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Tips for sucess in buying & merchandising

Buying and merchandising remain popular and competitive career paths. Five professionals share their stories and tips for success.

Avni Vara
Head of womenswear merchandising, Asos.com

Avni Vara

Avni Vara

I’ve always tried to stand out among my peers. I’ve done this by not being afraid to speak up and have an opinion, and I come to my managers with solutions rather than asking them to fix a problem. You shouldn’t be afraid to challenge directors. Challenging them gets you noticed and I think they do appreciate it. For example, some of the processes I’d been working with were a bit out of date, so I said to a manager that they needed updating to a newer system. This was taken on board and a new process was rolled out to the rest of the business. It’s worth thinking about top-line strategy rather than just at merchandising level.

I’ve always tried to take on extra responsibilities outside of my department. I was a big part of the menswear social committee at Asos, which gave me the opportunity to get to know and work with people I wouldn’t usually work with on a day-to-day basis. I moved from Arcadia to Asos [in 2007] as I wanted a different challenge and to experience the world of online. I think the more experience you have of different retailers, the more rounded it makes you.

CV

2014 Head of merchandising, womenswear brands, Asos.com
2013 Merchandise manager, womenswear brands, Asos.com
2009 Senior merchandiser, menswear own label, Asos.com
2008 Merchandiser, menswear, footwear and accessories brands & own label, Asos.com
2007 Junior merchandiser, menswear, footwear and accessories brands & own label, Asos.com
2005 Senior assistant merchandiser, Arcadia
2003 Assistant merchandiser, Arcadia
2002 Merchandising admin assistant, Arcadia

 

Luisa De Paula
Fashion and brand director, jewellery and accessories etailer Boticca

Luisa de paula

Luisa de paula

When I first started at Selfridges I was department manager of men’s designer clothing and working with Sarah Gallagher, who was then buying manager of men’s. I kept asking her to take me on buying appointments on my days off. I was forward-thinking, enthusiastic and used any opportunity to learn more.

A pivotal moment in my career was when I was promoted to buying manager of men’s contemporary and Spirit at Selfridges. I was in charge of two big departments - it was quite a big endorsement of my ability and catapulted me both into the luxury arena and to a completely different level of importance. They could have chosen someone with more experience but I put myself forward.

I always knew I wanted to be a buyer. I moved to Liberty as fashion director, and when I was there I reintroduced men’s contemporary. My mission was to put Liberty on the fashion radar. I brought Marc by Marc Jacobs and Miu Miu bags into Liberty. All of those things help build your reputation. Liberty and my 10 years at Selfridges hold a lot of weight and what I achieved there follows me through. My-Wardrobe was quite a risk as it was a small business and a new model, but I had my reputation as my calling card so I could bring in brands because they believed in me and trusted me. I took a side route for a bit and did some consultancy work as I wanted to set up on my own. Now I’m at Boticca, working at a marketplace model. I’ve always been interested in new retail models and expanding my skill set.

I give a lot of lectures and I tell students: don’t jump to the next level until you’re ready. You have to make sure you’ve got the building blocks to give you a really good foundation for the future.

CV

2014 Fashion and brand director, Bottica
2013 Fashion consultant, Luisa De Paula Consultancy
2008 Buying and merchandising director, My-Wardrobe.com
2007 Fashion consultant
2003 Fashion director, Liberty
1993 Buying manager, Selfridges
1988 BA (Hons) Portuguese Literature and Cultural History, King’s College London

 

Jack Wilkinson
Men’s cottons merchandiser, River Island

Jack Wilkinson

Jack Wilkinson

I came into the profession quite late. I was around 24, I’d been a teacher, and I didn’t know the industry that well or about career progression, so when I started I took in as much as I could. My first full-time position was at River Island as an allocator. I was there for three and a half years and I left as assistant merchandiser. I threw myself at every opportunity for internal training and continually sought out advice from people who had been working in merchandising for a long time. I have kept in close contact with the head of merchandising at French Connection, Darren Debell, and I regard him as a kind of mentor - I speak to him regularly to bounce ideas off about my career and for other fashion-related issues.

To stand out you’ve got to continue learning. I moved to Internaçionale because I wanted to gain experience in a different type of business and to learn about womenswear. It was a retailer working at a different pace and was promotion-driven, so I was able to discover a different way of working. Later I became established merchandiser at Asos, working on premium high street and contemporary brands. Again, I wanted this role as I felt it would broaden my experience as I would be working with premium brands at higher price points. I’m always learning, asking questions, not resting on any laurels and trying to push myself.

CV

2014 Merchandiser, men’s cottons, River Island
2013 Established merchandiser, premium high street and concession brands, Asos.com
2013 Merchandiser, knitwear and jersey, Internaçionale
2011 Merchandiser, outerwear, tailoring and concession brands, Internaçionale
2011 Junior merchandiser, Internaçionale
2010 Assistant merchandiser, River Island
2009 Senior allocator, River Island
2008 Allocator, River Island
2008 Trainee merchandiser, French Connection
2005 BSc (Hons) Biotechnology, University of Northumbria at Newcastle

 

Delia Phillips
Director of buying, Debenhams

Delia Phillips

Delia Phillips

Early on in my career I was fortunate to work for creative, inspirational and visionary leaders, which formed my ambition to be a buying director. I was in awe of the role and responsibilities that came along with it, and seeing other buying directors at work gave me the drive I have now.

I started out my buying career at Topshop. While there I put myself forward to cover a maternity leave role, becoming acting buyer when I was senior assistant buyer. That helped to accelerate my career.

When I was there I was tasked with setting up a new directional label, TS Design. I had to recruit a team, establish a vision and convey that vision. It was an amazing experience and a test of all my abilities. The brand launched and was very successful, and I received an award of excellence from the then managing director Steve Longdon.

Working across different businesses and brands including Oasis, Topshop and Wallis has given me a breadth of experience, which has helped me define my own leadership style. To really crack the role of buying you need to have deep-rooted passion, flair, vision, tenacity and resilience. It’s a tough market so you have to be able to learn from your mistakes, pick yourself up and drive forward to improve.

CV

2014 Director of buying, Debenhams
2013 Buying director, Dorothy Perkins
2009 Head of buying (casual), Dorothy Perkins
2007 Head of buying, Wallis
2003 Buying manager (formal), Oasis
1999 Senior buyer, Oasis
1995 Buyer, Topshop
1993 Acting buyer, Topshop
1992 Assistant buyer, Topshop
1989 Buyer’s admin, John Lewis

 

Laura Southern
Senior buyer for brands and concessions, Topman

Laura Southern

Laura Southern

I always wanted to be a buyer so I have always sought out any opportunities to get me there. If I knew a buyer was leaving I stepped up and proved myself - I was hungry and ambitious, and wanted to learn. I wanted to understand how the market worked, how the industry worked, how the department worked and to have an understanding about the commercial aspects of buying too.

All the time I was asking questions. I’d be sat with Stefan Pesticcio, my fashion director at Asos.com, looking at what meetings he had in his diary and asking what the meetings were. But I didn’t just ask about them - every time I could, I asked if I could join his meetings. I wanted to know everything. I wanted to understand what presentation skills were needed at different meetings and to find out the kind of level of detail they discussed.

After Asos I wanted to learn about stores, so I moved to Topman. You’ve got to prove yourself too. I manage all brands and concessions at Topman, and I’ve put some of the brands on the map successfully in [the store on ] Oxford Circus. My target is to become head of buying in two years. I’d tell everyone in buying that they should work hard, seek out
and ask for opportunities - and make sure they deliver on them.

CV

2014 Senior buyer, brands and concessions, Topman
2013 Buyer, brands and concessions, Topman
2010 Buyer, trend and premium brands, Asos.com
2009 Assistant buyer, men’s denim and street brands, Asos.com
2006 Buyer’s assistant, men’s brands department, Asos.com

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