Fashion buying from the title may seem like the dream job. An easy gig that not only satisfies our basic fashion-loving urge to shop, but the opportunity to do it on someone else’s credit card! However, once you dive deeper into the job description, desired experience and skills, the job of a Fashion Buyer is more nuanced and is not simply a glorified shopping spree. We chatted with Vancouver’s own Michelle Rizzardo who owns luxury boutique One Of A Few, to get you the inside scoop on what it’s really like to be a fashion buyer.
“The biggest misconception about fashion buying is that it is a super easy job. Although we absolutely love what we do, it is very important to take it seriously. Understanding the business is essential. If a bad buy is made it can create terrible margins and has detrimental effects to the season. People often think it’s just fun and games, but like any business….it needs to be done with a purpose, with experience and with a complete understanding of the industry.” – Michelle Rizzardo, One Of A Few
If you are interested in the role of a Fashion Buyer, you will have an opportunity to get early access to collections, attend fashion shows (if you’re working for a luxury retailer) and yes, you do get to do a bit of shopping. These are Michelle’s top tips for a successful career in fashion buying.
An education from a respected college, or university will always level up your application. For a career in fashion buying consider programs in business, retail management and fashion. These programs will not only offer the skills you’ll one day use on a day-to-day basis as a fashion buyer, but they will also open up your network. That being said, the walls of a large institution aren’t the only place you can get an education. One of Michelle’s top tips for a successful career in fashion buying is,
“Continuously researching, educating yourself and being on the forefront of what is going on in the industry.”
Learning doesn’t have to stop once you have your degree. In an industry that is constantly changing and evolving, much of your education and knowledge will have to come from doing your own ongoing research.
Style Nine to Five founder, Christie Lohr wanted to add, “Becoming a retail buyer requires a mix of skills, and knowing your way around retail math and Excel is part of the game. Retail Math: Yup, buyers should have a solid grip on retail math. This includes concepts like markup, markdown, gross margin, inventory turnover, sell-through rate, and more. Retail math helps buyers make informed decisions about pricing, inventory management, and profitability. Excel skills: Think of Excel as a buyer’s trusty sidekick. Buyers often use Excel to create and manage spreadsheets for tasks such as tracking inventory levels, analyzing sales trends, managing budgets, and creating forecasts.”
Michelle has found that building a community is essential for success and job satisfaction,
“I think I underestimated the competitive nature that can be found in the industry. At first I took it personally and the cut throat mentality of some of the people really shook me. It took me a few years to find who my people were, but once I did I discovered the most amazing community I am forever grateful for. Supporting and building each other and sharing with each other empowers everyone. The bonds I have created with other store owners, designers, clients and friends in the industry are unmatchable. I am incredibly thankful for the mutual respect we all have for each other.”
Following on from the point above, a fashion program in particular will introduce you to designers, retail managers and other fashion industry experts who can provide references and connections for you when you enter the workforce.
Earn Your Dues
The fashion industry is small. Fashion Buyer positions may not have any openings at the beginning of your career, so where is the best place to start? Believe it, or not a retail associate position can actually be a great place for growth in the fashion industry. Michelle offers simple and solid advice:
“Do your due diligence. You don’t just become a buyer without putting the years in. You need to work in all aspects of the industry. Work as a sales associate, a manager, a merchandiser, works as a rep in the wholesale division and immerse yourself in the industry. This will make buying a much easier process. You will understand the correlation of what you’re buying and how it is interpreted by customers, you’ll know what sells, what shapes grab attention but might not be the best sellers, you’ll understand essentials that are needed and how all the pieces will look together merchandised on the floor.”
Working on the floor in retail offers you a perspective in retail that education can’t. You will see first-hand what customers are buying, what the buying trends of each season are and deep insight into the customer base (super important information when it comes to buying – who is your customer?).
In fact, early on in my own career I worked in a small boutique and the store owner would bring me along to buying appointments frequently. She saw value in my opinion and my perspective, because I had first-hand experience with her customers, I knew what they were asking for, what brands sold out quickest and who our buyer personas were. For me, fashion buying wasn’t on my radar, but I definitely could have leveraged that experience into a fashion buyer position if that is what my heart desired. If you are currently working for, or applying to retail associate, or manager positions, inquire about buying appointment opportunities. If this is your goal you could even offer to go on your day off, or sit in and shadow for the experience, don’t be shy about asking, the worst thing that happens is your manager says “no” but at least you tried.
Know Your Market
Knowing your customer is one of the most important aspects of fashion buying. Michelle says,
“Having a close connection to our customers allows us to really understand what we need each season.”
Similar to a stylist, a fashion buyer has to be able to buy for their customer, not for themselves, Michelle even has a roster of special clientele that she buys specifically for. Being able to analyze data and create buyer personas is a skill you should have in your toolkit and on your resume.
At One of A Few, Michelle also stays conscious of how the clothes and designers connect to her boutique and her clientele,
“We have many core values that go along with the initial buy. For example items that are made ethically, the fabric they are made of, cuts and the people behind the collections. For us, being connected to the designer or design team is essential as we take their stories and inspiration and share that with our clientele.”
Know Your Numbers
Buying means dollars and cents, which means math. Yes, unfortunately for many of us, fashion buying involves a good deal of math. You will have to work with budgets, markups and margins. You will have to keep a running tally of how much you are spending. You will also work closely with the sales team to track sales numbers and profits. If you are interested in getting into buying you’ll need to be quick with numbers, so your math skills will be an important factor to consider in this career. Michelle explains,
“Buying isn’t only about having great style. It’s also about understanding margins, numbers and the business behind the presentation”
Though fashion buying may be a hard career to crack into, it’s one of the most important aspects of retail shopping and a rewarding position for anyone with a love of fashion. Michelle shares her favourite aspect of fashion buying,
“There are a ton of designers out there. Finding and discovering new and emerging designers is just as rewarding as landing a big brand we have been coveting for years. Mixing the two creates a great energy in the shop.
Buying seasons are very exciting and one of our most exciting times. Seeing all the collections in their entirety is incredible. Being able to pull stories from each collection to present in the store is fun, challenging and different each season”
Michelle Rizzardo is the owner and buyer at Vancouver luxury boutique One of A Few. You can shop One Of A Few’s brick and mortar store, or online from around the world!
If you still have questions about a career in fashion buying, book a one hour Career Consultation with Style Nine to Five founder, Christie Lohr. She’ll share her expert knowledge and insider experience in the industry to help you reach your goals!
Sheila O’Neill is a creative, innovative and inspiring storyteller with a background in fashion.