The acting head of buying for The Outnet talks to Drapers about searching out stellar buys, satisfying super-savvy shoppers and her New York City secrets.
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For Aimée Brown, acting head of buying at The Outnet, hunting down products with the perfect mix of commercial and experimental gives an instant thrill. She spoke to Drapers about her eclectic tastes, how to keep digitally savvy shoppers satisfied, and the buzz that comes from such a fast paced buying schedule.
How did you get into buying as a career?
I studied fashion design at university and started applying for buying roles before I left. After turning down an internship at Harvey Nichols and a graduate program at Fenwick, I landed my first job as a buying assistant for men’s formalwear at Selfridges in 2002. I left university in April and started at Selfridges in July.
What do you love most about your job?
Other than the people, I would say the travel and all the experiences that come along with the job. I love being in market, seeing amazing product and then translating that back to our customer and what she is looking for. She is very designer-focused and has an appetite for amazing pieces so runway is really key – seeing that product in person is an experience. I am a bit of a magpie, so I always make a beeline for the craziest thing in the room. Because of my studies, I am always interested in the construction, which helps me relate it back to how it will fit.
We also really value our vendor relationships, so it’s a chance to catch up as well as talk business when we are with our brands. The business is cyclical, so you can really be working with the same people for most of your career in different roles.
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What kind of things do you look for when you’re buying?
The commercial and the cherry on top. Every business needs to sell volume, but also have the most compelling product to really excite the customer and keep her coming back for more. Ideally, you have a mix of the two so that there are elements of both the essential and the frivolous.
How is buying for The Outnet different from places you’ve worked previously?
The Outnet is undoubtedly the fastest-paced and most reactive work environment I have ever experienced in fashion. The time between buying product and seeing it on site can be as little as two months. This, coupled with how attuned our customer has become to our upload timings, means the one day sell-through can be very dramatic. You learn quickly and get more instant gratification on your impact as a buyer compared with other retailers, where you can wait up to nine months before a buy hits the floor.
We buy for a global customer, so we have to be sure we consider the reverse season for the southern hemisphere. I shop the site myself constantly to really consider the customer experience that we are offering. Another key difference is the constant dialogue we have with our brands. We spend a lot of time talking to brands and designers to understand their needs and come up with different creative ways to work together, which I love.
How does New York style differ from London style?
London can be more raw and I see more directional style there. I noticed this especially when I lived in east London. New York is perhaps more pared back, but very chic and well put-together. The key thing I see is designer handbags – in London, there would be fewer women on the train platform or getting a coffee with a fabulous bag, but in New York it is the norm. I frequently get bag envy.
What’s your favourite little known place in New York?
I love the East River walk in Brooklyn. The views of Manhattan are incredible and there’s something wonderful about looking onto the island but not being part of the chaos. I also love getting the ferry when I can.
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Do you go to trade shows?
Honestly, not any more. I walk the showrooms during fashion weeks. My buyers attend as many trade shows as possible across the globe and report back on anything of interest. I like to get their perspective on the brand first. Trade shows are a great place for the assistant buyers to cut their teeth and learn.
What’s the most treasured item in your wardrobe?
It was my mother’s charm bracelet from her travels around Europe in the 1960s – I had it converted into a necklace but, sadly, I lost it in a burglary a few years ago. It is irreplaceable.
If you could change one thing about the fashion industry, what would it be and why?
I think everyone wants to change the markdown cycle – no coats on the floor in January because it is spring/summer, sweating in the autumn collections in September for NY fashion week. Currency fluctuation is also a headache for me right now – someone please invent one singular fashion currency!
What would we find you doing at the weekend?
If I am not traveling, then yoga, brunch, vintage shopping, watching a film at the cinema – something to give my brain a rest.
What was the last new brand you discovered?
Kapital, a Japanese denim brand – I love the playful way it mixes denim. I think it’s hard to find a new take on such a wardrobe staple.
What has been your career highlight to date?
I would say moving to New York. It started as a secondment with The Outnet but evolved into a permanent role at the New York office. It was a huge leap of faith and a personal challenge to leave behind everything I knew and everyone I loved, but it has been amazing.
What’s the best business advice you were ever given?
Everyone deserves a chance. Never think you’re better than anyone else and treat everyone with the same respect you demand.
Tell us something about you not many people know
I won a contest on the radio to have Patrick Swayze say ”nobody puts Aimee in the corner”, but I was on the subway when he did it, so I missed it.
Favourite clothing brand
Favourite places to shop
The Outnet, Net-a-Porter, Brooklyn independent Bird, & Other Stories, Everlane and Beyond Retro
Last fashion purchase
A turquoise Ganni sweater
Majorca, for my friend’s wedding.
Last book you read
I’ll Never Write My Memoirs by Grace Jones
Last film you watched
Assistant in a chemist (my sister was my boss)
Shoe buyer or travel writer