From a young age I always wanted to work in fashion. It wasn’t because I ever thought it was a glamorous industry to work in but because I loved designing, creating and making clothes.
I spent hours cutting out the paper doll wardrobes from the back pages of the girls comic magazine “Bunty” and making endless outfits for my ‘Sindy’ dolls from left-over fabrics kindly donated by our local dressmaker.
From the outside, the fashion industry appears to very glamorous filled with beautiful clothes catwalks and models but the reality is very different. For anyone aspiring to be a fashion buyer I would always encourage them to really understand what it takes and to look at the many roles in the industry as not everyone is suited to the role of fashion buying.
The fashion industry is one of the most competitive and fast-paced industries in the world. The role of the Fashion Buyer is integral within a retail organisations. In most cases, particularly for smaller business, the buyers are the ones who do the planning and selecting of garments or fabrics and clothing ranges to sell. They must consider factors such as trends, market and customer demands, as well as price points in order to create a selection of products that people will love. It can be really rewarding to see your ranges selling well but it is an extremely stressful job with a lot of difficult decision making every day. As with any job, being a Fashion Buyer comes with many challenges.
The top 5 challenges of being a Fashion Buyer are:
Stay ahead of the trends
In order to succeed as a Fashion Buyer, you must stay up to date on trends, be aware of what is happening in the industry and the wider economy and keep up with consumers changing tastes. Because the industry is constantly evolving, there is constant pressure to seek the latest fashion trends and newest styles from across the globe. Keeping up with all of the latest developments in the fashion industry can be difficult for buyers because it is can change so quickly particularly in the ladieswear categories. Using social media, attending trade shows, or working trend forecasters are just a few of the many sources that a fashion buyer can utilise to help understand the evolving changes.
Managing inventory Levels
Having too much or too little stock is every Fashion Buyers nightmare! As a buyer you need to constantly monitor your inventory. You need to be able to predict the demand for the products and make sure that you have enough stock on hand. You also need to keep track of what is selling well and what isn’t, then adjust the inventory accordingly. Understanding how to read your financial data and keeping a close on on you daily sales are key to being able to spot potential problems that may appear.
Ability to forecast demand
One question I have often been asked is “how do you know how much to buy?” This is where your experience and confidence as a buyer comes through. It is not enough to know product, as every product bought is connected to a financial target. As a fashion buyer you learn to forecast demand for the next season and make sure to buy enough stock to meet the demand by looking at trends, sales data, and other factors. It can be unpredictable!! You can have styles that really surprise you be selling much faster than expected and of course other lines that don’t sell or really didn’t appeal to your consumers and have to be marked down. The key to success as a buyer is to ensure you are buying or selecting the products that will sell at full price rather than hoping for the best and ending up with too many markdowns.
Staying within budget
You don’t need to be an accountant to be a successful buyer but you DO need to understand the various financial metrics involved and in particular how to manage your buying budget. There are so many new brands and designers who want to get their products into the hands of the buyers. This means as a buyer you have a lot of options to choose from but your final decisions have to conform to your budget constraints.
This helps in the decision making process on product selection and means you need to ask hard questions before confirming an order. Is this right for my customer? Does it fit within my price points? Will this bring something different to what I already offer? Keeping to your planned budget is provides clarity and helps you decide the next steps more effectively. It also guides you on how much to buy and help when evaluating progress and planning future budgets.
Bringing creative ideas to the business
An essential part of being a Fashion Buyer is creativity. Developing new styles and products each season while keeping their target consumer front of mind requires constant innovation and creativity. It does help to understand the lifecycle of the product. Timing is important and knowing when your customer is ready for something new before they realise it. Each season you strive to bring your customers back by offering what they know and love about your brand while also surprising them with new styles products and choices. Each season brings a new opportunity for creative development all within the constraints of your business strategy and budget.
Let us have a look the top 3 skills needed
Be confident with your numbers and stats
It may come as a surprise but a buyer does spend a lot of time reviewing financial data and analysing sales figures, developing and managing a budget and working with multiple spreadsheets to understand the stock position of the business at any time. Attention to detail is a must, so do take time to check your figures are accurate and your formulas are correct if you are presenting information to senior management. There is nothing worse than presenting inaccurate information and it will raise questions about the accuracy of the data your are discussing.
This is probably one of the most important skills to master. Buyers need to have excellent time management skills to juggle all the daily and weekly tasks they need to accomplish. It also helps to be good under pressure to handle the busy workload. Multitasking is helpful especially when meeting multiple deadlines at once. But focus on organising your work and working smarter and not harder will help to avoid stress and burnout.
Be an outstanding communicator
As a buyer you will work with many different people and across different buying departments, where english may not even be everyone’s first language, so strong communication is key! Communicating with foreign suppliers, designers or brands while negotiating prices or contracts should be positive, friendly and professional at all times. Developing strong interpersonal communication skills makes it easier to collaborate and learn from one another.
Being a Fashion Buyer provides the opportunity to stay on top of the latest trends and to be involved in the product development process while the role also provides you with the opportunity to understand the business side of fashion and to play a part in bringing looks from the runway to the consumer. Fashion Buyers have a significant role to play by making buying decisions that result in the companies success and business growth.
While being a Fashion Buyer is stressful and challenging at times, with the right skills, knowledge and lots of hard work you too can develop a rewarding and successful career.