What do you see when you imagine a fashion buyer at work? For industry-outsiders, it might be someone who spends their days scanning Marrakechian backroads, wistfully stroking clothes before declaring a single scarf to contain the print of AW19.
But as we know this is far from the truth. Fashion buying is one of the most demanding jobs in the industry, and as well as requiring a creative mind, a good buyer will need an analytical one too.
A fashion buyer is responsible for selecting and ordering what is sold by brands for maximum profit. This includes identifying current fashion trends, negotiating on prices and reacting to changes in demand. Another facet of the job is the ability to spot a trend while it’s still embryonic: a good buyer will have pitched an order for cycling shorts as soon as Bella Hadid wore hers on Instagram, sourced a supplier for faux-pearls right after Shrimps released its Antonia bag, and predicted the animal print resurgence in a range review long before Camille Charriere dug out her best vintage spots and stripes.
What’s more, fashion buyers are working at a time where the industry is in a state of flux. Seasonality does not exist anymore, meaning buyers are having to work harder and faster than ever to keep up with constantly-dropping collections and micro-trends.
Customers are becoming more trend-focused, price-conscious and digitally savvy—and buyers have to keep up with their changing demands.
It’s a competitive field in fashion, but with the right skills, ability to keep up with the pace and a healthy dose of instinct, fashion buying can be a rewarding one. Salaries in the US range from $62,000 and $96,000 and £45,000 and £70,000 in the UK.
The killer skills
As much as buying is to do with hardset numbers, there’s a certain amount of game-playing to the job, too.
Relationship building, networking and negotiation will be a part of your every day—and a good buyer will know when to pick their battles.
There’s no use butting horns with a supplier for the sake of a couple of hundred pounds on an order of 10,000 pairs of shorts when you know this supplier could help you out on a 40-day lead time in the future.
Being respectful to your suppliers will ensure favors, so try to keep chill on the phone even if you’re up against the wall with a deadline, OK? There’s also a high chance you’ll be working closely with a merchandiser in your department. This person controls the cash so make them your right-hand wo/man; if you work like a dynamic duo you’ll find your job becomes a breeze. You’ll also have to get comfortable with solo presentations: don’t be surprised if you’re asked to chip in on your buying manager’s presentation with your customer research stats. Scary, but all part of the gig. Plus, you’ll need to be a dab hand at Excel: Vlookup and pivot tables will be your best friend. Chic, huh?
Let’s talk emotions
Fashion can be a warm and all-encompassing industry, but that’s not to say it can’t have its brutal moments. With so much focus on accuracy and pace, making a mistake in fashion buying could leave you on the tail-end of some sharp words from your Buying Director. But don’t worry: as with any job it’s all about learning, and the chances are you’ll never make the same mistake again. Learning to be okay with criticism and being able to adapt accordingly will make you a stronger buyer in the long run. (Even if at the beginning you have to run out for the occasional cry in the loo. DW, we’ve all been there.)
Climbing the ladder
Assistant Buyer, Junior Buyer, Buyer, Senior Buyer, Head of Buying, Buying Director. Your career trajectory looks straight forward but it’s not always an easy road to getting there. The best thing you can do to up your chances at promotion is to be open to opportunities and be flexible. For example, if your boss suggests you heading up menswear, consider it as another string to your bow. Getting pigeonholed into one department is a recipe for stagnation; specializing in underwear for example, will ruin your chances of movement if a role in women’s eveningwear pops up. Geddit? The best thing you can do is become an expert in every department, and soon enough you’ll be the go-to guy or gal for everything.
The misconceptions to look out for
When entering fashion buying, it’s good to be realistic about what the job entails. You won’t be flying off to China for meetings or New York for fashion week when you first start out, soz, but you will be able to enjoy daily sample sales and gifting—silver linings, eh? There’s also not one hard and fast way to break into the industry. Sure, while a degree in merchandising, retail, business or similar is appreciated, it’s not a dealbreaker. In British Vogue’s documentary series ‘The Future of Fashion’, Judd Crane, previously the director of womenswear and accessories at Selfridges, advised that a background in visual merchandising or personal shopping could be equally as valuable for understanding what customers want.
Having the right skills and tools will help you flourish in this fast-paced industry. In the past, accurate and reliable data wasn’t something buyers and merchandisers could easily come by. With little consumer buying or behavioral insight, retailers margins would often dwindle and ultimately, customers were left unsatisfied.
But fear not. To respond to these challenges, we’re here to help retailers act on the data. This will help them make better retail decisions and stay ahead of the competition.
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Ciara Sheppard, contributor