I was recently shopping for clothes on Amazon when I noticed bizarre brand names popping up—more bizarre than usual, I mean. It’s common to come across unfamiliar brands on Amazon, where sellers are constantly fashioning product lines and whole brands around what shoppers are searching for. But here were a series of names that were not only unknown to me, but also quite perplexing: Artfish, Wishpig, Sweatyrocks, Demonlick, and Pukemark.
These were puzzling compound words. I wasn’t sure if they supposed to be funny or offensive. Was something possibly lost in translation? I kept repeating Pukemark back to myself, mystified. It was simple, sensational, and random, like actual word vomit. Pukemark!
There are lots of brands that exist mainly or exclusively on Amazon, and it’s difficult to track down the stories behind them. It’s very common to see names made up of seemingly random combinations of letters, like Euymhod or WIHOLL. Most of these brands are based in China, and many are factory-direct, meaning that you are buying from the manufacturer. Pukemark, which sells inexpensive, trendy clothing, is available through a third-party seller based in Hangzhou, China. Beyond the seller’s Amazon profile, almost nothing about it exists on the web.
Earlier this year, the New York Times investigated so-called “pseudo-brands” and found that the business model is to offer inexpensive options in categories where consumers don’t have much brand loyalty. Since people are simply looking for the least expensive, highest-rated item, the brand name doesn’t matter. For the brands that go through the trademarking process, using a more obscure name makes the process that much quicker.
Sometimes, brand names really matter. Whereas people may automatically think of DeWalt for drills or Coleman for camping chairs, they’re also happy to purchase an Opove massage gun or FRETREE winter gloves, even though these can only be found on Amazon and have only existed for a year or two. Ultimately, selling on Amazon is more about dominating search rankings than it is about the traditional ways of establishing brand loyalty. Similarly, the fast-fashion industry has primed us to look for inexpensive, trendy items, rather than logo-laden clothing.
Even in the cases where traditional branding is unimportant, that still leaves the question of why you would risk choosing the name Pukemark, rather than something safely anonymous like OUGES or Yincro. Alas, Pukemark did not respond to my questions. But I spoke to Zack Franklin, the CEO of AMZKungfu, a consultancy business for Chinese Amazon sellers. Franklin suggested that Pukemark might be a romanization of a Chinese name, and the owners might not realize how it translates. But it seemed like there could be more to the story in this case. Amazon runs a cross-border e-commerce park in Hangzhou, with the purpose of helping with branding and logistics. If a brand felt uncertain about its name, there are plenty of resources to which it could turn. Furthermore, a site ranking the popularity of Amazon sellers reveals that the previous name of Pukemark was PureSnowSpin. This is a perfectly legible brand name that suggests an intentional pivot to something edgier, rather than a lack of comprehension.
I figured a good way to think through the provenance of Pukemark would be to work backward and research advice for people looking to name an Amazon brand. There are endless lists and paid products catering to those looking to sell on Amazon. To start, many recommend you identify your target audience. Viewing the Pukemark listings, there really is a wide variety of items without an immediately clear “look” or target demographic. The main unifying feature is that all the clothing is cheap, the most expensive item being a chiffon dress sold for $21. The designs range from an American flag shirt to business casual attire. It looks essentially like the clothing you’d find at a Walmart or other big-box store. Since there isn’t one clear customer, or type of clothing, this leaves the options for names pretty open.
Another common piece of advice is to choose something that stands out and is easy to remember. Pukemark decidedly succeeds in this respect. Combining two simple but unrelated words creates a name bound to stick in your brain. This is not a strategy that is unique to selling on Amazon. Most online clothing brands and companies have left behind old naming traditions that convey heritage. Names like Ralph Lauren or Lord & Taylor have been supplanted by simpler, catchier ones that don’t sound so dissimilar from these compound Amazon brands—names like Allbirds, Bluefly, ShoeDazzle, and Fashion Nova.
Now, the naming sites also agree that you should not go with something negative or offensive. Personally, I would classify the word puke as negative and would generally not buy a piece of clothing whose label bore any allusion to regurgitation. But I also recognize that there’s a fine line between attention-grabbing and totally off-putting, and different people have different limits. Many of the items from Pukemark have more than 100 reviews, suggesting that plenty of people aren’t bothered by the name (or at least not bothered enough to refrain from buying a shirt). There are also companies in the fashion space that have built strong followings despite names with negative connotations, including online retailer Nasty Gal and makeup company Urban Decay.
There is also a startling amount of competition among inexpensive, third-party clothing brands. If you search “women’s long sleeve shirts” on Amazon, you get more than 80,000 results, the overwhelming majority of which do not come from recognizable brands. Even if Pukemark does not have its own website, or even a dedicated landing page on Amazon, the name can still function as something to catch people’s attention long enough to get them to click through and buy an $8 shirt. Clearly it works—here I am writing an entire article about them.
Does this mean that the future of online fashion is all Mad Libs–style brands? Probably not. But Pukemark and others of its ilk do mark a change. Initially, Amazon struggled to carve out space in the apparel market, but as it increasingly monopolizes online shopping, there’s no reason for shoppers not to throw an inexpensive sundress or T-shirt in their basket as they restock on their essentials. These basically brandless clothing options are a distinct change from when every item was emblazoned with initials or bore an insignia on the chest. Though there are obviously huge labor issues with fast fashion and cheap manufacturing, there’s at least something comfortingly democratizing about brand names becoming irrelevant. And I have to say, I would rather wear something that said Pukemark on the tag than across the front.