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Yasmin El-Mallah, assistant buyer at Urban Outfitters

Street style bloggers, gigs and art galleries all help to inspire Urban Outfitters’ assistant buyer.

Yasmin El-Mallah

Yasmin El-Mallah

What does your typical week involve?

It can vary month to month. On a daily basis we liaise with our suppliers in the EU and Asia. Some of our denim is shipped from Turkey, whereas most of our cotton products are sourced from India. One of the most challenging aspects of my role is negotiating the highest margins with our suppliers, who drive a hard bargain.

Monday is an early start in the office when we discuss the previous week’s sales. Tuesday is a ‘fits day’, which is when we take all of our products under development and fit them on our in-house model. This gives us the chance to get to grips with the aesthetic of the product and see what it will look like on the shop floor.

Wednesday usually includes a development meeting with the designers. We discuss the emergence of trends that we see at gigs or art exhibitions, bouncing ideas off each other. On a Thursday I participate in range building with my buyer Verity Needham. This is essentially where a product is given the green light for production.

Analysing competition is vital, therefore on a Friday I might take a trip to competitor shops like Topshop, & Other Stories, Monki or Selfridges. I look at what trends they are focusing on and any promotions they might be pushing. Even though we have our own distinctive visual merchandising, it’s always interesting to see what other high street stores are doing, especially the wonderfully artistic displays at Liberty.

How do you feel your role is changing as the industry evolves?

The paradigms of the industry are shifting and have been for some time. Today retailers draw inspiration from street style and bloggers, which means the high street is becoming less influenced by high-end designers and luxury brands. Ultimately, the individual on the street who exhibits their style and daily attire to their thousands of followers online has more influence than ever before.

In terms of blogs, The Sartorialist will always be a favourite of mine. [The blog’s writer and photographer] Scott Schuman’s attention to detail and framing of photos always brings the image to life. I also love Stockholm street style. My new favourite Tumblr site is Maggieontherocks.

In another sense, my role is changing in the sense that we have to constantly adapt our negotiation process because the margins are becoming more demanding. We have to work with suppliers to find new avenues for production in order to maintain quality at an affordable price. This might entail trying to source a supplier from further afield or simply changing the fabric or trim.

What are the three defining moments of your career so far?

I was given the opportunity to travel to the Maharashtra province in western India in 2008 as a liaison for a shoe supplier called Ronald Poelman, where I was working as an assistant. It was during this trip I realised I wanted to become a buyer. Meeting the manufacturers in India gave me an insight into how a garment evolves from an idea into a real product. It was great to see how much passion they have for the industry.

Another defining moment would be getting my first job as a senior buyer’s clerk at River Island in 2011. I got the chance to meet many buyers along the way who have gone on to be respected by the industry, such as Emma Lloyd-Jennings, senior buyer at Topshop, who gave me my first job at River Island, and Zara Cain, now senior buyer at I’ve loved working with some incredible people and I’ve learnt so much.

The most recent defining moment was being promoted to an assistant buyer at Urban Outfitters in December 2014. It has been an incredible milestone for my career and my progression within the company has been a fantastic learning curve.

What have you got wrong and how did you learn from it?

I felt like I left River Island before I had achieved what I wanted to. Ideally, I had hoped I would progress to an assistant buyer. However, I made the decision to leave because I felt I wanted to work within a smaller company where I felt more passionately for the product and had more involvement in the development process.

Who in the industry do you aspire to emulate?

Fashion consultant Yasmin Sewell, the former head of buying at Browns. Initially, I started following her on social media because I loved her style and the androgynous influence she brings to her buying. I also admire her ability to balance a career and family life.

Another individual would be Jane Shepherdson, the chief executive of Whistles and former brand director at Topshop. Topshop and Whistles are both brands I’ve always admired for their flair and ability to stay one step ahead of the high street. I personally think a lot of that is down to Jane.

What advice would you give to your 18-year-old self?

Find someone who inspires you and don’t take anything at work too personally.

What are the key skills needed to progress up the career ladder?

Adaptability, organisation and having a strong commercial eye will help in progressing to become a buyer. You have to be able to adapt with the team members, which shows great flexibility. A big aspect of being an assistant buyer is organisation. You have to ensure the smooth running of the department. I also think that being able to successfully communicate your inspiration and ideas is an essential skill in any buying role.

How do you see your career progressing?

I’m looking forward to becoming a buyer on womenswear, hopefully specialising in knitwear and managing my own department within Urban Outfitters.

If you could work in another area of fashion, what would it be?

Definitely fashion photography, perhaps working on my own conceptual projects. I have always been a keen photographer and I love how a photo can capture a feeling in a single moment.


2014 Assistant buyer, own label womenswear blouses, trousers and shorts, Urban Outfitters

September 2013 Senior buyer’s assistant, own label womenswear, denim and outerwear, Urban Outfitters

February 2011-2013 Senior buyer’s clerk, womenswear woven tops, River Island

October 2008-2011 Fashion re-seller/administrator, The Closet Bureau

June 2008 BA (Hons) Writing Fashion & Culture, Southampton Solent University

2007-January 2008 Assistant, Poelman Shoes, Surrey

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