Monday, 21 October 2013

Behind being a Buyer: the real fashion faux pass

It's been eons since I've written a post(seems to me like I've been introducing my articles with an apology to this more and more, don't cha'think?). After having been tossed around, beaten up and dragged under the water, I've come back stronger and far more wiser that My previous self, and I credit all this to my experiences during the holidays. You might be asking, "what experiences?". A few, monsieur! One of them being a short stint at Harper's BAZAAR as their fashion intern(albeit I ended it prematurely due to reasons I will disclosure in another article.), another being my usual escapade into the realm of theatre( this time, with theatreworks and their show LIFT:Love Is Flower The). But I've yet to contribute a solid incisive article to lil' old DOD, and that's just not right. Hence, I've decided to share my article on poachedmag here. Since my inception into this heavily materialistic world that people commonly refer to as "fashion", I was, and still am, bewitched by the idea of being a Buyer. It was like reaching for the candy jar on the highest Shelf- it felt beyond reach, completely unattainable. 

And like every other highly productive human being, I decided to write about it(Yes, instead of actually going out and making things happen to achieve this long forsaken dream).  But this article, being extremely close to my heart, was given to poachedmag, based on the fact that it would reach more people; that my story would be able to engage a wider audience. Isn't that the moral obligation of a writer? To reach out, spread ideas and challenge conventional stereotypes with incessant over-the-keyboard arguments( or highly charged debates, if you're paranoid like that).  But there are times when the very effect of having it concentrated in an isolated location is just what something needs, to allow it to bloom and grow. Much like how I prefer to order take-away from my school hawker center and eat it in an abandoned part of Singapore Poly's desolate studying corners. Their tables are quite snug, I must say. So without further ado, I present to you my article on Fashion Buying and what it takes to become a fashion buyer. (Naturally, I credit  poachedmag since they were the first to publish this, albeit I wrote it for them.) I sincerely hope you enjoy reading this. Because unlike most things I give, this one came from the heart,

A career that’s coveted by millions the world over. Being a buyer is seen as standing at the apex of the fashion food chain. As a buyer, you get to rub shoulders with some of the best designers in the business, sit front row for (almost) all the seasonal fashion weeks held in the 4 key cities, scour the globe in search of the next “big thing” and basically, shop for the benefit of others. Doesn’t sound like much of a job, or does it?
Unbeknownst to many, the job entails a high level of pressure and demands unwavering devotion. The facade that buyers lead a glamorous lifestyle coupled by the misunderstanding that their job is simple is the main reason why this profession has eluded so many. We all want to be like Linda Fargo, senior Vice President of the fashion office and store presentation at Bergdorf Goodman, and have designers like Versace literally throwing their couture creations at us to wear during the Met Ball, or have them deliver to us full set samples just to keep us on their good side.

But here’s the thing, fashion is a masquerade: everyone sees through rose-tinted glasses. Let’s take a hard look at the real grind behind being a buyer.
Firstly, you need to already have 3-4 years of experience before you even delve into independent level buying. That means, having to aid a buyer as an assistant merchandiser first. And merchandisers do very laborious work: carrying and transporting all the purchased goods from one point to another, checking and maintaining the wardrobe, organizing the styling kit and other menial jobs that won’t seem very beneficial for the first 6 months or so.
This is a job that often requires experience in retail. Generally, people work as sales associates before they become fashion buyers. “Anybody thinking of this should have retail experience,” says Terry Hughes, a fashion buyer in Georgia. So, if you hate having to stand on the sales floor for 8 hours and silently observe what does and does not sell, this profession might not be your cup of tea.

It’s up to the fashion buyer to know, both intuitively and through research, what looks are going to be, so to speak, in fashion in the coming season. They need to be one step ahead of everyone else and think about the customer’s needs, fashion trends, potential suppliers and prices way before these trends even surface in society.
A buyer must make sure that the department or store will make a profit from their purchases. “Money is always a concern,” says Hughes. “It’s not like a shopping spree because you’re ordering out of your business’s pocket. If they don’t sell, you don’t have a business.”
Due to the very nature that fashion buyers operate on, their decisions could make or break a brand. Buyers can be fired on the basis that the items they've brought in have not been selling enough for the business to make profit. From all my years of working in retail, I've managed to pick up one very important saying; and it goes a little like this- " you can have the most beautiful collection in the world. But if it doesn't sell, it's worth nothing".
Responsible for the garments that a retailer carries in stock, the role of the fashion buyer is one of the most crucial positions in the fashion industry, and more of a numbers game than people might think. “Quality is key”, adds Georgina Coulter, Head of buying for “Especially in the current economic climate, value is very important and this no longer translates as price, but customers want to perceive the value and quality in what they are buying”. Your arithmetic skills need to be apt enough to analyse average price points and compare them to a plethora of other quotas on a daily basis.
Buyers also need to be well organized and decisive. “You have to go for the bare minimum if you’re not sure about something, but you also don’t want to be sold out right away. It takes good decision making,” says Hughes.
Another thing that I personally had trouble swallowing, during my training as a fashion buyer, was having to desensitize my creative decisions. Just because you like something doesn’t mean the customer will. Be prepared to think on your feet, travel at a whim’s notice, and make mistakes! Not everything you buy is going to sell. It might be tough at first, but it’s extremely rewarding when you see your choices fly off the sales racks the minute they’re displayed!
Soak up the world around you. Tricia Smith, national merchandise manager for Nordstrom BP, “Buyers need to have a true passion for fashion and trends of all kinds. Immerse yourself in everything from pop culture to runway shows, magazines, and celebrities – because everything influences the customer. You have to become a student of all of these things to know your customer and to be successful as a buyer.”

And the holiday season? Especially hectic. Buyers often visit overseas trade shows, factories, fashion shows and manufacturers’ offices. They have to be on the ball and keep track of fashion’s flux constantly, something that requires immense stamina and passion.
Lastly, you need to enjoy fashion to work in this line (DUH!). Successful buyers are those who know what looks good. As much as numbers and trend forecasts play a big part in a buyer’s decision process, a good sense of fashion can set you apart from the rest of the fashion pack.

Because I couldn't find a better picture to illustrate my point about Good fashion sense. YAY ,GIUSEPPE!
Relish in the fact that you will have to meet different people from diverse walks of life. Bond with them, establish a relationship and let it grow into a profitable asset for you in the future.
With all this said and done, fashion buying; though a difficult career path to pursue, is not impossible to attain. Be tenacious and constantly look for ways to better your knowledge of the fashion world. And when you finally get to the apex, take a deep breath and enjoy the fresh air for as long as you can. You’ve earned the right to bask in the glory

Next thing you know, you’ll be flying first class on a plan bound for London, off to discuss price points with suppliers for your dream brand.

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