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Tips from the top

The UK is a hot bed for young fashion talent, but how can emerging buyers, designers, merchandisers and technologists turn themselves into commercial assets? Drapers asks four leading industry figures what skills they look for in candidates entering their field of expertise.

Peter Ruis, fashion buying director, John Lewis

What skills does someone need to be a good buyer?

First, you need to be creative which is the same as having a good palate if you’re a chef. It is intuitive – you have either got it or you don’t. Secondly, you need people skills, to be a good team player and to get the best out of suppliers. Finally, a buyer needs to have strategic and financial skills.

What skills in particular are candidates lacking at the moment?

It’s not as specific as missing certain skills but as an industry we have not been marketing ourselves well enough. The skills you need are not unique to any course – there are people with great intuitive product skills doing French or English degrees.

I deal with fashion graduates through my role as mentor for the winners of Graduate Fashion Week. Many of them dream of working for the likes of Alexander McQueen and there is not much understanding of what buying involves.

Nadia Jones, creative director, Oasis

What skills does someone need to be a good designer?

Just having an eye for fashion isn’t enough these days - as well as being talented they need to have good drawing skills, fully understand the brand they work for and their customer.

Be out there, spotting new trends and customers’ needs, second guessing what she will want to wear.

Having a clear strategic vision for whatever you’re doing and being able to articulate it whilst listening to the team around you is key. A well thought out opinion will get you far if you deliver it.

What skills in particular are candidates lacking at the moment?

I think the main skills missing are great drawing skills. They need to be very clear and specific with an eye for detail to get the proportions, collars, buttons and so on right. Also fabric knowledge - really understanding fabrics and how to source them and push the boundaries.

Andrew Moore, merchandising director, George at Asda

What skills does someone need to be a good merchandiser?

Merchandising is at the heart of providing good customer service – it’s all about getting the right stock in the right stores at the right time. You need to have a real passion for forward planning and for reading sales information on a weekly, daily and even hourly basis and use it to understand what the customer wants so you can satisfy those needs. You also need a passion for product whether it’s clothing or homeware.

What skills in particular are candidates lacking at the moment?

Maybe it’s because George is such a great place to work that we attract a high calibre of people but I don’t agree with some of the comments made by other retail leaders. When I meet with A-level candidates or graduates I don’t see a lack of English or arithmetic skills – I see some very talented individuals. I think the skill level is higher than it has ever been, however, candidates do need to demonstrate an understanding of the need to be customer focussed.

Jean Armstrong, head of technology, GIVe

What skills does someone need to be a good technologist?

It is likely that suitable candidates will be educated to at least graduate level.  They need to have very good communication skills, be able to work methodically and to schedules, and require an eye for detail and a thorough appreciation of commercial requirements.  Experience in the manufacturing process allowing a complete knowledge of garment construction and make-up procedures and an appreciation and use of different types of manufacturing equipment is very advantageous.  An understanding of fabric types and uses is also very valuable as is pattern-cutting expertise.

What skills in particular are candidates lacking at the moment?

Most candidates today lack manufacturing skills and expertise.  This can only really be gained by working within the manufacturing process, being directly involved at the hands on stage.  However, since the vast majority of manufacturing no longer takes place in the UK, the ability to gain this experience is sadly very limited.  A side effect of this can be a failure of candidates to fully learn the important skills of personnel interaction and tolerance for others, so very important when dealing with foreign companies which is a significant feature of a modern technologist’s work.

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