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How to Become a Fashion Buyer for a Clothing Company
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Remember Rachel Green in the old hit sitcom, Friends? This lovable character, played by Jennifer Aniston, one day decides she no longer wants to be a waitress and quickly gets a new job as an assistant buyer at Bloomingdale's, then works her way to become Ralph Lauren's fashion buyer within only two seasons of the series. She doesn't seem to have a related degree or experience in this field prior to the Bloomingdale's job, but is portrayed simply as a fashion enthusiast with good taste, great charm and serious determination to succeed. Well, in reality, not everyone can be as lucky as Rachel Green. Willpower, charisma and an eye for style are very helpful, but to really become a fashion buyer for a clothing company, you need a lot more qualifications and experience than that. This career guide will discuss what a fashion buyer does, what skills and education are necessary for the job, and what steps you should take in order to break into this fashion career.
What Does a Fashion Buyer Do?
A fashion buyer's responsibilities vary in different clothing companies. In a small retail company, buyers usually purchase branded merchandise from numerous manufacturers, review all the clothing lines and select designs that will complement the overall style of their stores. They also negotiate prices and delivery options, and sometimes request the manufacturers to produce specific styles, colors or fabrics for their stores, which is known as "private label." These private-label garments, although carrying the manufacturer's label, will be sold at the buyer's stores only.
In a large clothing company, fashion buyers also take part in the designing, pricing and development process. There are normally several buyers in one company, each specializes in only one category of products, such as sportswear, casual sweaters, business suits, etc. They attend fashion shows, consult fashion forecasting services, then meet with designers and merchandisers to create a clothing line plan. In addition, they work with suppliers and manufacturers to get garment samples made up in different colors, fabrics and sizes. Once the sample garments are approved, the buyers will take two identical samples, keep one and send the other back to the manufacturers to use in their quality control processes. Last but not least, fashion buyers have to make decisions on product prices as well. They usually consult merchandisers in this process, taking into account the cost to manufacture, what their target customers can likely afford to pay, and the mark-down at the end of the season.
Characteristics and Skills Needed for this Fashion Career
- An eye for fashion
- Good commercial sense
- Attention to Detail
- Ability to multitask
- Love of shopping
- Excellent team player
How to Become a Fashion Buyer
Get Proper Education - A business or fashion-related degree can give you a great jump start in this career path. Some college courses that will be very helpful for a fashion buying job include fashion management or any fashion-related courses, retail management, product development, commercial implications, communication and negotiation.
Do a Fashion Buyer internship - Many clothing companies have a big fashion-buying team and sometimes offer internship opportunities to college students or anyone who is interested to work in the fashion industry. It is often a low-wage or even unpaid position, but it could be a great opportunity to break into the field. Those with no college degree, in particular, often start their fashion buying career this way.
Start as a Buyer's Administrative Assistant - This is another good way for people with or without a college degree to set foot in this field. You will be responsible for all the phones calls, emails, meeting schedules, travel arrangement, note taking, sample labeling, etc. It can be pretty hectic and stressful, but on the upside, you will get to learn the ropes, then possibly work your way up to buyer's assistant and eventually buyer.
Have a Stellar Resume - If you have lengthy work experience in various fields, include only the ones that are fashion-related and business-oriented on your resume. Work history that's totally irrelevant would only be a waste of ink and space. Plus, don't only mention your business skills and knowledge about fashion, but also highlight other important skills for the job, such as communication skills, attention to detail, multitasking skills, and ability to work with diverse groups of people.
Do Your Research - Before an interview (either for a buyer's assistant or buyer position), do thorough research on the clothing company you'd like to work for. Visit their stores, study their clothing collections, observe the customers and research the company's competitors. And most crucially, make sure you are up to date on what's going on in the fashion retail industry.