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Fashion Careers: Guide to Fashion Buying

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3rd September 2021

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!

Read our fashion buying careers guide and discover what a fashion buyer is, what a fashion buyer does, how much fashion buyers earn and how to become a fashion buyer.

WHAT IS A FASHION BUYER?

Fashion buyers are responsible for choosing what is sold in stores, aiming to generate the largest possible profits.

A fashion buyer’s role is to analyse customer buying patterns and predict future trends. When planning new ranges, buyers 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.

Fashion buyers typically work in a head office for a department store, high street store or online retailer. It's not always desk work; fashion buyers also need to attend trade and fashion shows every season and have meetings with designers to find out what styles they’re working on. This research helps buyers to work out what customers will be looking to buy in the future. Depending on a buyer's level and the type and size of the business they work for, their role may also involve international travel.

WHAT DOES A FASHION BUYER DO?

Life as a fashion buyer can vary day to day, which is what makes this career path so desirable. The responsibilities of a fashion buyer may also vary depending on their level of experience and the business they work for. The main roles and skills that may be listed as a requirement in fashion buyer job descriptions are:

  • Trend forecasting and research
  • Building and maintaining relationships with suppliers
  • Planning product ranges and pricing
  • Working with internal marketing and merchandising departments
  • Assessing quality and sustainability of product ranges
  • Developing sales strategies and monitoring budgets

1. TREND FORECASTING & RESEARCH

Part of a buyer's role is to research brands and designers, and forecast fashion trends. Trend forecasting is the process of analysing market trends and buying patterns to make informed decisions on how to buy and design a new collection. 

When trend forecasting, a buyer will consider the silhouettes, design details, colours, fabrics, and trims of garments. They will use a variety of tools and resources to carry out trend forecasting including social media, trade shows, events, runways, magazines and fashion forecasting services such as WGSN.

Based on the trend forecasting research, buyers will then select garments from the brands and designers that they think will be the most desired by their consumers and therefore will be the most profitable.

2. BUILDING & MAINTAINING RELATIONSHIPS WITH SUPPLIERS

One of the most important aspects of a buyer's role is building and maintaining relationships with suppliers. A good working relationship with a supplier, brand or designer allows fashion buyers to effectively negotiate on price, turnaround time and delivery, whilst also getting the best quality product.

In addition to buying garments, a fashion buyer may also be responsible for sourcing fabrics and garment construction for new collections. As a fashion buyer, they'll need to be able to work with a global supply chain, manage any cultural differences with suppliers and develop an understanding of the ethical, political and environmental landscape of clothing production.

Being able to effectively communicate and liaise with suppliers is important for making sure a collection is perfectly made, but also so that it hits shelves and reaches customers on time.

3. PLANNING PRODUCT RANGES & PRICING

In order to effectively plan a product or clothing collection, fashion buyers will put together a range plan. The range plan covers every aspect of a product’s life cycle including manufacturing, lead times, sizing, quantities, pricing, margins and launch date.

Fashion buyers will then use the range plan along with their knowledge of current market pricing and trends to determine how to price their products. Buyers do this by calculating profit margins, the total cost of products, consumer research and assessing competitor pricing.

4. WORKING WITH MERCHANDISING & MARKETING

Fashion buyers generally work alongside the merchandising and marketing departments. This ensures that every department has a shared vision and direction for the brand.

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 by ensuring that product ranges meet consumer needs at the right price, in the right place and at the right time. 

Fashion buyers work alongside marketers to plan out seasonal marketing campaigns, content and promotions. Fashion marketers play an integral role in ensuring that a product sells well by highlighting the brand's best sellers and promoting products that haven’t sold as well as expected.

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
Chrissy Allen, buyer at MILLY

5. ASSESSING QUALITY & SUSTAINABILITY OF PRODUCT RANGES

In addition to ensuring that products pass quality checks and meet the standards set by the brand, buyers must also try to meet the expectations of consumers. A shift in consumer behaviour toward a more sustainable way of living has meant that fashion brands need to put more emphasis on sustainability and quality when sourcing stock. 

Buyers need to have an understanding of the ethical, political and environmental landscape of clothing production and consumerism. Doing so ensures that the clothes they buy and produce appeal to consumers in terms of sustainability as well as functionality and style.

Considerations a fashion buyer might look at include the environmental impact of manufacturing, the working conditions and welfare of those supplying the products and the lifecycle and quality of each product.

6. DEVELOPING SALES STRATEGIES & MONITORING BUDGETS 

Fashion buyers need strong numerical and analytical skills as they need to back up any creative decisions with facts and data. As buyers are responsible for organising budgets and processing orders, it's important that they get this right as there is little room for error.

In order to keep track of inventories and to ensure that products come in under budget, fashion buyers tend to use software such as Excel to analyse data. Fashion buyers must also be comfortable with quick mental maths including ratios, percentages, budget calculations and currency exchanges.

Fashion buying is a fast-paced industry, so a quick and analytical approach is essential to being successful in the role.

WHAT MAKES A GOOD FASHION BUYER?

In order to be successful, fashion buyers need to be creative and analytical. They must have a range of different skills in order to find the balance between choosing designs that are on trend and making sure each collection is under budget.

FASHION BUYER SKILLS

1. Analytical and numerical

Fashion buyers need to have a confident grasp of numbers and statistics. They need to be able to analyse data including sales figures, set and manage budgets and be comfortable working with spreadsheets. Attention to detail is a must as most buyers have strict budgets and deadlines to stick to.

2. Organisation

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!

3. Communication

Buyers work with a variety of other departments so strong communication skills are key. 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.

4. Creative

An essential part of being a fashion buyer is creativity. They need to be able to effectively forecast trends and have a comprehensive understanding of what will appeal to their target audience. To maximise sales and profit, buyers need to be able to predict what customers want to buy. Also, they must have a thorough understanding of the lifecycle of a product and know how to manage large inventories.

fashion buyer salary

Buying is generally considered a stable career. After all, shops will always need products to sell! The salary of a fashion buyer can range from £18,000 - £100,000+ depending on experience.

  • 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 of 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.

HOW TO BECOME A FASHION BUYER

Qualifications

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 the industry. We’re known for our high-quality graduates, who are industry-ready as soon as they finish their courses.

Our unique, two-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 one-year course, taught two 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, and our brand-new Buying & Merchandising online course, both of which are perfect 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 three-week work 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!
Ellie Sibley

If you have any more questions about any of the courses on offer at The Fashion Retail Academy, send us an email to info@fra.ac.uk - we’d love to hear from you!

Read our guide How To Get Started In The Fashion Industry for more information. 

Think you’ve got what it takes to become a Fashion Buyer? Start your career today and study fashion buying at the Fashion Retail Academy.

Updated: 29 September 2022

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