Catwalks and Runways: Amazon’s Long Journey into Fashion

admin_fortress | Jul 10, 2019

Published in The Marketplace Playbook

Amazon’s Catwalk into Fashion

Pardon me while I take a trip down Amazon memory lane.

Amazon launched in 1995 and sold books. By 1998 they’d added CDs, DVDs, video games and other things that are easily stored and shipped. After that they seemed to explode into every category. If you’re of a certain age you probably remember ever-expanding list of tabs that cluttered the top of Amazon’s homepage.

By the early 2000’s Amazon was selling “Apparel & Accessories”.

According to Moody’s, in 2018 Amazon was set to become the #1 apparel retailer, surpassing Wal-Mart and Macy’s.

In 18 short years Amazon went from being a place you might go to buy your tidy whities along with your Extended Edition DVD of the Lord of the Rings (Fellowship came out in 2001 – and yes that makes me feel old) to a bona fide fashion destination. On the long runway to success, there were many false starts – let’s take a look at some major milestones and see what lessons they’ve learned along the way.

Amazon’s Timeline to Fashion Success

Circa 2000

Amazon Marketplace launches & Amazon launches the Apparel category.

Circa 2009

Amazon acquires Zappos, an online shoe retailer with $1 billion in annual revenue, Amazon’s “first major acquisition” according to Forbes.

Amazon has tried without much success to burnish its shoe offerings in the face of competition from Zappos. “People will go to Amazon to purchase a lot of their core media products and consumer electronics. But it is not thought of in the same light when shopping for apparel, accessories and footwear,” said Sucharita Mulpuru, an analyst at Forrester. – NY Times

Circa 2012

Amazon opens a huge photo studio in the trendy Williamsburg area of Brooklyn with dozens (!) of photo bays where cameras tethered to computers take photos of models in an unending array of outfits.

AMAZON has purchased a 40,000-square-foot studio in New York in a move that sees the online retailer edge closer to achieving its goal of becoming a major fashion destination. – Vogue

They’re also granted a patent for – of all things – taking photos on a white background – a seemingly ludicrous patent since basically everyone does this the same way and their patent adds very little to the state of the art. (Yes I’m a photographer. Yes I’m a snob about it.)

Amazon offers the use of their photography service to many of their apparel sellers. Few take them up on this offer. In fact, this put the entire industry on notice – Amazon was entering the apparel business in a big way.

Circa 2014

Amazon launches “Amazon Fashion” – in an effort to court high-end designers and be seen as a premium destination, they put a lot of money and effort into the tech and marketing, creating a slick “fashion destination” filled with $200+ high end outfits.

“[We want people to know] that we’re here, and that we carry amazing brands and have a phenomenal experience,” Cathy Beaudoin, president of Amazon Fashion, told WWD. “For us, it’s a matter of letting our customers know that we’re in the business of fashion.”

This was a misstep though – the average Amazon customer isn’t looking to buy a $200 dress, they’re looking to buy laundry detergent – and maybe another pair of Levi’s 501 Jeans (the #1 selling apparel item on Amazon year after year), or maybe a sports bra. Something where they already own one, know the fit, and feel comfortable buying another one online.

Circa 2016

Amazon launches “Style Code Live” with Frankie Grande (Ariana Grande’s half brother) and they even bring in Sarah Jessica Parker. It’s basically the style section of every morning talk show. But at night. When most people are either settling in for a night of Netflix or driving home from work. (9p EST / 6p PST)

Sadly even SJP couldn’t save this show and it was canceled after just 1 year.

Circa 2017

Taking a lesson from the failed “Amazon Fashion” launch of 2014, Amazon re-focused on solid basics and wardrobe essentials that would appeal to a broad customer base.

Amazon launches several dozen private label brands around these concepts that have mass market appeal.

Amazon also launches “Storefronts” – curated shops built by brands or influencers – such as Oprah’s Favorite Things. Storefronts also give brands enough creative freedom to showcase their brands without feeling like they’re lost in the sea of lookalike Amazon pages.

Circa 2018

Amazon becomes the #1 apparel retailer in the country, surpassing Sears, Wal-Mart and Macy’s, according to a 2018 Moodys report.

To give you a sense of how big a shift this is, searches for “Amazon fashion” in Google surpassed searches for “Amazon electronics” around 2016 and it looks like it’s only growing.

Circa 2019

Taking their lessons from Style Code Live, Amazon launches an even more Home-Shopping like experience, Today’s Deals Live – a seemingly non-stop stream of deals. This time more general purpose unisex items like housewares and electronics.

2019, I would argue is when Amazon has become a “fashion destination” – here are some facts to back this up:

Taylor Swift is headlining Amazon’s Prime Day celebration. Yes, that Taylor Swift who headlined the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show in 2014 is going to be taking the stage with Jeff Bezos in a live event streamed on (The me from 2012 never could have conceived of those words all being in the same sentence.)

Lady Gaga is launching her beauty line Haus, exclusively on Amazon.

[The deal with Amazon] was so wonderful because this was like, ‘Let’s make a deal, let’s make a deal to change the world with their beauty’.
Lady Gaga

In researching this article, I searched for news and analysis of Amazon fashion. Instead what I found was dozens of posts about…

in publications like Marie Claire, Who Wore What and Pop Sugar.

Amazon is pushing their influencer partnerships as well. For example they recently did a live stream with @ShopDandy (284k followers on Instagram), and you can shop the ShopDandy Storefront on Amazon.

So – yeah. Even if the you from 2019 can’t get used to the words “Amazon is a fashion destination” being together in a sentence – you may need to get over that.

The Runway to Success

In his book The Lean Startup, “Eric Ries argues that in order to build a great company, one must begin with the customers in the form of interviews and research discovery. Building an MVP (Minimum Viable Product) and then testing and iterating quickly results in less waste and a better product market fit.”

This is precisely what Amazon has done. They iterate on an idea and keep going.

The 2014 Amazon Fashion was too focused on upmarket items. Three years later they launch solidly mid-market private label brands. In 2016 Style Code Live was too narrowly focused – and in an odd time slot. Three years later they launch Today’s Deals Live, an all-day-long deals focused show to sell products. Every idea they had that didn’t quite take off seems to come back 2-3 years later – not just better, but perfected.

Amazon To Pop Another 10% With ‘Long Runway’ Ahead In Apparel, Says Wells Fargo analyst Ken Sena

Amazon gives themselves a “long runway”. Not every project has to get off the ground right away. But once it does – look out.

Let Amazon be Your Runway to Success

At Fortress Brand, we’re experts in setting up businesses for success on the Amazon platform. Contact Us to open a dialogue about how we can put our expertise to work for you.