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Fashion careers: What it's like to work in fashion wholesale

By Aileen Yu


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In the age of social media and e-tailers, many fashion businesses choose direct-to-consumer as their main sales strategy. However, wholesale distribution still plays an integral part for leading brands since having key retailers and reputable stockists boosts brand awareness. Multi-brand stores remain a shopping destination and can bring unique opportunities which otherwise could be difficult to penetrate in mature markets.

This sector of the fashion and retail industry seeks job applicants with a background in buying or merchandising and especially those that excel at building relations with international clients or establishing new partnerships. FashionUnited takes a look at what specific skills are required for a career in fashion wholesale. In recent interviews, Jess Tedds, International Wholesale Senior Manager at Quiz Clothing and Sarah Ferguson, the International, Wholesale and Outerwear Buyer for Oasis shared what their roles in fashion wholesale entail.

Necessary skills and education

To be considered for the wholesale team at leading companies such as Jimmy Choo, Levi Strauss and Karl Lagerfeld, a Bachelor’s Degree in Sales, Marketing or Fashion Buying and Merchandising is highly preferred. Proficiency in more than one language also makes an applicant stand out as a core responsibility is building and maintaining relationships with international clients. Excellent customer service and sales skills are sought after as wholesale staff are in charge of communicating with key accounts and selling products to external clients on a daily basis. Merchandising skills may include implementing a brand’s visual merchandising and product programs at the retail level to increase sales growth as well as ensuring that products are optimally placed, sized and merchandised.

Tedds: I secured a part-time job at River Island while at Leicester College. After school, I completed a two-year BTEC course in Fashion Design. From there, I secured a place at the Retail Academy in London for a BA Hons in Fashion Buying & Merchandising for a one-year intensive course. I deferred my place for a year to apply for a Fashion Administrator role for a menswear supplier in Leicester, supplying to the likes of Next. After two nerve-wracking interviews, I got the job! After one year I was promoted from my Administrator role to Product Developer and in two years I was officially made an Account Manager.

Ferguson: Get some work experience, this will help give you a better idea of what the industry is like and what you want to aim for. You should always make sure you are learning as much as possible in each role you take. Just aim to get as much experience as you can and keep learning.

A typical workday in fashion wholesale

A wholesale manager’s day-to-day duties usually consist of working closely with the brand’s buyers, visual merchandisers and marketing team while maintaining close contact with external clients. Key tasks include supporting the development and execution of the overarching annual marketing plan and making sure that all retail & wholesale activities align. Other important responsibilities consist of building and nurturing marketing relationships with wholesale key accounts and acting as the lead marketing contact within the business.

Ferguson: I work with our merchandising team on trading, checking competitor products and researching inspirational brands. Working in stores also gave me an invaluable insight into understanding who the customer is and what they want.

Tedds: Most of my day is spent working closely with the buyers to ensure the smooth delivery of our products. I also analyse weekly sales reports, so I can offer to replenish stock or style alternatives as well as input all our partners’ weekly orders whilst managing their budget and monthly spend. In addition, I work closely with the international marketing team to ensure we are involved in seasonal marketing opportunities to help drive brand awareness in the new territories.

Career development

In conjunction with direct sales channels, wholesale’s benefit for a brand is the ability to reach a wider customer base and to offer in-store experiences that could really boost sales in a company’s early stages of growth. A career in fashion wholesale holds numerous opportunities for growth as there are always new third-party businesses looking to expand their brand mix, whether that’s offline and online.

Tedds: In 2016, I relocated to Glasgow and was offered a brand-new role at Quiz as an e-commerce wholesale manager within the international team. As retail moved online, it was a fantastic opportunity for me to help grow the business and source new international wholesale partners. Fast forward two and a half years and Quiz is now in multiple international markets, stores and concessions, as well as online. Within Quiz there are also many different categories to wholesale such as footwear, menswear and our curve range.

Ferguson: In my time at Oasis, the company has evolved in many ways. We’ve worked hard on giving our customers more ways to shop. For example, we’ve started new initiatives based around our curve and bridesmaid products. The industry is always changing, so it’s important to have the ability to adapt with your customer and ensure you are giving them the best product to fit their needs.

Click here to apply for wholesale jobs in the UK on FashionUnited.

Photos: courtesy of Oasis, courtesy of Quiz Clothing

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