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Amazon’s big breakthrough into designer fashion

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First Amazon, Vogue and the CFDA partnered up to launch Common Threads, a designated space of smaller luxury clothing and accessory brands. Now the British Fashion Council is also planning a tie-up with Amazon to sell the designs of young British talent.

The partnerships “can help smaller and some bigger brands that have lost massively”, says Nimi Raja, a London-based brand strategist whose own label, Rani by Raja, is one of the British brands in discussions with Amazon and the BFC on a planned digital storefront. Designers, including Raja, Jonathan Cohen and Adam Lippes say that the involvement of industry leaders like Vogue, the CFDA and the BFC lend credibility to Amazon’s platform.

The partnerships come as part of Amazon’s global push to sell luxury clothing, as it rushes to compete against other tech companies to become the platform of choice at a time when the industry is desperate to digitise. The multinational giant is in discussions with British designers through a BFC partnership to use Amazon Launchpad, a discovery platform, set to debut this June for London Fashion Week. The BFC’s website will host the platform slated to feature a variety of functions, including interviews, wholesaling and a digital storefront, but the BFC has been tight-lipped on Amazon Launchpad’s specific role. Other tech rivals, including Google, YouTube and Instagram, are also working with the BFC.

Common Threads and the BFC partnership are a coup for Amazon, which has tried for years to become a destination not just for apparel, but for higher-margin designer fashion. Some see it as a lifeline to access Amazon’s customer base — there are 112 million Amazon Prime members in the US alone — a potential saviour for designers struggling with unsold stock, cancelled orders and store closures. The company, which accounts for almost 40 per cent of US e-commerce spend and reported net income of $2.5 billion in the first three months of 2020, also donated $500,000 to A Common Thread, the CFDA and Vogue’s Covid-19 fundraising and storytelling initiative. (Vogue and Vogue Business share a parent company, Condé Nast.)

“The industry is a hot mess, and they need help,” says Raja, who has worked with the likes of Balmain and Moncler.

Building a fashion hub on Amazon

After partnering with Amazon, Vogue and the CFDA connected designers with the platform (it is not clear how many were approached). Designers were able to choose which pieces would be listed, which images they included and how items were priced; product pages include additional details such as designer images and brand bios. Adding new items was “seamless”, says Krewe’s marketing manager Ashley O’Neill, who had multiple calls with the Amazon team in the onboarding process.

Krewe is self-fulfilling from its headquarters, as it does for its own site because it makes it easier to track inventory and provide the same packaging as if customers order from its owned site, O’Neill says. This means its products do not include Amazon Prime shipping.

Others, like designer Jonathan Cohen, have sent inventory to Amazon to fulfil. “We launched our DTC (direct-to-consumer) business in December, and it was still picking up steam,” Cohen says of his own Shopify site. “We had to close it down because we didn’t have the manpower, and it’s been really hard. We are sitting on a lot of stock,” he says.

The project came together in about two weeks for designer Adam Lippes, whose Amazon assortment includes a $1,380 sequin gown and a Pima cotton T-shirt listed as, in Amazon style, “$32.99 — $95.00”. Dynamic pricing — a common occurrence for Amazon products in which prices vary according to demand — conflicts with the pricing integrity of higher-end brands. (Lippes clarified that it is supposed to be $95, the same price across retailers, and the brand was working to update it.)

Amazon’s aesthetics don’t match high-end e-commerce sites; rather, it is optimised to be as efficient, automated and vast as possible. The Common Threads landing page has some Vogue-approved editorial such as designer bios and other features that are characteristic of Amazon’s “premium” content pages, which other sellers have to pay to unlock. But in most ways, product pages look the same as every other item on Amazon.

That has posed problems. A yellow silk dress by Jonathan Cohen, retailing on Amazon for $1,395, originally appeared for sale on the site with a single, out-of-focus photo accompanying it, a far cry from what luxury shoppers are accustomed to and how retailers like McMullen and Farfetch display the dress on their sites. The brand says it spent four days working with Amazon to get it updated, highlighting the inherent challenges of creating a high-end experience on Amazon. Amazon says images are the choice of the brand, and it “quickly worked” to improve the resolution.

Lippes says that a number of retailers who carry the brand reached out to him. “That was definitely weighing on me, like, oh my God, am I gonna get Bergdorf Goodman screaming at me? But nobody was upset.”

“Amazon is the most powerful online retailer in the world, and the industry has been asking for a level set for a long time,” says Matt Scanlan, co-founder and CEO of knitwear startup Naadam, and CEO of Thakoon and Something Navy. Naadam is not on Amazon, but Thakoon is. He says the imagery could be improved. “Sometimes, the options aren’t great. You feel like, they have all this power — why are you selling a hoodie with a weird photo?”

Commoditising luxury

Amazon’s critics raise some potential issues for designers. Take sustainable footwear brand Allbirds who, among others, claims the platform uses brands’ data to make similar products that it promotes and sells cheaper. Under a $2,290 Louis Vuitton Neverfull bag (sold by a third party), it recommends a $99 lookalike. Amazon declined to comment on both items.

Amazon’s original purpose was to have a vast selection, rather than a curated assortment, says eMarketer principal analyst Andrew Lipsman. He is sceptical that courting interesting brands will be enough to get customers to see Amazon as the right channel for this type of product. “They have optimised conversion perfectly. Buying is easy, but they don’t do a particularly good job of discovery, by virtue of the fact they have everything,” he says. “If you are a luxury brand, those aren’t the dimensions that people are buying on.”

Unless customers are funnelling through the Common Threads experience, they might not even see the merchandise. James Thomson, partner at Amazon consultancy Buy Box Experts and former business head of Amazon Services, says that the Common Threads listings could improve SEO, images, search terms and include videos, adding that most searches on Amazon are unbranded; in other words, people might be searching for “pink designer wrap dress,” not “Tanya Taylor”.

Amazon consultant John Ghiorso thinks the experience for brands can improve, and points to luxury beauty products, which he estimates are two to three years ahead in this process. If he had a luxury label, he says he would be “all in”, if only to increase awareness. “Almost any brand in any vertical in any position can be successful on Amazon in a way that there are more upsides than downs.”

The coming together of these two industry players signifies a turning point for the industry. “It’s going to be a big deal any time you have [Amazon founder Jeff] Bezos and Anna Wintour next to each other. I am sure this is not the last thing you will see from Amazon,” Lipsman says. “They will keep trying to chip away at this category. Once they find the things that work, they put their foot on the accelerator.”

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The devastating current events—most recently the murders of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor—are a much-needed wake-up call for many …

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Inside The New Economy Where People ‘Buy Nothing’ and Give Everything

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Lorie Gassie misses the library. Since the pandemic shut down her local branch, the Queens resident has a pile of overdue books in her apartment that she cannot return.

That’s what brought Gassie to my stoop last week. I met her on Facebook, where we are both members of a Buy Nothing group aimed to create a little gift economy among its roughly 1300 members.  

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Where To Buy The Best Second-Hand Designer Bags

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All products are independently selected by our editors. If you buy something, we may earn an affiliate commission.

The pull of a designer bag is legendary. There have been totes we’ve yearned for more than our sixth form crush. It’s totally legitimate to fall in love with an inanimate object, right? But even if you’re not about to pledge allegiance to a handbag, you’ve got to admit there is magic in a designer bag in the way that clothes can’t quite incite.

If you’re searching for a little something to treat yourself to, post lockdown (or even as something to make your house-bound hours more exciting) there’s nothing better than a new bag to beat the blues. Except it doesn’t have to be new. Resale sites are one of the fashion industry’s fastest growing categories and a second-hand bag is a brilliant way to save money. As we all try to shop more consciously, its also a brilliant way to shop sustainably. There is nothing more sustainable that something already in existence.

Some vintage bags are also proving to be safer investments than stocks and shares because bags are the accessory that appreciate fastest. Vintage preloved handbags have risen in value by an average of 8% per year over the last decade and also outperformed the price of gold. Kerching.

Despite those figures, if you’re looking to get involved with your favourite brand, preloved is still the way you can do so, at a bargain price. Designer bags play on the brand’s style signatures, which can make them easy to fake but on closer inspection you’ll be able to see what is real or not. Check the hardware, leather, stitching, authenticity cards and serial numbers and ask the seller to provide more pictures or more detailed history.

Charlotte Staerck is co-founder and retail director of Handbag Clinic, which restores worn bags (everything from styles chewed by dogs or burned in fires) and also runs a resale platform. She advises, “Ask the year they bought their handbag and check the digits in the serial number correspond to the production year.

If it’s outside of that, it’s definitely a fake. The hardware colour should match the logo colour on the inside of the handbag. Also, quilted Chanel handbags have 10 stitches per inch. It can sometimes be ever so slightly outside of that, but never by much, so if you count seven stitches, you know it’s not authentic.”

These are our favourite sites to browse designer bag bargains:

vestiairecollective.com – The biggest hitter in the preloved market with thousands of new items listed every week. Charlie Collins, founder of creativewardrobe.co.uk has tips to get the best bargains, “Use the app to set up an alert on your favourite bag and try the offer system to float up to 30% off with the seller. The longer items are on the site, the more you will benefit from reductions so create a wishlist to track your favourite items.”

VC arrange pick ups and anonymous listings for the French Vogue team, apparently, and offer thorough authentication services before your purchases are sent to you.

handbagclinic.co.uk – All of the bags here will have had a vigorous zhuzh at the in-house restoration clinic before going on sale to ensure they completely pristine. You could find bargains with up to 83% off. Charlotte Staerck also revealed that the original Prada Nylon bags are in demand. “We sell vintage 90’s small nylon Prada bags for around £150 – £350.” We’ll race you…

xupes.com – Founded almost a decade ago, and originally specialising in watches and jewellery, xupes.com have been selling bags since 2015 and date them all to the year of manufacture. At the time of writing there was a denim Dior saddle bag on the site for £299…

farfetch.com – As well as collating the coolest independent boutiques around the world, FarFetch.com also launched a resale channel last year, where verified designer bags from a handful of major names are up for sale online. Sellers get store credit and you get to save a bag from landfill. Win win.

bagista.co.uk – Specialising in designer bags, this is the site to browse if you’re a bargain bagaholic. In season finds are listed with their current selling price point, so you can see how much of a discount you could score.

uk.designerexchange.com – With discounts of up to 85% this site has over 100 designer brands and more than 5000 items for sale but they also have bricks and mortar stores around the UK (although currently closed die to Covid-19) which you can visit for an IRL encounter with any potential purchase.

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