Fashion

How to get a job as a fashion buyer

Following your dreams and getting a job as a fashion buyer will be one of the best things you ever do. As a fashion buyer myself, I’ve had the time of my life working in an exciting career in fashion, travelling the world and being creative!

I’ve worked in the industry for over fifteen years, at the biggest brands on the high street and I often help and mentor others to get them into the industry. Fashion buying is fun, challenging and it can also be glamorous but it’s a competitive field that can be tough to get into.

Buyers attend catwalk shows, fashion events and spend time shopping as part of their role. It’s a varied career that I’ve really enjoyed and got so much from. You will meet lifelong friends, have experiences you probably wouldn’t have otherwise and learn so much about the fashion industry.

It’s a particularly good choice for those people that want to combine their interests in fashion with business. As a buyer you’ll be at the centre of a fashion brand and surrounded by samples all day.

Being a fashion buyer is a fabulous career but it’s also hard to get your foot in the door, in light of this I’ve written a guide to help those that want to get into the industry. The experience, skills and qualities I’ve developed and the knowledge I’ve gained have helped to form this guide.

It’s based on my experience in the industry, as both the interviewer and the candidate. As well as walking you through the process, step by step, I also give you countless tips and insider information. I will tell you about the questions that will come up, what I’m looking for as an interviewer and how to stand out from others.

If you’re thinking of getting into this role or have already tried without success then my guide will help you avoid the pitfalls that I’ve seen time and time again.

Fashion Brands: How to help reduce lead times

Fashion brands usually want the flexibility of shorter lead times as they can help them to react to sales and changes in the market. Ideally, we’d be able to get a full order on next day delivery, right?!

Unfortunately, long lead times are the bugbear of many emerging and medium sized brands as they often find they’re not prioritised by suppliers who have bigger customers to service.

Note: we don’t ever want to give our suppliers too much of a hard time with regards to lead times. It’s important to have a good working relationship with suppliers and we don’t want rushed/poor quality orders or to jeopardise the working conditions of the people making our products.

What are lead times?

The lead time of a garment or range is the time it takes from placing an order with a supplier to receiving it at your end. I won’t go into the specifics of what the ‘placing an order’ and ‘receiving date’ are, in this post, as that’s a conversation for another time! Your shipping terms and many other variables can have an impact on these dates so clarify this with your supplier if you’re unsure.

Factors that impact on lead times

There are no hard and fast rules as lead times vary considerably from supplier to supplier; depending on country of origin, whether you’re designing the garments yourself and where you sit in the market in terms of quality and price.

A general guide is that (when buying from the UK) European and UK based suppliers have shorter lead times than suppliers in Asia and China. European suppliers usually have lead times between 4 and 10 weeks and Asia/China Suppliers usually have lead times between 10 and 18 weeks.

The type of product you make can also impact on lead times. Garments that require a lot of workmanship like outerwear tend to have longer lead times than jersey T shirts which are relatively easier to make.

The size of your brand can impact on the lead time you’re quoted by a supplier. Large brands can command much quicker lead times (even though they tend to buy in larger quantities) because suppliers and factories will prioritise their orders (for obvious reasons!).

Fabrication and make up can also affect lead times, specially woven fabrics, labour intensive stitches or knitted fabrics can all increase the lead time.

My tips to help reduce lead times:

In general, having a conversation with your supplier, about lead times, is always the starting point. Breaking the lead time down and getting explanations of why some are longer than others will really help you to understand the unique challenges you have as a brand.

Ask suppliers for advice as they may well have some clever ideas to overcome obstacles.

Other practical solutions could be:

  1. Reserving production space with factories. This will mean that you have a guaranteed spot when it comes to the time you need to make your bulk production

  2. Don’t over sample. Focused sampling will win favour with suppliers as it won’t cause them too much work

  3. Thorough range planning up front (at your end) is key as this will reduce the number of changes you make to the range further down the line

  4. Use past colours and styles where applicable and possible as this will save time in terms of lab dipping and fitting garments

  5. Use stock colours that the factory already has available

  6. Back a greige (un-dyed and finished) fabric that you will use across styles. If the fabric is ready and in house it will reduce the overall lead time. Waiting for fabric to arrive is often one of the longest parts of a lead time.

  7. Source closer to home as this will usually offer a quicker lead time

It’s always good to hear from you! If you have any queries, feedback or want to share your experience then get in touch with me on the comments below, by email or via my Instagram.

I update my Instagram with tips and videos weekly so come and say hello!


I talk about lead times, the critical path, the industry standards for cost prices, range planning and managing the buying calendar in my guide ‘Buying Essentials for Fashion Brands #1’


Take a look at my guides,  blog and website for more insight into fashion retail and wholesale


Fashion brands: My tips for reducing delivery problems and delays

Even the biggest brands suffer from the pain of delivery problems and delays on the critical path of their ranges. Not only does this disappoint customers but it also puts strain on your teams workload and your supplier relationships.

As a fashion buyer I’ve spent over ten years managing the critical path of hundreds of styles at once and learnt how to get the best from your supply base. This post will cover some of the key tips I give brands on how to manage this area of their business.


What is a critical path?

The critical path is the series of dates that must be met in order to meet an agreed delivery date for that item. Working backwards from the intake date, that you need a style to be in your warehouse, can help you to ensure that your products will be on time.

It’s important that styles are in on time as this will reduce the risk of lost sales i.e. there’s a window of time that heavyweight coats will sell well (let’s say from October to december), if a coat delivery is late by one month then customers will go to another retailer to buy this style.

I talk about the critical path, the industry standards for cost prices, range planning and managing the buying calendar in my guide ‘Buying Essentials for Fashion Brands #1’


My top 10 tips for managing the critical path

  1. Create a critical path for each of your styles. Think about every key date in the production of your product, from design to delivery, and plot it on a chart that you can reference and check against.

  2. Work backwards from the date you need to have a product in your warehouse.

  3. Regularly check with suppliers where they are in the production process to ensure they’re on time. It can be rare for a supplier to volunteer information about problems they foresee with meeting your original delivery date.

  4. Ask to be sent lab dips to approve for colour, pieces of bulk fabric and samples at each stage of the process to ensure they are correct.

  5. Confirm and approve every stage of a product as early as possible in the critical path to give the supplier as much chance as possible to get it to you on time. Don’t leave anything until the last minute.

  6. Keep changes to a minimum where possible. Make it as easy possible for the supplier to get the stock shipped to you on time.

  7. Keep a good relationship with your suppliers by taking the time to explain why changes must be made. Having a respectful and understanding relationship on both sides will help you both meet your goals.

  8. Consider both your holidays and the local holidays of your suppliers when planning dates.

  9. Always add a buffer on to all dates if you’re serious about getting styles in on time for your wholesale customers. The longer the better as you never know what may come up!

  10. Let your wholesale customers know if any changes or delays have come up as early as possible. They will appreciate the heads up and can make alternative arrangements if needed. Note that wholesale customers may ask to start cancelling styles that are not as originally agreed.


The importance of a buffer

One way to get around delays is to add a buffer that will take the pressure off getting your products out to your customers, particularly if you sell B2B at wholesale. Many brands add in a buffer of a couple of weeks, meaning that styles are less likely to be late for the collections launch date.

The downside of this is that the whole process and the buying calendar needs to be started even earlier.


It’s always good to hear from you! If you have any queries, feedback or want to share your experience then get in touch with me on the comments below, by email or via my Instagram.

I update my Instagram with tips and videos weekly so come and say hello!


Take a look at my guides,  blog and website for more insight into fashion retail and wholesale

How to pitch your fashion brand at wholesale: 10 tips from a retail buyer

Fashion brands that start selling at wholesale can often find themselves acquiring lots of new skills; one of the biggest hurdles to get over can be learning what does and doesn’t work when you’re pitching to potential new B2B (business to business) customers.

Pitching, especially in person, can be quite nerve-wracking, particularly when you know they could be a great new wholesale customer for your brand. You’re in the right place; this post should help get you on the right track so you can sell your brand in the best possible way!

In this post, I’ll give you my advice; giving you tips on what works for me and what appeals to me as a fashion buyer. I’ve been on both sides a lot over the years; as both the person pitching my collections (for independent brands) and the buyer being pitched to at brands including Topshop, Next and New Look.

The situations where you’re most likely to be pitching are on emails, on the phone, at trade shows or if you’re showing your collection to the brand in person - perhaps at their office or shop. The principles are the same whatever the situation so I’ve pulled together my general tips below.

 

My 10 tips for pitching your brand to wholesale customers are:

1. Focus on how it will benefit them to have your brand

There’s often a slight shift in focus when you’re working with B2B wholesale customers; they’re businesses themselves so they’ll invest in products they think will sell well to their customers and fit into the range in their stores. It’s your job to prove that your brand will do this!

When selling at wholesale, your focus should always be on what can you do for them rather than (only) shouting about how great you are! Whilst you should always be trying to show off about what you do, what’s new and what’s unique about your brand it should always come back to how they can’t get what you have elsewhere and therefore need to stock your brand.

2. Research the brand and the buyer

When I work with brands preparing them for pitching I spend around 90% of my time researching beforehand. The most successful brands (selling at wholesale) are those that target the right brands and make their pitches personal.

Don’t be afraid to use the information you glean from the internet and their social media in your contact with them as it will show that you know what you’re talking about. You could reference details about their store on your last visit or something that you noticed on their social media that relates to your brand. For instance, if a customer’s focus currently seems to be on Scandi fashion then play up the relevant aspects of your brand.

If you know of some local information which might impact on their store, then mention it e.g. if you’re aware that a store in their town stocks a rival brand. Talk about how you can help them and fill in a gap. Basically, you should try and think from their point of view and show that you know what they’re motivated by. 

3. Make a point of using the name of the right contact

This and the last tip go hand in hand; the buyers, wholesale customers and owners of potential wholesale customers get lots of new brands contacting them each week so the more personal you can make the relationship with the buyer the better chance you have.

Addressing the right person by their name will go a long way to starting to make your approach more personal, thoughtful and getting their attention. If you’ve already been in touch with them on social media and found a connection with each other then definitely reference that to jog their memory.

In smaller independent stores the buyer is often the owner so targeting them is the best approach. It’s usually possible to find their name online via google or places like LinkedIn if it’s not on their website. In big companies, you will be looking for the buyers that have titles like ‘brands buyer’.

4. Start out with independents  

I know brands that have been discovered by big high street retailers; for instance, I know of one that was found on ASOS Marketplace. Whilst this is possible, it is much more common for brands to build up a loyal and avid fan base of independent stores that sell their products at wholesale.

My advice is to start out by targeting the small independents that are most relevant to your brand first and build your wholesale business from there. Once they have a following then large retailers can come along a little down the line. They'll be most interested when they know you have a track record of selling well and delivering your product on time.  

5. Focus on visuals rather than words

As fashion brands, the best way to stand out is through your beautiful product and the images you use to illustrate who you are.  

When you're emailing make what you send out visual with key images from your lookbook or a recent shoot. Add a PDF attachment with a lookbook on an email but be aware that many will not open it; adding some beautiful images to the email itself could help to get around this.

It goes without saying that f you’re pitching in person or at a trade show then your priority should be on grabbing attention with amazing visuals that do your brand justice. 

6. Consider mailing out a pack to retailers rather than emailing

Most of the brands I work with email rather than post as it’s more cost-effective but mailing out a beautiful pack can be an effective route these days; yours could really stand out as fewer brands take this route. 

This approach would work best for a brand that has an extremely strong set of images that might get missed in an email. Whilst email attachments of lookbooks may not get opened a lookbook sent in the post could be more likely to be opened if it’s of high quality, addressed to a person and doesn’t look like a generic mailshot.

7. Brush up on your product knowledge and figures

Make sure you're 100% up to date with everything you need to know regarding your brand as you might get asked quite specific questions about the range or your sales.

Know your USP (unique selling point) and product inside out; tell your story and show your product by giving insight into what goes into making your brand who you are. Be prepared by knowing what branding will be on which style and where each style was made

Ensure you’re up to date with your brands figures: know your retail selling prices, wholesale list prices or what discounts you will be offering off the top of your head.

Have information ready about how well your products have sold already, who’s buying into it (or interested), what styles are selling well and any media interest you've had on particular styles.

8. Practice

Practice your pitch beforehand and it will flow much better! There are some great resources online that can help with presentation nerves and practical tips for engaging with your audience. I find that knowing a bit about the audience and thinking about how it might go help me. The research you’ve done can help with this side of things!

 9. Be flexible

Adapt to what is being said by the buyer and listen to them; this is where it becomes key to know your pitch inside out as you need to be ready to jump to a different section as needed.

Pay attention to the buyer and what he/she are saying to you in terms of body language as well as their words. Be able to change tact to what feels right at a moment’s notice and play up what you do if it fits in with what they’re looking for.

10. Follow up and get feedback

Make sure you have their card or check that you have their correct details. Follow up with an email later that day to say it was nice to meet them and if they have any queries then please don’t hesitate to call them. Answer any follow-up emails or calls quickly!

If it goes well, then you’ll start to talk about orders during their next phase. Don’t be downhearted if it doesn’t go 100% to plan. This really is about building relationships on a long-term basis. The buyer may be on the lookout for something slightly different at that time so don’t take it personally if it doesn’t go any further. Keep in touch as there may come a time that it will go further in the future.

Take a look at my blog and website for more insight into wholesale; I also discuss these points in more detail in my Essential Guide to Wholesale.

In my guide, I talk through, in detail, how a pitch will actually go in person. I also give practical advice for your wholesale problems like what the correct wholesale list prices are, when you should be selling, advice on pitching to buyers and much more.

In addition to my guides and I offer a spreadsheet of 300 potential customers details at nicoledavidson.co.uk. It's a great tool for targeting the wholesale customers that are right for your brand.

My free buyers line sheet template for fashion brands

When fashion brands start working in wholesale and B2B they know they need some selling tools but it can be a bit confusing trying to figure out which ones they need and how to create them! Line sheets are a key tool for selling at wholesale (and in many other areas of their businesses) and as a fashion buyer, I've seen lots of them in my time; I've written this post and created a quick template which I hope will help clarify what this document is needed for and what to include in it. 

Line sheets are essentially a list of styles from a particular range with pictures and some key information on each style. That's it. It really isn't any more complicated than that! To prove this I whipped up a quick template (in under ten minutes!) that you can use if you like. Find the link at the bottom of this page. 

Fashion brands give line sheets to their wholesale customers to show the details of the styles they're showing them either in person, at a trade show or via email. It's a detailed view of the range as opposed to a lookbook or catalogue which gives a top line overview or a 'feel' for the brand. 

Line sheet template For Fashion Brands Free.jpg

I've worked for some of the biggest retailers in the UK as well as many independents and pretty much everyone uses the same kind of template; it's usually a fairly standard grid template with pics and info inside it.

I'm sure your images will be much nicer than mine (!) but I just wanted to show you that the industry standard is fairly straightforward and doesn't require anything fancy. They can get more basic than I've created (even at quite premium brands!) so don't put too much pressure on yourself to create anything too complicated.

What information you include is down to you and the priorities of your customer; name, reference number, colour, wholesale list prices and RRP are common. Feel free to add in bits of info that are also relevant to your brand and customer like Country of Origin, Minimum order quantity (MOQ) or size range as well.

Please note that my template is best opened in Word and not in Google Docs; I made it in Word and the formatting doesn't usually work well between the two in my experience (!).

I made it in Word rather than Illustrator or Photoshop so that it's accessible to most people but you may find it easier to create your own template in the software that you're most comfortable with. 

Here's the Link for edit in Word. It should be easy to switch my pics with yours, fill in your info and so on. 

I'd love to hear about how you get on with it! Either comment below or send me an email.

Take a look at my blog and website for more insight into wholesale; I discuss these points in more detail in my Essential Guide to Wholesale

I also give practical advice for your wholesale problems like what the correct wholesale list prices are, when you should be selling, advice on pitching to buyers and much more.

In addition to my guides and I offer a spreadsheet of 300 potential customers details at nicoledavidson.co.uk. It's a great tool for targeting the wholesale customers that are right for your brand.