Amazon’s new platform ‘Luxury Stores’ is a bad look for high-end brands

By Madison Patterson.

Ever since Amazon launched its high-end fashion platform Luxury Stores three weeks ago, speculations have been flying that this may be the moment Amazon finally cracks into the luxury fashion market.

Luxury Stores is an invite-only digital storefront, with brands like Altuzarra and Oscar de la Renta signed on to peddle their wares. Although clothing and apparel are Amazon’s number one seller (garnering over $30 billion in sales and surpassing competitors Walmart and Target), most brands sold on the platform until this point have been fast-fashion or mid-level brands. Fearful of cheapening their image, high-end labels have mostly kept their distance from Amazon.

Until now, that is. While this spells good news for Amazon, it feels like the wrong direction for the fashion industry.

Having lived in Seattle (Amazon’s primary headquarters) for more or less my entire life, I know the wrath of Amazon’s corporate overreach firsthand. Since its growth, the city has seen sharp rises in the cost of living, driving many storied small businesses out of town or out of business, and putting financial strain on countless households. Although we are the 18th most populous city in the U.S., the cost of living ranks around 4, and that disparity can largely be attributed to gargantuan companies like Amazon. For as much wealth as the company has generated, the negative side effects of Amazon-conquered territory are well documented.

And now, it’s making a move for fashion.

The fashion industry would do well to consider the consequences of giving a company like Amazon even more sway over our lives. Fashion brands may be seduced by the positive aspects of Amazon involvement, like its massive reach and technological capabilities. And admittedly, the allure of potential high-tech virtual shopping is not lost on me, especially during a time when COVID-19 has further disrupted the already struggling brick-and-mortar realm. But by diving headfirst into Amazon’s corporate ecosystem, these brands and innovators unavoidably open themselves up to the potential unsavory side effects of working with a super-company.

The most obvious of which is the negative PR associated with Amazon. In attempting to become more relevant and accessible, these brands are partnering with a company that has sprouted resentment in many younger and progressive demographics. Recently Repeller (then, Man Repeller) faced backlash after producing Amazon-sponsored content, and innovation hubs like New York have protested against its attempted encroachment. Many of the brands joining Luxury Stores seek to improve their reach, but are also complicit in constructing a facade of exclusivity via the invite-only system. For an industry that claims to be reckoning with inclusivity and diversity, putting up a digital firewall to less-affluent customers seems ill-advised.

But perhaps more concerning is the idea that Amazon may hold influence over the labels, specifically their creative processes and autonomy of messaging. Amazon’s wealth and omnipresence may at first appeal to the business side of these fashion houses, but at what point does wealth and power start to look like more of a threat than an opportunity? Even if editorial independence is advertised (as I’m sure it will be), only the exclusive few who are in those boardrooms and meetings can ever really know. Luxury fashion is where some of the most exciting and inventive innovation takes place, and any impediment to that, implicit or otherwise, is dangerous.

Amazon has been the subject of antitrust, anti-monopoly investigations for a reason. It’s made cities unaffordable, put workers in unacceptable conditions, and has dominated far too many industries. It’s got it’s fingers in food distribution, entertainment, AI, and apparel.

However, it hasn’t totally secured the luxury market yet. So, here’s hoping fashion thinks twice before it becomes just another one of Amazon’s conquests.