Is a Career in Fashion Buying Right for You?
Fashion buying is one of the most sought after careers in the industry, thanks to its glamorous reputation of travelling the world and sitting in the front row at major fashion shows. It’s a great career choice if you’re creative but more interested in the business side of fashion, rather than design.
Fashion buying is a fast-paced, competitive and challenging area of the industry; but the work is highly satisfying and the rewards are fantastic. As a buyer, you’ll be able to see the direct impact of your decisions on the brand. There’s nothing more exciting than seeing people in the street wearing the products you chose!
“It's a competitive field and not for the faint-hearted, but it's a great industry for those that love fashion and have the right balance of skills. One moment a buyer will be trendspotting at a festival with their designer and the next they'll be signing off their range to board of directors,” says Nicole Davidson, a fashion brand consultant who has worked as a buyer for Topshop, Next and New Look.
A Day in the Life of a Fashion Buyer
Fashion buyers are responsible for choosing what is sold in stores, to generate the largest possible profits.
As a buyer, you’ll need to analyse customer buying patterns and predict future trends. When planning new ranges, you’ll have to consider customer demand, price levels and the general market. Fashion buyers also review current merchandise, how it’s selling and decide what, and when, to restock.
There are two key seasons for buyers. In January and February, you’ll buy clothes for the autumn of the same year. In August, you’ll be buying products for the coming spring collections.
Fashion buyers are usually based in a head office. You will typically be employed by a department store, high street chain or online retailer. It’s not all desk work though: as a buyer, you’ll need to attend trade and fashion shows every season and meetings with designers to find out what styles they’re working on. This research will help you work out what customers will be looking to buy in future. Sometimes, this will involve international travel, particularly at higher levels.
Working with Merchandising and Marketing
Depending on the size of the company, buyers can fall into the merchandising or marketing departments. Fashion buyers work alongside merchandisers to create plans for collections based on the brand’s overall budget and customer buying patterns. Merchandisers can help buying teams make key decisions. Together, they deliver product ranges that meet consumer needs at the right price, in the right place and at the right time!
Working alongside fashion marketers, buyers can help decide which products to promote to customers.
“I work super closely with our marketing team, constantly collaborating on content to make sure that we are pushing what isn’t selling so well, but also highlighting some of our bestsellers,” says Chrissy Allen, buyer at MILLY.
Buying is generally considered a stable career. After all, shops will always need products to sell!
- Typically, you’ll start as a Buyer’s Admin Assistant or Trainee Assistant Buyer earning around £18,000 to £25,000.
- With a few years experience, you move on to a Buyer’s Assistant role and eventually get a job as a Buyer, earning up to £45,000.
- With more experience, you can expect a promotion to Senior Buying or Buying Controller earning around £50,000.
- At the top level, you could earn between £70,000 and £100,000 a year (or more) as Head of Buying for a large brand.
If you have a degree, you can apply for buying graduate schemes to kickstart your career. There are lots of fantastic fashion graduate schemes available with brands like Marks & Spencer, Next and ASOS.
Key Skills for Fashion Buying Careers
To be a successful buyer, you’ll need to have an eye for spotting trends, have a strong business instinct and be a great communicator. To stand out from the competition in job applications, you’ll need to prove you’re creative, with a head for both trends and numbers!
1. Trend forecasting and an eye for style
To know what to buy, you’ll need to know what’s popular and be able to accurately predict future trends. Buyers need to be constantly looking out for new brands and designers. You’ll need to show a natural affinity for products, style and colour.
Before the rise of social media, buyers would discover new brands through trade shows, networking, journalism connections or from designers approaching them personally. Now Instagram plays a huge role in how fashion buyers find new brands.
2. Analytical skills
As a fashion buyer, you’ll need strong numerical and analytical skills as you’ll be backing up your creative decisions with facts and data. Buyers are responsible for organising budgets and processing orders. To keep track of their inventories, buyers use software like Excel, so you’ll need to be familiar with using spreadsheets and formulas. Buyers need to be comfortable with quick mental arithmetic including ratios, percentages, budget calculations and currency exchanges.
3. Organisation skills
Fashion buying is a fast-paced department so you’ll need to have excellent time management and be good under pressure to handle the busy workload. You’ll have to be able to multi-task and handle multiple deadlines at once. As a key part of a brand’s product team, buyers usually have ultimate responsibility for the success of a range!
4. Interpersonal skills
Getting the right products into stores at the right time is a collaborative effort between many departments. Buyers also need to meet suppliers, designers and brands and negotiate contracts with them. You’ll need to be friendly, positive and enthusiastic with excellent communication skills to get things done.
Getting Started in a Buying Career
Like most careers in the industry, breaking into fashion buying is highly competitive. A relevant qualification or degree will help you stand out.
At the Fashion Retail Academy, our courses are designed to teach you the skills you’ll need to succeed in your career. All our courses are taught by specialist tutors who have worked in industry. We’re known for our high-quality graduates, who are industry-ready as soon as they finish their courses.
Our unique, 2-year BA (Hons) Buying & Merchandising degree offers an accelerated route to your dream job. We’ll teach you how to develop, plan and manage product ranges by teaching you all the creative and technical skills. You’ll learn about the supply chain from product concept to consumer, as well as the tools and techniques that show you what to buy, and when to buy it.
Getting a degree is not always essential for a successful buying career. Our Level 4 Fashion Buying diploma is a 1-year course, taught 2 days a week. We’ll teach you everything you need to start in an entry-level Buyers Admin Assistant role, and you can work part-time while you study.
We also have a Level 4 Fast Track Buying & Merchandising diploma taught in just 22 weeks, which is perfectly for adult learners looking to retrain or improve their skills.
Internships and Work Experience
Internships and work experience are crucial to securing a role. Each year you study with us, you’ll also undertake a 3-week industry placement to gain real-life career experience to boost your CV.
Retail experience is also desirable to many employers. Working in-store gives you an understanding of the shop floor, enhances your product knowledge and develops your trend-spotting skills. As buyers often work in head offices, experience of this environment is also useful.
Ellie Sibley worked as a Buyers Assistant at Topshop. Her advice for securing a career in fashion buying? “Gain as much work experience as possible. The industry is always hiring interns - it may not be paid, but in the long run, it will help you get to where you want to be!”
If you have any more questions about any of the courses on offer at The Fashion Retail Academy, send us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org - we’d love to hear from you!