For today’s post, Chris and I met with the Head of Amazon Fashion, Aimee Carroll. Before working at Amazon Aimee attended Providence University and worked at Michael Kors, and Diesel. She is typically traveling, does retail negotiation, and is a master at networking so we are very grateful for this interview. She let us in on subtle tips that every brand uses to market clothing and the frustrations she has faced in her line of work.
Aimee says she, “did not grow up reading the pages of Vogue.” However, was bred into the fashion world as her mother was a French model that moved to America at the young age of 15. Her mother and other strong female role models in her life led her to be a creative and determined individual that ultimately resulted in her successful position at Amazon. To join the fashion industry Aimee started working in retail. She recounted to us her first retail job at Abercrombie and Fitch and how even today she has a “physical reaction to the woods cologne.” When it came time for higher education, Aimee went to Providence University to study political theory. Part way through her freshman year she realized that was not her calling and transferred to design school to study painting and printmaking. During school, she interned at Ralph Lauren working in departments such as men’s design, photo studios, and architecture. She admitted that after school she had no idea what she wanted to do, but got a job at the first Brooks Brothers store on the sales floor at the age of 22. She explained to us how hard it was managing 24 people at a union job when she was so young. Even though her boss was an intense woman who constantly wore “orange Manolos all day, all day long”, Aimee reassured us that this was a good learning experience for her. After that, she worked for menswear designer, Joseph Abboud. Although this was hard work with little pay and vacation, she said that this was the job that really launched her career. (and who really needs a vacation when you’re 24 and living in New York City.) Following this job, she worked at Michael Kors and found her true passion for managing and stepped back from design. She remembered a specific moment when she wanted to become the vice president of menswear at Michael Kors and the CEO told her that he would “never put a female in charge of men’s.” Even though she decided to stop working there at that point, she notes that we are in a very different time now and it was still fun and interesting to work there. On her next work venture, she got a job working at Diesel. Aimee said that working for Diesel “was a 180. I went from working with a CEO who wore beautifully tailored suits to a CEO who looked like a pirate and had a tattoo on his face.” She also mentioned that Diesel “alienated the American consumer completely because the euro and pound were so strong and the dollar was so weak that people were coming from Europe to buy Diesel jeans.” Diesel was also losing American buyers because they refused to put stretch in their denim, despite having customers expressing a desire for it.
This led us to a deeper conversation about customer demographics. Brands will put out what has the highest demand at the front of the store. Aimee remarked “a decade ago there were entire floors dedicated to petites. Now they’re completely gone.” To put it simply, it comes down to profit and when a type of clothing or brand is not making enough, what is put out on display will change. And this can happen very rapidly. Aimee communicated that “Fashion wants one thing. And the world wants another.” While the average size in the U.S. has been a 16-18 for almost a decade, the plus size section of clothing in stores like Nordstrom will shamefully be placed next to the kid’s section on the top floor. Even though it proves to be more profitable to have the full range of sizes together in a store, this is why Old Navy is so successful. This was a concept that both Chris and I had never thought about before. She explained to us that being able to buy your clothes whether you’re a size 000 to a 28 in the same environment is incredibly empowering. This is a point that is extremely true and often looked over when it comes to reshaping beauty standards. “Changing not just the way we perceive beauty standards, but also the way we manufacture” was another point that Aimee made clear to us during the interview.
During her time at Diesel, Amazon approached her about their online company wanting to branch out to fashion. Due to Amazon’s persistence, she agreed to do a little bit of bussiness with them, however, she said she “gave them [Amazon] horrible numbers to work with. I was like if you can make money off of this then we’re in business.” In two years the company was making 10 million dollars through selling their product from Amazon because the demand was there. Even with these numbers, Aimee was very hesitant to continue business with Amazon because of how horrible the website was presented. “It was like putting lipstick on a pig,” she said, the clothes didn’t fit the models, the layout was horrible, and in the end, this would only do damage to the brand. Ironically enough, in 2012 the woman that was the Head of Amazon Fashion at that time offered Aimee a job working with them. Aimee promptly shut this offer down because she had just received a promotion and said she would have nothing to offer them. A month later she flew out to Seattle and was offered a job at Amazon Fashion recruiting brands. She decided to take this job offer even though she had to move to Seattle.
In general, at Amazon, Aimee says she spends most of her time connecting and learning from others in the fashion industry, traveling, and deciding what brands should pair with Amazon. The brands they reach out to are chosen through customer demand, which is sometimes brand driven and sometimes not.
One of Aimee’s major tasks was to create a list of the top 50 brands that Amazon Fashion should pair with. Nike was number one. For years and years, Nike refused to pair with Amazon because the market was simply too big and they were unsure of how production would work. They were able to find a solution and there launch last June actually affected the stock market. Aimee said that this was her “drop the mic moment.”
Another project she worked on at Amazon was a celebrity collaboration with Drew Barrymore. Aimee’s advice was, “knock-off Free People, make it size 0-24, and make the price better.” After agreeing to this deal, Drew decided she wanted to cut the line to have it be only sized 0-12. Even though she wanted it to be an “every woman’s line.” This caused a range of different emotions from upset to angry when the line launched.
Aimee is hopeful of what Amazon has to offer in terms of innovating beauty stands, but remarks that “even though there are all these articles, all this news, Ashley Graham, Nicolette Mason you know all these people out there doing amazing things, the needle has not moved. Because it comes down to the manufacturer. And until the dollar can denote it, it’s not going to change in a big way.”