When art meets science: The top skills of a fashion buyer

Top Skills of Fashion Buyers - FAVES APP

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Being a fashion buyer or merchandiser is a dream job for many fashion students around the world. The glamour of attending flashy events, fashion weeks, and shows is surely a big draw, but the job is much more than that and requires a specific set of skills that are not easily defined.

In this post we have outlined some of those elusive skills that are repeatedly highlighted by successful buyers and merchandisers as being important to succeed in the much sought after role:

A perfect blend

If there is one thing you need, above all others, it’s a mix of two things: an analytical mind, and “a good eye”.

“You have to have a strong sense of numbers and you’ve got to have a good eye. You’ve got to be creative. One in absence of the other makes a lopsided buyer.”

Shira Suveyke, Vice President of Global Buying at theoutnet.com. (Source)

“Buying and merchandising is really about the weird and wonderful tension between art and science. It’s about the business of fashion and those two facets are intrinsically essential for the system to work. Without a vision, there is no business and without business, there cannot be creativity.”

Susanne Tide-Frater, brand and strategy director at Farfetch. (Source)

An eye for trends

So what does having “a good eye” mean? For one, it’s about understanding the world around you. You need to be able to “pick winners” for your store, that your customers will love. To do that, you need an extensive knowledge of consumer behavior, fashion trends, as well as global macro trends.

“A buyer will inevitably get it wrong at times because we’re not in the rocket science department here. It is about predicting, it’s about envisioning, it’s about knowledge that people have accumulated, but in the end, it’s the gut that will steer them.”

Susanne Tide-Frater, brand and strategy director at Farfetch. (Source)

One way buyers keep up to date on new trends is through sites like WGSN, that specialise in trends research for creative industries like fashion. Another is staying updated on the social media influencers whose importance is hard to overlook:

“Fashion moves quickly so you need to keep yourself informed. It is important that we understand how influencers and social media work, how they can influence trends, and that they can be strategic business tools, but I tell our buyers that it is also important that you don’t make decisions based on social media hype.”

Brigitte Chartrand, womenswear buying director at Ssense. (Source)

An understanding of data

Another important part of being a buyer, is being able to use and analyse data from past performance and base your decision making on the results of this process:

“It isn’t just my eye or the buyer’s eye — there is certainly more of a process than just that aesthetic. We have a really great merchandise planning team that’s helping us with looking at all of the data on a buy. But we are looking at, what we call, KPIs, key performance indicators, when we analyze a buy.”

Shira Suveyke, Vice President of Global Buying at theoutnet.com. (Source)

In fact, for some retailers, this analytical mindset is one of the top skills they look for when deciding who to bring into the team:

“At Ssense, one of the top qualities we look for are analytical skills. We are such a data-driven company that selecting the right products is only a portion of the work that we do; analysing data is a greater part of the job. And of course, your sense of style and ability to spot trends is paramount.”

Brigitte Chartrand, womenswear buying director at Ssense. (Source)

In other words, if the thought of spending a big part of your day looking into Excel Sheets scare you, then maybe you should look for a different career path.

A master organizer

Last, but not least, the importance of being organized is often cited as a key requirement if you want to succeed as a buyer or merchandiser. When you are in one of the buying seasons, you have to juggle a lot of information at any one time and be able to make the right decisions on your feet.

“How do we feel about the brand? How do we feel about the product? Is it on-trend? Are the colors salable? Are the sizes right for our customers? And then we’re going into the real numbers: how much cash is it? What’s the price point? How many units can we sell?”

Shira Suveyke, Vice President of Global Buying at theoutnet.com. (Source)

The number of buying seasons keeps going up. While there used to be two, there is now four and counting, which only underlines the need to be extremely organized.

“From two seasons, traditionally, winter and summer, we have shifted to four-plus seasons, it’s a permanently repeating cycle of preparation, hunting, gathering out in the market.”

Susanne Tide-Frater, brand and strategy director at Farfetch. (Source)

The FAVES Pro app helps professional fashion buyers and merchandisers stay organized, and get a better overview of what they have seen and bought, as they visit showrooms, trade shows and online platforms like Joor, NuOrder and Faire.