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Fashion careers: What does a fashion buyer do?

By Aileen Yu


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Being a fashion buyer is one of the most sought after careers in fashion. Behind the glamorous image of a buyer who is travelling the world to select the latest pieces off fashion week runways is a job that requires a combination of skill sets to be successful. Solely responsible for selecting and ordering what is sold in stores to ensure maximum profit, in this demanding role you’ll need to be constantly trend spotting, have a strong business sense and be a great communicator. FashionUnited takes a look at what it takes to be a fashion buyer in the competitive yet exciting world of fashion.

Trend forecasting and brand discovery

Taking from their knowledge of fashion together with business sense, fashion buyers decide what to buy, which mix of brands to buy and need to know what their customer is looking for. Besides maintaining strong relationships with top brands, buyers constantly stay on the lookout for new brands, designers and trends. Before the rise of Instagram, brand discovery would mostly be done via trade shows, networking, a magazine editor’s referral or simply from designers sending samples. Today, Instagram plays a large part in how fashion buyers discover and reach out to emerging brands.

Quantitative and analytical skills

The role of the fashion buyer is where art meets science, meaning being analytical and comfortable with math as well as fashion savvy will put you ahead. Once the buying process gets going, the buyer writes up buys, rolls out the budgets and processes orders. To keep track of inventory, the fashion buyer uses spreadsheet softwares (Excel,Google Sheets) and should be familiar with the formulas in the program. One minute the buyer could be talent scouting the latest brands, the next minute he/she could be presenting to the board why the buying decision has been made to purchase a budding designer’s collection based on consumer insight.

Planning and working with merchandisers on buying

What is the difference between a fashion buyer and merchandiser? Buying is a specialization in the merchandising field. Together withfashion merchandisers, they plan and make buying decisions. Based on the customer’s buying patterns and company budget, they analyze how much of each item to buy, the mix of brands and what to buy for each location that will drive profit. Through this meticulous planning process, a framework for what to purchase will be in place for the buyer to follow.

Experience and training

Many students believe that majoring in merchandising at a prestigious fashion institute is the path to becoming a successful fashion buyer. Although this is one option, there are also opportunities within the retail industry that can offer you the training for this job. From British Vogue’s “The Future of Fashion” documentary series, fashion maven Alexa Chung interviews Judd Crane, previously the director of womenswear and accessories at Selfridges (now CEO of Proenza Schouler). Crane advised that to become a good buyer, gaining experience in visual merchandising or working in personal shopping can be valuable as it teaches you what customers want. Another opportunity is to seek out and apply for training programs offered by top national retail stores. In blogger Song of Style’s “How to be a Buyer” video interview, Sharmaine Harrison (buyer of handbags and accessories at Saks Fifth Avenue) shared that she learned the fundamentals of being a buyer and took the time to develop her craft through Macy’s training program.

Sourcing fabric and materials for brands

Besides being a fashion buyer on the retail side, buyers can also be responsible for sourcing fabric and materials for brands. Fabrics decided for a collection could determine how profitable it will be and designers have to work with fabrics available that season. It is rare for luxury brands to entirely create and weave their own fabric, but they are able to order specific prints, dyes or color combinations from manufacturers. It’s more common for sportswear companies such as Nike to create their own specialized fabrics. These buyers need to have a vast network with suppliers that sell fabric in bulk as well as in smaller quantities. Also, a good relationship with mills and suppliers is key. Oftentimes they will work with fabric agents that can offer advice and better trading terms with the mills.

Click here to apply for buyer jobs in fashion in the US. Click here to apply for buyer jobs in fashion in the UK.

Photo: Pexels

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