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Amazon Steps Up Push Into Fashion

The e-tail giant has leased a 40,000-square-foot space in New York City that will serve as a photography studio catering to the category.

A page from the Amazon Fashion Web site.

NEW YORK — Amazon.com is inching closer to the epicenter of American fashion.

This story first appeared in the November 5, 2012 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

The e-tail giant today revealed that it has leased a 40,000-square-foot space here that will serve as a photography studio catering to the category, currently the fastest-growing business at Amazon, according to Cathy Beaudoin, president of Amazon Fashion, which also owns MyHabit and Shopbop.

It’s a major step for Amazon — which dominates the e-commerce ether in terms of market share and innovation (but not profitability) — as the site seeks to become as powerful in selling fashion as it is in retailing books, music, electronics and other products. It’s a further shot across the bow for the likes of Macy’s Inc., Saks Inc. and other leading department stores, not to mention pure plays such as Net-a-porter and eBay.

 

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The goal of the studio is to up Amazon’s fashion profile and streamline the current photography process. While doing so, the site also intends to create hundreds of jobs for local talent, from photographers, stylists and models to hair and makeup artists, said Beaudoin.

“New York is obviously one of the fashion capitals of the world. It felt like a pretty natural evolution for us as we build our fashion business, to anchor it to key outposts where we have access to top talent,” Beaudoin told WWD.

She said the company hunted around for the space for some time — and the team was enamored with Williamsburg in Brooklyn. “We think of it as joining an emerging neighborhood that’s known for its creative talent and community. It’s going to be a mecca — we hope — for creative talent,” she said.

Located on Kent Street in Williamsburg, the studio — also one of the largest of its kind in the city in terms of sheer volume — will support Amazon Fashion, Shopbop (acquired by Amazon in 2006) and MyHabit (founded in 2011). The facility will shoot thousands of on-model product images a year, with the goal of enhancing the presentation of the fashion offerings online and introducing even more engaging editorial for the latter two brands.

The Williamsburg location will be one of six studios for Amazon — the others are in Hebron, Ken.; Madison, Wis., and Seattle, where the company is based. But the new studio will be the first in the state of New York and the first solely dedicated to fashion. Beaudoin was keen on opening a studio in a city “that plays such a pivotal role in every aspect of the fashion industry.”

The facility will open for business in the spring, but the company will begin bringing talent on board in the coming weeks. A studio director will oversee the initiative, reporting to Amazon Fashion’s creative team in Seattle, and a staff of 150 will be in place for the official opening, Beaudoin said, adding this number will grow significantly.

“We will have centralized our operations in such a way that we can share best practices across brands, share talent and develop really tight relationships with models and photographers. [We will] have this centralized engine where it’s all coming together in a way that we haven’t been able to do in the past because we’ve been in different parts of the country,” the executive said, explaining that prior to this initiative, Amazon would fly in talent from New York on a shoot-by-shoot basis, and it just “stopped making sense.”

While the studio will deepen Amazon’s commitment to the fashion industry, Beaudoin insisted it isn’t about hitting a sales target. In the third quarter ended Sept. 30, Amazon posted a net loss of $274 million, or 60 cents a diluted share, versus a year-ago profit of $63 million, or 14 cents a share, as the company continued to invest heavily in infrastructure like warehouses. Net sales for the quarter totalled $13.81 billion, versus $10.88 billion a year ago. Beaudoin declined to say what portion of sales constitutes Amazon’s fashion business.

Beaudoin predicted the facility will achieve equal output quantity-wise, with quality remaining the same — and that an outpost here will help make the process easier and more efficient.

“We’re in it for the long haul, and we thought that was an important commitment to make for the city. It’s not so much about making the cash register ring, it’s about evolving our footprint, relationship and commitment. Everything we do is about creating a better experience for the customers. It’s not going to change the experience; it’s just making it easier,” Beaudoin said, noting that current photography standards visible on the site will continue.

Consumers won’t see a dramatic change to the site once the studio opens since she said the company is continually looking into technologies that allow new ways for customers to examine product.

As is the case right now, each of the three fashion brands will continue to have a different look and feel — although Amazon Fashion, MyHabit and Shopbop will share talent, best practices and ideas.

For her, the important element is creating more awareness.

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