Not everyone with a passion for fashion wants to be a model or a designer; for many, the world of fashion buying is the perfect choice, allowing them to blend a love of style with an interest in business. Fashion buyers are the individuals responsible for purchasing clothing to be sold in their company’s stores. Attending trade shows, negotiating with suppliers, keeping abreast of trends, selecting pieces to be sold in stores—it’s all part of this exciting career, but how does one become a professional fashion buyer?
Education and Experience
As with most corporate careers, the absolute baseline education requirement is to earn a high school diploma (or obtain a GED). Different companies will have different preferences, in regard to education, but a high school education is typically the absolute minimum.
Unlike some careers, there’s no direct academic path to becoming a fashion buyer when it comes to post-secondary education. There are, however, a number of undergraduate degrees that can give you a leg up on your journey into retail. Programs in fashion merchandising, business and accounting typically offer the kinds of business and retail skills used in fashion buying.
When it comes to developing experience, you can start building a retail history as early as your teens. Even working a simple job at a local department store like Target or Kohl’s—especially in a “softlines” position working with clothing—can serve as a good starting point. Young people planning for a future in fashion buying should also keep an eye out for fashion-related summer internships and/or other small jobs.
No matter how old you are or what stage of life you’re in, try to get involved in fashion retail to build some experience at the store level. If you have a specific company for which you’re interested in working, it might be a good idea to work in one of their stores for a while to get an understanding of that company’s operations, products, values, and initiatives. This store-level experience not only gives you familiarity with the company but might also serve as a great source of recommendations when applying for a fashion buyer position in that company.
The Importance of Passion
Making your love for fashion retail apparent can go a long way in furthering your career. Nurture your interests and keep your knowledge current by attending public fashion shows, assisting with local fashion events, etc. The more you live your passion, the more you’ll learn and grow your fashion experience.
Another relatively small thing you can do to help illustrate your passion for the field is to start your own fashion blog. It doesn’t have to be perfect or have a lot of followers, but, by simply keeping a blog, you’ll be building a visible history of your interests, style choices, and familiarity with the industry that could be useful to you as a reference in future job interviews.
Professional Organizations and Certifications
In addition to education, relevant work experience, and a deep interest in fashion and retail business, there are a few certifications and professional organization memberships you might consider pursuing to help make you an ideal buyer candidate.
Good professional organizations for fashion buyers include the National Retail Federation (NRF) and American Purchasing Society (APS), both of which can provide interested parties with great networking other professional growth opportunities. Both organizations can be joined at any stage of your career, making them great resources for ongoing career development.
In addition to getting an undergraduate degree, certifications offered by the NRF and APS can also improve your fashion buying resume:
The NRF offers a Customer Service and Sales Credential, Advanced Customer Service and Sales Credential, and Retail Business Credential; each of these is achievable with about 40-60 hours of study and a $90 exam (training materials are provided via the NRF website).
The APS offers five certifications: Certified Purchasing Professional (the best choice for a fashion buyer), Certified Professional Purchasing Manager, Certified Green Purchasing Professional, Certified Professional Distribution and Warehousing, and Certified Professional Purchasing Consultant. The Certified Purchasing Professional certification requires a three-week course and a $294 exam ($500 for non-members).
Characteristics of a Great Buyer
- “Fashion intuition”
A successful fashion buyer will have a keen sense of fashion and an ability to find key pieces that will continue to sell for multiple seasons, even if they don’t fit current trends. This sort of “fashion intuition” can make all the difference between a good buyer and a great buyer.
- Strong organizational and stress-management skills
Fashion buyers wear many hats on a weekly basis and have to be able to take in a lot of market and budget information to make good decisions on a deadline. An ability to keep things organized (and remain level-headed in potentially stressful situations) is a great asset in a fashion buyer.
- Ability to negotiate
A big part of making it as a fashion buyer is an ability to negotiate with suppliers and get a quality product at a decent price. Everything in business—especially on the buying end—ultimately comes down to negotiating, so a good buyer has to be both comfortable with this process and capable of doing it on a fairly regular basis.
- Strong analytical capabilities
The key to making good purchases that will eventually be profitable for a retailer is an ability to analyze things like product quality, price, shipping, and marketability and make an informed decision. The better a buyer is at seeing the whole picture, the more likely they’ll succeed in turning a profit for the company through the selection of good products.
- Social skills and professionalism
Building a strong, professional rapport with suppliers, coworkers, and other teams is important to keeping everyday business running smoothly and successfully. A great buyer will be able to work easily with others as well as keep up good relationships with vendors on behalf of the company.
Getting (and Succeeding in) the Interviews
If you’re not sure where to look for fashion buyer jobs, get in touch with professional fashion recruitment agencies. Rather than leaving you to dig through the standard online job boards, fashion industry recruiters will work with you to find fashion buyer opportunities available with their retailer clients. If there’s a match, fashion staffing agencies will usually be able to set up an interview for you with the company.
As the job you’ll be interviewing for is all about fashion, don’t underestimate the importance of dressing the part. Don’t overthink it, but don’t throw on just anything—you want to make a good first impression with your look. Make sure that your outfit is well put together and professional, but that it also illustrates your personal style and eye for trends (as a fashion-minded individual, this shouldn’t be much of a problem).
Find Your Dream Job as a Fashion Buyer via The Fashion Network
As professional fashion and retail job recruiters in NYC, The Fashion Network strives to match quality candidates with lucrative fashion industry opportunities. For more than 15 years, we’ve helped job seekers find great careers in the retail business while making sure that every client company is satisfied with their candidates.
To learn more about how the New York retail recruiters at The Fashion Network can help you start your career as a fashion buyer, call us today at (212) 575-5898. We’re looking forward to working with you!