Affiliate marketing is almost as old as the Internet; it developed back in 1994 thanks to pornography sites, and it was implemented by Jeff Bezos at Amazon shortly afterward. Here’s how it works: Say you search for flights on Priceline. The hyperlinked airfare results aren’t just any old links. They’re affiliate links. The act of clicking one saves a Priceline cookie to your browser before sending you on to the airline’s website. If you buy the ticket, the airline website will see Priceline’s cookie and will pay Priceline a commission. Affiliate marketing companies like Commission Junction and Linkshare, which created these trackable links, were aimed at developers. A company called Skimlinks made them easier to implement, but it didn’t focus on the fashion market. Baxter, who had interned at a tech start-up in San Francisco, saw an opportunity. If they could make it easy for bloggers to integrate affiliate links to retailers into their posts, everyone involved stood to profit. Retailers could make more sales. Bloggers could earn commissions. And a company that facilitated the transaction and negotiated the commission could take part of the proceeds. After all, many prominent bloggers were already including retail links in their #OOTD (“outfit of the day”) posts anyway.
Sitting at Starbucks, Amber could immediately envision the company. She decided it should be called rewardStyle, and while she was designing the logo on a napkin, Baxter used his iPhone to register the domain name. By February 2011, they had a test platform for the site. She reached out to a few blogger friends and asked them to try it out. “You don’t have to pay anything, you don’t have to sign any contracts, you just have to see if you start making money,” Amber said.
—Francesca Mari, writing in Texas Monthly about the business of fashion blogging.