People who are new to the industry sometimes believe a career in fashion buying and merchandising is all about enjoying swanky shows and selecting the most attractive outfits that waltz by on the catwalk.
It’s usually at this point I step in and gently explain that they’re in for a rude awakening.
In fact, if you want to enter this highly competitive sector it’s all about having an excellent understanding of maths and how retail really operates.
Having worked at the sharp end of buying and merchandising for brands and retailers including Burton, Jaeger, Dash and Harrods, I’ve seen first-hand the struggle between companies that are desperate for talent and the sometimes hapless new starters businesses don’t have time to train.
Fashion companies are increasingly crying out for switched-on buyers and merchandisers who have the ability to create fresh and exciting ranges, maximise sales, and accurately forecast and react to trends and changes in demand.
Quick delivery of the latest look to the shop floor is vital as styles and trends change with increasing speed and regularity. Such a fast-moving trade requires the fashion buyer to make faster and faster product decisions.
Newcomers also need to be taught about the vital role of marketing in the process of designing and buying a range of products. Most fashion retailers understand this as a specific operational function, which promotes the company and its products through a combination of advertising and PR.
Despite all this demand, those who are new to the market find it nearly impossible to gain work experience. The companies don’t have time to train them but they also won’t employ those who don’t have the necessary skills.
This classic catch-22 means that educators and the industry need to work together much more closely and deliver realistic and vocational training.
The fashion trade is littered with businesses that have gone, or are going, bust. Education and training that emphasises the tough realities of the trade is long overdue and students need to focus on problem solving, merchandise planning, retail pricing and competitor analysis.
Fashion products are complex and the future for new buyers lies in appreciating that their function isn’t about buying what they like, but instead supplying the business customer with what they want.