We had a chat with Ashleigh Cohen and Sema Manyike about Fashion Buying and Merchandising as careers.
Have you ever walked into a clothing store and felt immediately at home, as if the store manifested straight out of your dreams and into a mall? Well, behind every store there is a team that works together for our highest fashion good. In that brilliant team are fashion buyers and merchandisers. You’re probably asking yourself what are buyers and merchandisers and what they do?
The terms ‘buying’ and ‘merchandising’ have always sounded like the same career to me. It is only after conducting this interview that it became clear what the difference is. The aim of both these careers is to meet the needs of customers in the retail industry. Buyers are more product oriented while merchandisers are more involved with the numbers.
Buyers choose the items and accessories that will be carried in the store based on the target market and store image. This is why buyers need to constantly be up to date with the latest trends and designs. They also choose suitable suppliers to achieve the quality, look, style and colours that will satisfy customer needs at a negotiated price. “Buyers need vision to predict trends and a creative flair that will differentiate them from their competitors,” says Ashleigh Cohen, the Academic Head of Lisof ( London International School of Fashion).
Merchandisers choose the right stock at the right place and time to maximise sales and minimise mark downs. They also need to be able to budget successfully in order to maintain their stock levels and price them accordingly and overall manage the performance of their ranges. Sema Manyike, a former fashion merchandiser at Edcon, explained that knowing what your customers want is the trick to avoid dogs (an industry term for markdowns). It is important to understand the business and always be accountable for your return on investment. “I believe if we all walked into our jobs with the mentality that this is your business, we would be great at what we do,” says the stylish business enthusiast.
These careers require a knowledge of fashion, retail operation and business which are available in a Bachelors degree of Art or Commerce in Fashion. Apart from fashion related qualifications and retail experience one should also have a passion clothing and customer service. Many retailers also offer in-house training for fashion buyers and merchandisers. The master’s graduate offered more insight saying that interpersonal skills coupled with analytical ability, confidence and resilience make for an excellent fashion buyer or merchandiser.
Although the economy has placed undue pressure on these careers due to the rising cost of running a retail store and threat from foreign retailers there is still a need for fashion practitioners. With more retail stores being opened and expansion of stores into the rest of Africa there is a need for fashion buyers and merchandisers who will assist with the supply chain management, procurement and overall financial and operational success of businesses.
There are also endless possibilities of growth within these careers that can lead to other planning roles or even starting your own fashion label.