Shopify has long been the ecommerce platform of choice for today’s cultural influencers. With the hiring of Jon Wexler, the former GM of adidas YEEZY, Shopify is doubling down on its mission to be the choice for a new generation of creatives. I explore what Wexler’s appointment means for the ecommerce giant, drawing on recent examples to understand what might be coming next.
2020 has been a transformative year for Shopify. It’s continued to build on its foundation of serving over 1,000,000 merchants, cementing its position as the world’s most popular ecommerce platform. It announced a permanent remote work policy in response to the coronavirus pandemic, giving over 5,000 employees the opportunity to work from wherever they’re most productive. It launched a number of new content properties to get the word out, including Resilient Retail.
With so many merchants, it’s impossible to characterize the kind of stores that define the platform. There’s celebrity-run brands such as Kylie Cosmetics and KKW Beauty. There’s legacy corporations like Budweiser and Nestle. There’s everything in between, including KITH, Heyday, and Credo Beauty, all brands I’ve featured on Elsewhere in the last few weeks.
That’s why Shopify’s appointment of Jon Wexler as Vice President of its Creator and Influencer Program speaks volumes. Wexler is among the most influential figures changing retail and trends today—even if you’ve never heard his name.
Over the course of more than two decades at adidas, Wexler paved the way for creatives to do what they do best: create. He set up programs for artists such as Pharrell, Beyoncé, and Kanye West to produce and release products under the Three Stripes brand. West famously remarked that the adidas exec “basically saved his life” in 2015, recalling how Wexler gave him the freedom and infrastructure to bring his vision to life.
West paid tribute again in September 2020 when it was announced Wexler would be leaving adidas to join Shopify, this time adding monetary value to his praise: “this man changed the game with our adidas deal and helped bring adidas to a 62 billion dollar market cap and made me a multibillionaire.”
The move sent shockwaves through the industry, stunning those who questioned Wexler walking away from a legendary career at a legendary brand to try something wholly unpredictable.
Godspeed to my brother Jon Wexler ...this man changed the game with our adidas deal and helped to bring adidas to a 62 billion dollar market cap and made me a multi billionaire ... Thank you Jon .. you changed my life— ye (@kanyewest) September 2, 2020
Shopify weighed in with an official statement, noting Wexler would be responsible for helping creators, makers, and artists “translate their audiences and personas into new, scalable brands and businesses,” while helping Shopify strengthen its relationship with what the company refers to as “a growing segment of entrepreneurs.”
In other words, Wexler would translate the model he perfected at adidas into the language of Shopify and its merchants. Looking at the state of the industry in its entirety and the trajectory of Shopify, the appointment couldn’t be a more perfect fit.
Creatives as Brands as Merchants
Creatives controlling the commerce landscape is so abundant in 2020, it’s easy to forget it didn’t always look like this. Athletes hogged the spotlight for decades, earning signature collaborative products with sportswear brands. Nike went further, giving Michael Jordan his own brand, opening the door for him to become the world’s first athlete billionaire.
By contrast, Britney Spears, among the biggest artists of the 2000s, monetized her popularity by releasing fragrances, netting her millions but falling short of imbuing product with cultural value or creating a product line that reflected her towering position in pop culture.
As the 2010s approached and street culture started dictating wider lifestyle trends, products designed by musicians, artists, and skaters and produced in limited quantities began to alter what consumers were after.
Kanye West, in a precursor to what would come later, designed and released a highly limited edition pair of sneakers with Louis Vuitton in 2009. Today they fetch upwards of $15,000 on StockX.
In the same year, West broke new ground, becoming the first non-athlete to garner a full collaboration with Nike. Those kicks can be had for a more modest $3,500, while Ye’s second collaboration with the Swoosh in 2012 commands a steeper $10,000.
Supreme followed a similar path since its founding in 1994, expressing the cultural value of skating and skating’s touch points through its brand and products, culminating in a recent acquisition by VF Corp for $2.1 billion.
Those brands and products provide a benchmark for where we are today. West and Supreme understood the best products serve a purpose beyond their immediate function—they capture a set of codes and values that consumers can buy to demonstrate their own codes and values.
It’s something Wexler understood too. It’s how he helped shift the paradigm at adidas, bringing in artists and guiding them along their journey to become globally influential brands and merchants.
Highlights in just the last few years include Pharrell’s Superstar Supercolor pack, offering the classic silhouette in 50 different colorways; YEEZY, adidas and West’s answer to Jordan Brand; and Beyonce’s ongoing exploration of athleticism and fashion through Ivy Park x adidas.
With a track record that spans 20 years and includes culture-defining moments, Wexler’s proved he’s the person best positioned to help Shopify expand its influence as it seeks to rein in creators and entrepreneurs.
A Growing Marketplace
While Wexler was busy carving out in-house labels for today’s biggest stars, Shopify was putting together its own all-star team.
Besides Ronnie Fieg’s KITH empire, which notably sold 150 $110,000+ BMWs in under an hour, likely the most expensive products ever sold through a Shopify-based merchant, a number of similarly minded creators have set up shop on the platform.
Among those that provide a hint into where Shopify is heading and why Wexler’s appointment makes perfect sense is OVO.
Founded by Drake, Oliver El-Khatib, and Noah “40” Shebib, the Canadian contemporary sportswear line takes the learnings laid out by Pharrell, West, and Beyonce, among others, and brings it within the Shopify ecosystem.
It’s a brand that takes Drake’s cultural influence and builds on it, providing a marketplace for all the different things Drake means to so many different people around the world (hockey jerseys and stuffed animals, stereotypical hallmarks of life in Canada, sit alongside elevated athleisure anyone can wear anywhere).
And while only Drake can claim to be October’s Very Own, the OVO webstore, despite being up and running well in advance of Wexler joining Shopify, provides a framework for how any creator or entrepreneur with a clear vision can bring their brand to life, offering products that speak to customers on a cultural and values-driven level.
This is particularly powerful for creators whose personal brands currently only exist across social networks. It’s true there are a number of options currently to become a merchant, including Basic.Space which I profiled just a few weeks ago, yet the scale at which Shopify can offer this is unprecedented.
Shopify is known for its simplicity and affordability, and for creators that are often short on time, it’s the most logical solution to turn their brand into something tangible.
In the last few weeks, I personally purchased products from a handful of creators with relatively modest followings but whose point of view can’t be found anywhere else, such as Petrified Good and Dum Keramik.
But like so many trends spawned from influencer culture, what’s needed to reach the tipping point are a few people to break the mold and create momentum. That’s where Wexler comes in.
The Dream Team
Wexler’s expertise lies in helping creators bring their vision to life and then bring that vision to scale; it’s there in his work at adidas and it’s there in the official statement Shopify put out on day one. With Shopify, Wexler can take the model he developed at the Three Stripes and apply it to a huge swath of culture.
At adidas there were prerequisites. The world’s second most valuable sportswear brand wouldn’t give just anyone the opportunity to create and sell goods. In the case of Shopify, creators decide how high the limit is. If they want to follow the OVO blueprint 1:1, by all means. If they want to take cues from Billie Eilish’s neon-gothic Hot Topic revival, more power to them.
Everyday people making a living through sponsored posts on Instagram was a milestone in the history of social media. The next milestone will involve creators, artists, makers, and entrepreneurs opening up storefronts that capture their unique perspective in the form of product, regardless of how big or small their following.
The Kims and Kylies of the world may continue to dominate headlines in the stories of the next generation of merchants but it’s the small and middle-sized sellers that will create the avalanche. Two months into his time at Shopify, Wexler’s about to roll the first snowball down the mountain.