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A day in the life: Helen Stringer

The buyer for women’s brands at Urban Outfitters says having faith in your own judgement is a must.

What does your typical week involve?

During the buying season I’m probably out of the office at least half of the time - either running from one appointment to another in London, or travelling to shows in Paris, Copenhagen or New York, reviewing collections and looking at product. When I’m in the office my focus is on trade, reviewing sales and ensuring we have enough stock, and trying to predict trends. I’ll check in with my buying director Henrietta Klug, make a store visit, meet with the marketing team and review trade with the planning team.

What meeting are you most looking forward to today?

I’m looking forward to the womenswear trade meeting - all the buyers from own label, shoes, accessories and vintage meet each week to discuss best and worst, so we get an overview of what’s happening across the business. As it’s the start of the season, we’re getting a lot of reads from new product. Spring product always feels fresh after months of coats and sweaters. It’s always great to see product you worked on six to eight months ago hit the shop floor and start selling.

What task do you wish you could postpone?

I’ve got looming order deadlines for a lot of brands for autumn 14. Despite the fact that Urban Outfitters is 42 stores now, I still boutique-buy many brands to ensure each store is getting the right package. I buy differently for online, London stores, Germany, Benelux and Scandinavia. There are a couple of orders I wish I could postpone, but at least that’s a few less to do next week.

How did you get to where you are today?

I didn’t follow the most straightforward career path - I spent my time at university learning about contemporary history and politics in Asia. After a stint working in retail at American Apparel post-uni I realised I wanted to work in buying, and have slowly made my way up the ladder. I moved into managing stores, and was then given the opportunity at [global affairs and lifestyle magazine] Monocle to get involved with product collaborations, which gave me my first experience of starting to be a buyer. From there, I joined Urban Outfitters on the women’s branded team as a buying assistant. Three and a half years later I’m the buyer.

What has been your career highlight?

I’d like to think I haven’t peaked yet. We bought a new denim brand in a year ago that’s worked well. It’s been great to see something I knew had potential come to fruition. The first time I went to New York on my own on a buying trip, everything felt very real for me, like it was a confirmation that whatever I was doing was going alright.

If you could change one thing about your career path, what would it be?

It would have been better to have done a fashion degree, but buying’s something you learn on the job, whatever your previous experience. Fashion and retail are very meritocratic - it offers opportunities to people with all sorts of backgrounds, and is the better for it. Fashion is so influenced and intertwined with other aspects of culture, I think it’s beneficial to be able to consider things from different perspectives.

Who is your mentor?

I’ve been really lucky and had some great bosses - I have a really good relationship with my buying director. She’s always had a lot of time for me and helped me to have faith in my own judgement.

How do you see your career progressing?

In the short term, I want to build on what I’m doing - there’s always more brands I want to get on board, and new territories we’re opening in, so there are new challenges and opportunities every season. Looking into the future, I’d love to have free rein to curate some retail space. There are so many stores I admire.

What advice would you give to someone wanting to follow in your footsteps?

It’s important to have realistic expectations. You’ll spend as much time analysing data and fiddling with enormous spreadsheets as you will looking at product. I think the hardest step for most people is getting to grips with that first buyer’s assistant job.

Working on the shop floor or interning is a good way to prepare for the role, and will help get your foot in the door. My main advice to people would just be to work hard and be confident in your own tastes. Oh, and be polite. That always helps.

  • Salaries for this position range from £40,000 to £60,000, plus benefits, though salaries on the branded side tend to be lower than own-buy buyers (estimate provided by Henry Fox)

CV

2014 Buyer, Urban Outfitters, London
2013 Assistant buyer, Urban Outfitters
2008 Buyer’s assistant, Urban Outfitters
2008 Retail co-ordinator, Monocle
2006 Sales assistant, American Apparel
2005 Graduated BA Hons Asian Studies, University of Sheffield

 

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