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Once upon a time, Melissa London took a leave of absence from Cravath, Swaine & Moore in New York to start an Internet venture that would address her “recurring whine” — the trouble petite women have in finding clothes that fit. Six months later, itsybits.com — “for petite fashionistas and the people who love them” — is up and running with an online magazine and clothing business. And judging by the (admittedly early) results of the site’s first two-plus months of business, a loyal audience does exist. But it did not happen the way London expected. The original plan for the site had been for a standard e-commerce business in which itsybits would have been responsible for purchasing its inventory from various fashion companies. But when the stock market’s enthusiasm for e-commerce began to wane, London found potential investors skittish about the inherent risk in devoting so much capital to inventory. Under pressure to develop a new model in time for the site’s scheduled May launch, London and her vice president for business development Allison Winn came up with a plan under which itsybits would simply link to clothiers’ online retail sites in return for a cut of the sales that came from itsybits. Their agreements with retailers call for a percentage of sales between 5 and 20 percent, depending on the company. Disaster averted, London popped champagne as itsybits went live on May 4, and the site quickly registered about 50,000 hits a day. Still without advertising, the site now receives about 100,000 hits a day and a respectable 90,000 unique users per month (as opposed to multiple visits from the same people). “Looking back, I’m so glad it happened. The model is so low-cost that we can really keep it going without a lot of cash,” London said. “That’s the beauty of being an Internet entrepreneur — there are no set rules on how you run your business.” With the streamlined business model, the itsybits staff has remained lean, essentially London, Winn and the magazine’s editor, plus technology and business consultants and freelance writers. London said she and Winn chip in to write copy from time to time as a break from their other duties. The shopping portion of itsybits includes links to retailers such as J. Crew, Max Studio and Bisou-Bisou, while the magazine includes sections with names like “style,” “beauty,” “bodyworks,” “corner office,” “heart,” and “aisle DOs.” Current articles range from the return of tie-dye and the Gap’s introduction of extra-short pants, to short summer haircuts and why petites have the advantage when it comes to courtship. The site has been mentioned in publications like In Style, Self, Marie Claire, and Women’s Wear Daily and on the Web site Oxygen.com. And London said she has been heartened — and relieved — by the dozens of e-mails a week she gets thanking her for starting the site. “OK,” she said, describing her reaction, “I was actually right when I thought there was a market out there that wanted to see this.” NEW AVENUE This fall, London plans to launch an online storefront to be known as Avenue P, in which itsybits will cull the petite offerings of numerous retailers so a visitor can choose a store from a menu and see all of that store’s items for petites at one time. She has also had preliminary discussions about a print magazine geared toward petites. Current estimates have itsybits achieving profitability by January 2002. “I am still not getting paid,” said London, who happened to begin her leave of absence just before law firm associate salaries exploded. “But we’re getting closer to the point where there’s light at the end of the tunnel.”

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