By  on February 6, 2007

Refinery29, the popular Web site devoted to reporting about independent retailers and designers, has launched a shopping component. And with magazines blurring the lines between editorial and commerce, and e-commerce sites offering designer labels and fashion advice, perhaps it was only a matter of time.

"We spotlighted stores and designers and products, and people started wanting to buy them," said Philippe von Borries, creative director of Refinery29. "We never intended to be retailers. We're just facilitating the business for those designers we believe in."

Designers do their own shipping; Refinery29 gets a percentage of the sales.

Strength in numbers is the rationale behind Refinery29 shops. Each designer on the site could open an online store, but would miss out on the platform's benefits, Van Borries said. "We can drive so much traffic to their stores," he said. "There is a benefit for retailers that they're together with other stores that appeal to the same demographic."

Refinery29, which averages 700,000 page views per month, is projecting sales of $3 million next year for the shops, said Justin Stefano, executive director.

Visitors to the shops area of the Web site find the floor plan of a mall, albeit a virtual mall. Each of the 13 boutiques — Steven Alan, In God We Trust, Freemans Sporting Club, Eskell, Seize sur Vingt, Groupe 16sur20, Oak, Angie Keefer, Mick Margo, Lyell, Lisa Levine, Matter and Shelly Steffee — has its own location and store size. Clicking on a designer's store on the map opens an informational page with a description of the products. The amount of merchandise that is for sale varies. On a recent visit, Oak had seven items and Lyell had 23. Prices range from $29 for a Calida camisole at Mick Margo to a Shelly Steffee zippered tunic jacket for $435.

"Each store can add more products and we can add more stores," said von Borries, who was an editor at the Globalist, an online political magazine, before launching Refinery29 with five other people. "We want to expand to 50 stores in the next six months. We have very big plans for e-commerce."

An outlet store planned for the site will liquidate merchandise for small companies. "Designers and retailers kept coming to us with their overstock," Stefano said. "They're too small for the discount chains."The criteria for choosing designers and shops for the online mall is the same as it is for editorial coverage. "The concept and approach must have legs, and while their collections can be small, we look for a strong aesthetic that suggests something new and of interest," von Borries said, adding that Refinery29's editorial content is independent of shops' e-commerce.

Refinery29, which was funded privately, has been sustained by advertising revenue until now. "We work with interactive agencies," Stefano said. "We just ran a big campaign for Nexxus hair products."

With no traditional fashion training, von Borries and Stefano have been free to pursue an evolving business model. "Our ambitions for e-commerce are really high," von Borries said. Stefano added that their backgrounds "allowed us to see the landscape in a way outsiders can't."

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