Working in Fashion: Q&A with a Buyer

If, like me, you have an unshakable fashion and shopping addiction, you may well have considered a career in fashion buying. For us fashion addicts who love nothing more than trawling the shops for the new season trends and fashion forward pieces, a career in buying would seem like an obvious choice, right? Before you start banging out the job applications, however, let's take a few minutes to learn more about the role of buyer. Will the reality match up to the dream? 

In this interview with Helen Reynolds, Junior menswear buyer for criminal and House brand denim at House of Fraser, she reveals the best and worst parts of the job, as well as giving us an insight into winter's top trends... 


What does your role entail?
As a menswear buyer I develop seasonal product for House of Fraser's exclusive brand portfolio. This involves working with designers, merchandisers and technicians to create product ranges tailored to our customers needs in terms of the style, price and quality they would expect from a premium department store.
What does a typical day look like for you?
Every day is different and that's why I do my job. It's hard work, but never dull. At the beginning of the season we will do some shopping trips to get excited about the season ahead. It's a chance for us to look at what's going on in the market, seek out any new brands or product areas we might not have explored before and get the ideas flowing. Back at the office we plan our ranges according to the budget, option count, previous season's product performance, emerging trends and colour palette. Designs will then get sent out to suppliers on the Far East or Europe depending on their expertise and they will work on fabric or shape in preparation for when we go out to visit them a few weeks later. This is also an opportunity for us to negotiate volumes and prices. Once we have finalised our ranges they then need to be presented to the executive management team for sign off. We'll then place our orders. It is quite a detailed process from order confirmation to receiving the product in store and that's the less glamorous side to the job! Once the product is in store we're then reporting on how it's performing and what we can do to maximise the sales. Trade meetings happen on a weekly basis and are a constant indicator as to how your department is performing and whether or not you'll achieve your sales and profit plans at the end of the season. I'm always striving for bigger successes on the department.
How do you decide what trends to pick up on?
In menswear, commercial trends are very fluid and tend to emerge gradually, often with more longevity than womenswear trends. There's usually a key colour for the season and growth within a certain product type. We have a great design team that lead colour and trend for the season and as a buying function we tailor these trends into a commercial range.
How did you get to where you are now, did you always want to be a fashion buyer?
I was always creative and after completing a diploma in art and design at college, I studied Fashion Knitwear Design at Nottingham Trent University. I got into buying because I get excited about developing great product and seeing sales come through. I love working with my designer and taking her ideas through from concept to completion. Although I didn't realise buying was the job for me until after my design degree, it was a natural progression and design is a good foundation to have when going into a buying career.

Although it can be beneficial, do you think having a degree is a necessary step in reaching your current position?
Although there are buyers who haven't done a degree, it is a good opportunity to learn skills that will directly and indirectly help you into the industry. I'd say retail experience is also a good starting point. We also have lots of students that do work placements with us to gain industry experience and make connections.
What are the best aspects of your job?
Working with a great bunch of people with a common interest is a pretty good environment to work in. I get to travel to some amazing parts of the world that I'd otherwise not be exposed to and I can shop, a lot.
What are the worst aspects of being a fashion buyer?
It can be a very pressurised workplace as we are responsible for a lot of money. There can be difficult conversations to be had with our supply base on occasions and getting that product onto the shop floor often isn't plain sailing.
Does your job involve much travel?
There's lots of travel involved at House of Fraser. Every season I do three supplier visits to Europe, India and Hong Kong, and three shopping trips to Europe and America.
Where is the best place you have traveled with a job and why?
My favourite trips are to see our suppliers. It's always exciting to see our products in development and I'd say that Hong Kong is my favourite place to go. There's a real buzz out there and a lot going on before and after work.


Working in fashion, what to wear can come as a big stress factor for some people. What do you wear to work?
I definitely don't let what I wear become a stress. That's the last thing I need to worry about! Whatever I'm wearing I'll coordinate with trainers to get into work and then change into a pair of heels before my morning coffee.
What advice would you give to young people wanting to work in the fashion industry?
Keep the enthusiasm and drive to succeed. Once you're in the door, take up every opportunity. It can be a tough industry so you need to love it and be committed to it.
And finally, what trends do you think will be big this winter?
The parka jacket, textured knitwear, slimmer silhouettes


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