The CFDA and Vogue have announced a shop with Amazon Fashion — what does this mean for designers?

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When one thinks about fashion at Amazon, luxury and legacy houses like Derek Lam, Phillip Lim 3.1 and Batsheva Hay may not immediately come to mind. However, that could all be changing as Amazon steps into designer fashion.

In partnership with Vogue magazine and the Council of Fashion Designers of America (otherwise known as the CFDA), Amazon’s new shop will sell items from 20 independent designers, including Phillip Lim 3.1, Derek Lam, Tabitha Simmons and more.

Credit: Amazon

Amazon Fashion had already committed to donating $500,000 to the CFDA’s “A Common Thread,” an initiative that, as of April 20, had raised $4.1 million, according to the New York Times. The new storefront, called Common Threads: Vogue x Amazon Fashion, will feature pieces from various brands who will now have access to the retailer’s massive consumer base and fulfillment network.

Many of these brands, while well-known in intimate circles among industry leaders and self-described fashion historians, are more of what you would see in SoHo storefronts rather than plastered next to a No. 1 best-selling face mask or at-home waxing kit.

So how does it work?

Designers selling on the platform can set their own prices, and then they pay Amazon both a referral fee as well as an additional fee if they choose to have Amazon handle shipping.

The lasting effects of COVID-19 on the fashion industry has led experts from across all verticals to explore what the future of fashion will look like: Will there be fashion shows? Will small- and medium-sized fashion businesses survive? And more on a personal note, how will Black- and Latinx-owned businesses bounce back in a market that, even pre-COVID, financially and resourcefully disenfranchised them?

Credit: Getty Images

Anna Wintour, editor-in-chief of American Vogue and U.S. Artistic Director and Global Content Advisor for Condé Nast, said in a statement, “While there isn’t one simple fix for our industry, which has been hit so hard, I believe this is an important step in the right direction.”

Designers seem to have an excitement about the partnership with the tech behemoth, looking to see how a new target consumer can actively push their marketing forward. Derek Lam told Vogue that “every sale in this capacity is going to help my business. Most importantly, it will help to preserve the jobs of the designers, artisans, technical teams, sales and marketing teams in my company.”

“This is such a big opportunity for a type of exposure that a small New York City, made in the USA kind of brand doesn’t really have,” Batsheva Hay, a designer whose brand is known for its patterned, vintage-inspired dresses, told Business of Fashion.

Credit: Getty Images

While designers are hopeful about what this could mean for the future of fashion, other fashion insiders are hesitant. Shelby Ivey Christie, a fashion and costume historian, spoke out on her Twitter and shared that she thinks “it’s a big bet to put CFDA designers on a fashion platform that hasn’t proven itself out — it demands a lot of nuanced digital media tactics to get products seen.”

Immediately, it begs the question if fashion insiders and name-brand junkies will even scour through Amazon’s limitless fashion pages to find discounted high-end wares. Could it be possible that brands — in an effort to be perceived as marketable for the Amazon consumer — will water down or change their messaging?

Amazon and the larger fashion world have had a contentious relationship, to say the least. However, Vanessa Friedman, Fashion Director for the New York Times, noted that this could also position “Amazon, which may be the largest fashion retailer in the United States but is often seen as, if not an enemy, at least a questionable suitor when it comes to the designer world, as its white knight. And the move gives Mr. Bezos a certain sway over a community that, until now, was largely suspicious of him.”

So, a power play?

Credit: Getty Images

“I love that American designers and their brands are getting a digital storefront. I think it’s super important to get visibility and more retail opportunities in the wake of Coronavirus,” Christie told In The Know. “I think CFDA’s choice of Amazon as the e-comm partner makes sense from a reach perspective. Amazon is a destination for millions of Americans. However, I think it may be a bit tone-deaf.”

On the partnership’s ability to succeed? Christie has hope. “It’s interesting from an Amazon Fashion perspective — I see it as a great testing opportunity for the brands and the Amazon Fashion interface. Amazon is an environment that optimizes based on a number of variables. It’s not a static retail environment like a standard e-comm destination.”

At the moment, the three current top-selling items on Amazon, in clothing, shoes and jewelry, were a men’s T-shirt multipack, a Hanes men’s sweatshirt and Crocs. Even in the private label offering, the average price tag is only $32, according to Coresight.

Although A Common Thread’s shop could be the blueprint of sustainability and partnership for brands to survive, the pairing of the two can leave many to question the benchmarks of success.

Considering the constantly changing world we’ve all become immersed in, it’ll be interesting to see how this plays out longterm pairing mass market and prestige together.

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