beta testers include Dusen Dusen, Ace & Jig, Toujours Toi Family Affairs and Wren.

The idea will be to take a cut of these sales in the same way any marketplace does, while providing designers the customer service, storefront, and marketing. Currenly Of a Kind's revenue comes from a sale cut that's smaller than that of wholesale for the designers.

That's not the site's only source of income. The company has done a few branded sales as well. For example, the company collaborated with Apothic wines and LA Designer Clare Vivier to make leather wine tags (essentially, cool versions of the cheesy wine glass charms your mom uses) that double as hairbands. At $20 each, the batch of 500 quickly sold out, and the revenue boost from Apothic was split between the designer and Of a Kind.

The Collections marketplace is in beta now with plans to officially launch in the Spring. The company is meeting with investors to discuss raising its first institutional capital for a proper roll-out.