Career expert: the big business of fashion

Fashion Buyer Nicola PhillipsWhen you think of a career in business, it might seem as though the routes to success are quite obvious. But what if you want to mix your talents with a more personal passion?

INTO spoke to Nicola Phillips, an Assistant Buyer for UK-based retailer New Look, about how she’s combining her love of fashion with a head for business...

How did you become a Fashion Buyer for a major retailer?
I always wanted to work in the fashion industry but I was also interested in the business side of things. I realised that a career as a Fashion Buyer would allow me to combine the two. But before taking this route, I worked for a fashion magazine and then in fashion PR.

After this I applied for a Trainee Buyer role with Tesco Clothing – I had to do a day-long assessment involving two presentations, a Maths test, a debating session and an interview. It was a gruelling process but a few days later I got a call offering me the job.

Can you describe your day-to-day role?
My day starts with answering emails I’ve received overnight, as many of our suppliers are in based in the Far East and India – in many ways it’s a 24-hour business because of the time differences. I then review daily sales figures to ensure that I’m constantly reacting to trade by repeating bestsellers, and checking any stock we have to ensure that it’s earning its space on the shop floor.

Next I have to start preparing for my weekly sign-off meeting, where we agree products for store with the Head of Buying and Head of Merchandising. As products I choose to sign-off will be based on daily sales figures, I need to be sure that I’m constantly reviewing which lines are working. I also need to make sure that potential products fit in with our company profit and margin plans.

In the afternoon I meet with suppliers or go competitive shopping. If that sounds like I’m ‘getting paid to shop’, it’s actually quite hard work – I have to assess our competitors and make sure New Look are at the forefront of the industry.

It might sound like it’s all business and figures but there’s a huge creative side to my job – I have to keep up-to-date with current fashions and be aware of future trends.

Which skills do you need to be a Fashion Buyer?
You need to be very organised and have good time management skills, because buying is very fast-paced. You also need to have a keen eye for product and an awareness of the market. And of course, strong communication skills are essential as you’ll be working with people from all over the world.

What sort of challenges do you face in your working day?
Time management – I’m constantly busy and faced with challenges that require urgent solutions. Problem solving is also a key challenge as you’re expected to make decisions that can affect the whole business.

What’s surprised you most about working in the fashion industry?
I was surprised at the forward planning involved in the buying process – in spring you’re already planning and buying the Christmas range! I was also surprised at how buying for a large store like New Look is like managing your own mini-business within the company, for example, I have individual sales and profit targets to meet throughout the year.

What would you tell a student who was considering becoming a Buyer?
That it isn’t just about spending money that isn’t yours! Whatever industry you choose to become a buyer in – food, toys, homeware –  it’s about analysing and reviewing numbers to make sure you meet sales objectives.  You have to juggle lots of factors to make sure the right stock ends up on the shop floor.

What do you like most about your role?
I like the fast pace and the fact that every day is different. It’s great to read weekly sales reports and see that a product you developed has become a top seller. And nothing beats spotting someone walking down the high street wearing something that you picked for your range!

Interested in combining your creativity with a career in business? Find out about our Undergraduate Pathway in General Studies – Liberal Arts at INTO OSU, which can lead to studying Merchandising Management.

Looking to explore more career options? Read an insider’s advice on how to get a job in the events industry and about an international student entrepreneur. Or read our 5 steps for boosting your employability while studying abroad.

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