The battle to win Amazon’s second headquarters moved into round two last week as the company shortlisted 20 cities from the 238 contenders. They all offer their own benefits and perks, but when it comes to fashion — a priority for the e-commerce giant — some have an edge.
The HQ2 hunt gets a lot of flack for its approach to office location scouting. Part serious business, part gonzo competition — with all the subtlety, class and tact of a reality show contest — the search has prompted regions across North America to throw themselves at Amazon’s feet, with tax breaks and other incentive deals in hand. The frenzy has led to a curated list spanning options from Washington, D.C., to Denver.
The shortlist, noted experts, covers some of the fashion industry’s key cities, as well as hubs for creativity and culture. If fashion credibility plays any part in Amazon’s decision, then the company could be taking stock of the following:
New York City
“From a fashion perspective, New York would make the most sense,” said Kwontified’s Elaine Kwon, a former Amazon Fashion vendor manager who helps retailers navigate e-commerce platforms like her former employer’s. Amazon already has personnel in the city, from warehouse workers to staffers in its fashion and public relations groups.
But Kwon said the company still “pays for its employees to travel to New York for events fairly regularly so having a presence on the East Coast would cut down on these expenses.” The biggest obstacle with New York? Limited available real estate, she added. That’s a tough proposition for a giant in need of massive square footage.
“New York City isn’t the only obvious contender, if Amazon wants to make fashion its focus,” said Rachel Saunders, insights and strategy director at research firm Cassandra, a division of The Engine Group focused on Millennial and youth culture. “L.A. has become a hub for direct-to-consumer and Millennial-friendly brands like Reformation and Bikyni.”
Comparisons to New York are natural. And like New York, Los Angeles’ fashion cred doesn’t fly solo. Kwon noted that the city’s range of offerings lines up with the tech company’s ambitions. “Amazon has also made considerable investments in entertainment, with its dominant presence throughout Southern California, and technology with its growing hub in Silicon Beach,” she said.
“Boston’s rich history in manufacturing has made it a start-up hub for new apparel brands like activewear’s Tracksmith and Nobull,” said Cassandra’s Saunders, who added that sales in the category, which Amazon has started to play in, are expected to surpass $350 billion by 2020.
Columbus, Ohio and Nashville, Tenn.
According to Melanie Shreffler, senior insights director at Cassandra, Columbus and Nashville are also noteworthy candidates. “Everyone is talking about them on the list,” she said. “They’re great choices, as both are working hard to create appealing environments for young workers.”
She calls the cities “dark horses in fashion,” but notes that Columbus features several retail brands, including the Limited, Express, Victoria’s Secret, Abercrombie and more. As for Nashville, “the creative industry thrives there — not only music, but also fashion and beauty,” she said. “The vibe that both cities have is very egalitarian, not exclusive. It’s fashion for all, from middle America out to the coasts, rather than the other way around — which is fitting for Amazon, but not a compromise to the style and fashion it wants to be known for.”
Plus, because of new venture capital firms settling there, Columbus has started earning a reputation as the “Midwestern Silicon Valley,” Shreffler added. The tech focus — and the talent it tends to draw — could bolster deeper interest.
“Opening HQ2 in Miami would make Amazon a truly bicoastal company,” said Kwon, who pointed out that it has plenty of real estate to offer and no state income tax. “Although not as prominent as New York and L.A., Miami offers coverage in the Southeast, the furthest possible region of the country from the Pacific Northwest that would provide similar benefits as the state of Washington — but located much closer to the likes of Washington, D.C.; New York, Europe, and Latin America.”
For Cooper Smith, head of Amazon research at L2, the most interesting aspect of Amazon’s remaining candidates aren’t the fashion cities, but the three locations with proximity to the nation’s capital, suggesting that it wants to be close to the policymakers there. (The options include Washington, D.C.; Montgomery County, Md., and Northern Virginia). But when it comes to fashion, the company has already done a lot, proving that it doesn’t need proximity to a fashion hub to pursue those ambitions.
“When you look at what Amazon was able to accomplish in the fashion space in 2017 — launching the Echo Look, patenting on-demand apparel manufacturing, launching Prime Wardrobe, introducing dozens of private-label apparel brands, coaxing Nike to officially distribute on the platform — it was able to do all of it without a huge presence in New York, L.A., or other centers of the fashion industry,” he said.
According to Amazon reps, the goal of the second headquarters is to merely offer directors and teams more flexible location options. And at least at the outset, the company wasn’t looking to house specific divisions at HQ2. Still, it’s hard to imagine the company overlooking the particular benefits that come with certain locations, so wherever it chooses to go — New York, L.A., D.C. or elsewhere — could reveal the company’s priorities over the next several years.