LONDON - Iris Ventures, the new investor in Allyson Felix's Saysh brand, has added another fast-growing business to its portfolio: Artemest, a platform that connects Italian artisans and manufacturers, with consumers and interior designers.
Artemest was cofounded by the fine jeweler Ippolita Rostagno and Marco Credendino, formerly of Yoox Net-a-porter Group, with the aim of breathing new life into crafts-based businesses large and small.
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Their site sells thousands of high-end, products handmade in Italy ranging from marble kitchenware and Murano glass lamps, to roomy leather armchairs and inlaid wood cabinets.
Iris has invested 15 million euros in the platform, which was founded in 2015 and counts the U.S. as its largest market. The investment chimes with Iris' mission to back "purpose-led, consumer-centric brands and tech-enabled solutions" that enhance people's lives.
Other investors include Olma Luxury Holdings, which also invested in a seed round in 2017. An announcement is expected on Tuesday.
Artemest was founded to showcase the myriad Italian artisanal skills that were fading from view due to the advent of mass market production, and the rise of online shopping.
Italy is estimated to have more than 1.3 million small arts and crafts companies, many of them mom-and-pop businesses, that employ more than 3 million people. According to Rostagno and Credendino, many of these businesses were left behind by the internet boom.
The site wants to do for artisans what Farfetch has done for small, multibrand retailers, taking care of international marketing; offering them a sales platform and digital and client services. Like Farfetch, Artemest does not hold any stock.
The site has also been riding a luxury lifestyle wave: Tabletop and objects for the home were already popular pre-pandemic, but demand accelerated during lockdown, when most people were working, and entertaining, at home.
Sites including Matchesfashion expanded their home offer while creatives including J.J. Martin, Martina Mondadori, Anissa Kermiche all began creating, or adding, objects for the home to their brands and businesses.
Last week Net-a-porter expanded its homeware offer, adding fine art to the mix. It will be breaking into the business through a partnership with the e-commerce platform AP8. Meanwhile, fashion brands such as Versace, Missoni, Fendi and Dior have increased their homeware and furniture offers in recent years.
Montse Suarez, founder and managing partner of Iris Ventures, described Artemest as "the Italian guardian of craftsmanship excellence and creativity." She said the site is giving a community of artisans and small businesses "the ability to preserve their heritage by making it accessible to a global audience."
Inés Ures, partner at Iris Ventures, called Artemest "a mission-driven universe that will support thousands of businesses while providing access to unique items not obtainable before."
She said that Iris would apply its "marketplace and consumer brand-building experience" to Artemest, and help the team build the "Farfetch of high-end craftsmanship."
Similar to Farfetch, the founders' roots are in luxury and retail.
Rostagno, who grew up outside Florence, is an artisan herself and the founder of the jewelry line Ippolita, which has flagships in New York and Chicago, and which sells at retailers including Bloomingdale's.
Credendino, whose background is in business and M&A, worked for Yoox Net-a-porter Group on the corporate and strategy side before setting up Artemest.
Rostagno said she was originally going to call the site Italy.com, so passionate was she to promote the country's artisans who were having trouble surviving in a fast-moving digital world.
"This whole adventure started as a passion project for me. I could see all of the artisans closing their businesses, and I was so disturbed by this fact because I knew the customers were out there," said Rostagno in an interview alongside Credendino.
She said the plan was to aggregate the businesses, "and present them to the rest of the world."
While Credendino was setting up the technology and the logistics side, she was "going around Italy on trains looking for all the little artisans in nooks and crannies. I was telling them, 'There's going to be a website, and we're going to sell your beautiful things.' And some of them looked at me like I had two heads," said Rostagno.
The founders are now working with 1,300 Italian artisans and creators, offering more than 60,000 products to individual customers and interior design professionals worldwide.
They sell across categories such as home and living, décor, art and furniture, and curate the offer and the site's look and feel. Artemest has its own magazine, with articles and profiles of the artisans, interior design features and lush editorial-style shoots.
The founders said the new investment will go toward strengthening the team; further developing the technology, and expanding into global markets "with speed and greater authority."
The initial focus will be on U.S. expansion: Rostagno, who is half-American, knows the market well and believes the U.S. luxury customer has a "deep appreciation" for all things Italian.
Over the next three to four years Artemest will develop markets where it already has a strong presence, such as the U.K., Canada and Asia-Pacific. In Continental Europe, it plans to open localized sites in Spain, France and Germany by the end of the year.
Credendino said they are also exploring physical retail.
"E-commerce is always going to be our core, but in markets where we already have a strong client base we want to be in the community. We want to build physical spaces where we can meet our customers, and invite them to see new collections," he said, adding that the first gallery will open in Manhattan by the end of the year.
The latest investment will support the development of Artemest's services for professional customers, including interior designers, high-end luxury brands, and hospitality partnerships.
The company said it wants to offer "an extremely personalized and best-in-class end-to-end service" to professionals supported by Artemest's team, and tech-enabled tools.
Offering a luxury service is key, according to Credendino, who said clients get the same treatment whether they are buying a set of two Tronc by Charlotte Perriand plates for $570, or a Murano glass chandelier for $74,930.
The look of the site reflects that ethos, with products from the smallest companies given the same amount of space as those from the bigger manufacturers.
The ultimate goal is to expand beyond Italy, tap artisans and craftspeople worldwide, and help them market and sell their designs using Artemest's technology, services and logistics, the founders said.