Job Description (What the job involves)
Fashion buyers are wonderfully lucky individuals who get to shop for clothes in a BIG way! They are responsible for putting together the clothing collections that we love to purchase in department stores, boutiques and fashion clothing chains.
This is a far more complex role than simply buying lots of clothes you like the look of though. There is a surprising amount of painstaking research, analysis and negotiation that goes on behind the scenes to stock the stores with the clothing lines that are going to generate the most sales and biggest profit margins. Below is a selection of some of the typical duties a fashion buyer would be expected to carry out.
- Keeping up to-date with what’s in and what’s out. Fashion buyers have to have a keen sense of what current fashion trends are now and what future trends are likely to look like in the future. To keep their finger on the pulse of fashion they attend seminars, trade events and fashion shows as well as keeping up to-date through reading fashion mags, noting what celebs are wearing and conducting competitor market research. Bottom line - buyers have to be in tune with what’s happening in the market and spot trends that will most appeal to their customers.
- Predict future fashion trends. As well as predicting what the must have fashion accessories of tomorrow will be buyers will be on the look out for gaps in the market that they can fill.
- Sourcing fabric and clothing suppliers. Fashion buyers will travel far and wide to identify designers and fabric suppliers that meet their companies standards of quality and whose products will appeal to their market both in style and price. Fashion buyers are regular attendees at fashion weeks where fashion designers and clothing brands/houses get to showcase their latest designs and give the buyers and media a good indication of what’s ‘in’ and ‘out’ in the world of fashion. Buyers will have the opportunity to meet with show room representatives and PR people and so the retail process of negotiation begins. For chains that have in house designers the buyers will be heavily involved in the product development of their own home label brands.
- Negotiating with suppliers. Suppliers want to sell their clothing at as high a price as possible and fashion buyers want to buy their clothing at as low a price as possible thereby increasing potential profit margins. They have to each compromise to reach a price that is commercially viable to both. The buyer will know what price they can realistically charge and from that can work out together with the sales targets what they can afford to buy the stock in at. Whether they can achieve this will depend in part on how well they can negotiate terms.
- Place clothing orders. Fashion buyers typically stock up for each coming season. In the UK we are typically used to seeing Spring, Summer, autumn and winter collections. The Fashion buyer will typically work well ahead of schedule buying their summer collection during winter for example.
- Analyse retail sales stats. Analysis and evaluation of sales performance on the shop floor is a key part of the buyer’s role.Their goal is to provide the most profitable collection and to do this they need to analyse the sales figures and gain valuable feedback from store retail staff as to what lines are selling well and what customer feedback is like. It’s all about the resulting sales and profit margins.
- Maintain Good relationship with suppliers
- Be in communication with other departments. Fashion buyers work closely with other departments such as merchandising and marketing so that their collections are promoted in the best possible light.
Upsides and Downsides
The job of a fashion buyer is on the positive side glamorous, exciting,fun, fast paced and varied. If you have a passion for fashion then this could well be your ideal job as fashion buyers have to fully immerse themselves in the fashion industry, be at the forefront of fashion and best of all SHOP!
There’s the thrill of world wide travel to fashion shows in Milan and Paris together with trips to India and the far East. There’s the excitement of seeing designers collections before they hit the market and then satisfaction of seeing your store’s clothing being worn on high streets up and down the country.
Because the work of the fashion buyer is so influential on a fashion stores profits there is the constant pressure to make the right decision, as to do otherwise could have a significant negative impact on the company’s performance. As such there’s a lot of hard work done over long hours. This relentless pace doesn’t suit everyone.
Skills and Personal Qualities
Many of the skills required of a fashion buyer can be acquired and honed during the job itself.
- Good with numbers and spreadsheets. This surprises some people but it’s key that fashion buyers are highly numerate. They will be constantly required to analyse the sales performance stats of their clothing lines and be able to make sensible commercial decisions based on their findings.
- A passion for fashion. Without enthusiasm for the fashion industry which will make attending fashion shows and devouring fashion magazines a pleasure, to progress within this industry will be difficult.
- Well organised and able to plan ahead.
- Good commercial sense.
- Good computer skills.
- Adaptable. Fashion buyers need to be able to react to changing market conditions; in other words be flexible and versatile. In analysing their stocks sales performance they have to take positive action if certain items aren’t shifting.
- Liaise with other departments. Marketing, merchandising and quality control
- Good communicator.
Fashion buyers are generally expected to have a degree. Of obvious benefit would be to have a fashion related degree such as fashion merchandising but marketing, business or economic based degrees are also useful.
Whilst studying for a degree wannabe fashion buyers are advised to gain valuable practical experience of working within fashion retail. This experience might take on working within a clothes store or if you’re really lucky work experience within a buying department.
With practical experience being so important it would be worth looking at taking a sandwich course where a year to attend an internship programme or similar within the fashion industry is granted.
Graduates should be made aware that having a degree will most likely only get them to the first rung of the fashion buyers career ladder. This is a fiercely competitive market so you should consider yourself immensely lucky if after graduating you get accepted onto a graduate training programme or internship programme. After all it’s the gaining of retail experience and learning the ropes from experienced buyers that really qualifies you for this role.
Potential Salary and Benefits
Fashion buyers can work for fashion stores, wholesale fashion distributors and international clothing chains.
If you work for a small company then you might be the only buyer responsible for the entire womenswear department. As a general rule the larger the company the more buyers will be present within the department. And within large organisations like Marks & Spencer the clothing collections will be fragmented so you have buyers responsible for different areas like underwear, knitwear and swimwear.
First rung on the buyers ladder is often as a fashion buyer’s administration assistant or clerk. This is mainly an administrative role with salaries of roughly between £16,000 and £18,000 a year.
Progression from here is as an assistant fashion buyer on between £17,000 and £19,000 per year. More responsibility is afforded here to have more of an active interest in the handling of suppliers assisting the fashion buyer with their various contracts.
There are typically 3 levels (A1, A2 and A3) that an assistant buyer has to attain before gaining sufficient experience to operate as a junior buyer. The whole process , rather like an apprenticeship program can take around 3 years.
Salaries for buyers can be difficult to forecast as it often depends which fashion house you work for and your level of buying responsibility. Typically salary ranges though are between £27,000 to £45,000 per year with senior fashion buyers being able to command salaries of around £55,000 to £70,000 and if you’re lucky higher still.
The ultimate goal of any buyer working for a large international fashion house is to head up the buying department and have the whole buying infrastructure report into you. Head buyers can easily command salaries from £90,000 and upwards.
Please note that salaries can be difficult to accurately report upon as it depends on the location and nature of business. Therefore you should treat our given figures as a guideline only therefore.
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