Amazon has poached senior design and buying experts from Marks & Spencer and Primark as it gears up to launch own-label fashion in the UK, Drapers can exclusively reveal.
Karen Peacock, whose extensive CV includes stints as womenswear design director at Debenhams and most recently head of design for womenswear and accessories at M&S, has joined Amazon as design director.
Drapers has also learned that Primark’s menswear buying director, Glen George, has left to join Amazon. His new job title is not yet known.
One UK-based high street supplier told Drapers the recruitment drive is ongoing, with a focus on bringing in experienced people from M&S.
“They’ve been recruiting a whole bunch of people for about six months now, all under [vice-president of clothing for Amazon Fashion EU] Frances Russell,” confirmed a recruitment source.
“You know whatever they do they’ll succeed: they have the resources.”
Amazon hired Russell from M&S, where she was womenswear director, in early 2016. At the time it was understood that she would spearhead the plans to develop own-label fashion, although Amazon declined to comment and continues to keep its cards close to its chest.
This week, sources told Drapers that Amazon’s own-label clothing is now in production and will be launched in the UK this year, possibly in the spring.
One industry insider warned that the own-label push would have big implications for traditional high street retailers: “M&S and Next should be very wary as they are using M&S suppliers and former M&S staff. Their delivery service is a thousand times better than M&S.”
Both Peacock and George come with lengthy fashion retailing experience.
After a short period as a freelance designer for Burberry in 1993, Peacock joined UK supplier Shani Group as outerwear designer, before moving to premium womenswear brand Elie Tahari as a designer in 1998 and manufacturer Baird Clothing as senior designer in 1999.
She first joined M&S in 2000 as senior designer, before moving to Debenhams as womenswear design director in 2002. She returned to M&S as head of design for womenswear and accessories in 2012.
George began his career as a trainee buyer at M&S in 2000, working his way up to senior buyer by the time he left in 2005.
“They’re looking at more experienced buyers, bringing in people who are good at design,” said the high street supplier. “I think they will try and do something at the level of the old M&S Indigo range, aiming for the middle market. I don’t think they would want to compete with Primark.”
Amazon is currently the 24th largest fashion retailer in the UK by market share. M&S is at number one, followed by Next, Primark, Debenhams and George at Asda, reports Kantar Worldpanel (table, below).
One footwear brand working with Amazon said the etailer has made a “huge investment” in its own-brand launch and suggested more would be revealed in the spring.
He pointed out Amazon Prime – a £79 annual membership that gives free next-day delivery – would give it a big advantage over some of its fashion competitors.
Another supplier, which works with Amazon in the US, said a member of his team had been contacted within the past week about doing more own label, but said it still appeared to be “early days”.
Amazon already has own-label fashion brands on its US website. These include men’s formal line Franklin Tailored, women’s casual clothing line James & Erin and contemporary womenswear brand Lark & Ro.
In December, it launched menswear label Buttoned Down in the US, which is exclusively available for Amazon Prime members. The range of cotton dress shirts is available for shipping to the UK, but is not listed on Amazon’s UK website.
Amazon declined to comment on the hires or its own-label fashion plans. Primark confirmed George has left the company.
Fashion retailers by UK market share (value of sales)
- Marks & Spencer
- New Look
- Sports Direct
- River Island
- House of Fraser
- TK Maxx
- John Lewis
- JD Sports Fashion
- N Brown Group
Source: Kantar Worldpanel