Fashion buying is a function in fashion retailing, where buyers pick and choose the products the retailer will carry in stores for the next season.
It is one of the most important retail functions, because it directly affects sales, margins and overall profitability and success of the retailer.
Fashion Buying & Trend Forecasting
The way trends are set in fashion has totally changed over the years.
It used to be that trends are set through big fashion houses in Paris, and whatever they come up with, this would be the trend for the coming year and everyone just follows it.
Social media, however, completely changed this dynamic.
Nowadays, trends are extracted from what people decide is popular. This is driven more by ordinary people using social media to share their style and taste, and these then go viral and get picked up by others and become trends on their own.
That’s why, today’s fashion buyers are not only expected to attend trade shows and keep up with fashion magazines to know what’s on style, they also need to follow trends on social media, use online tools for trend spotting, and even subscribe to trend forecasting services.
We explain more in details here, how we used Google Trends to spot a trend in sneakers and find out about the trending brand names and colors.
When we talk about trends in fashion we mean trending styles, fabrics, patterns and color stories.
Fashion Buying & Sales
The ultimate goal of fashion buying, and the entire retail business, is to make sales.
Not only does the buying budget depend on historical sales data, but during the season, buyers analyze the sales of each style and analyze the inventory to see if this style/product/vendor have delivered good returns.
Based on this analysis, they then decide how they will formulate the buying strategy for next seasons.
Having said that, we should note that buying decisions should not be based on historical data alone.
Fashion is a forward-looking industry, and so a good buyer is one who can combine those sales and inventory data together with the trend forecasting insights we mentioned above, and build a winning product mix for next season.
This requires a good understanding of the particular customer demographic the retailer is catering for, and so you might not be surprised to know that a lot of fashion businesses like to hire fresh grads and young professionals for the fashion buying roles. This is because they would be more in touch with the current trends and young customers from the same generation.
Fashion Buying & Merchandising
Buying and merchandising are often mentioned together, and this is because both functions are linked together.
After the buyer has selected the items that the retailer will carry in their assortment, the merchandiser then allocates those items to the stores and ensures their availability all the time until they are sold out successfully.
Buyers and merchandisers also collaborate on the Open to Buy process, with some retail businesses assigning the budgeting part to the buyers and others assigning it to the merchandise planner. In both cases, the buyer uses the OTB to buy the products and the merchandiser generates all the reports needed for the budgeting phase.
What Does a Fashion Buyer Do?
A fashion buyer typically will:
- Build & plan a product range and decide on depth vs. breadth.
- Use the Open to Buy budget and allocate it to the different products
- Choose the quantity per size for each product
- Select brands and designers to carry
- Make pricing decisions
- Attend trade shows and travel to find new brands or manufacturers
- Analyze sales & inventory performance to adjust his buying strategy for next season
- Work with designers on product development (for private label brands)
- Stay up to date with emerging trends and new styles by following social media, fashion magazines, influencers,..etc.
Challenges a Fashion Buyer Faces
- Dealing with different time zones of suppliers
- Being responsible for the critical path of every style: this is the journey of every single style from manufacturing to delivery
- Frequent traveling for trade shows and supplier visits
- Setting aside their personal taste: i.e buying what sells and not what you would wear
How to Get into Fashion Buying?
Usually people start in fashion buying by taking an internship with a fashion retailer. This gives them access to the industry and how buying really works at big retailers.
As we mentioned, fashion brands are always on the look out for young people to join their buying teams.
Some people shift from being visual merchandisers or stylists to buying roles, and use their expertise with customers on the floor in choosing winning products that they know their customers will buy.
If you have the flare for fashion and the needed skills, this might be a great career for you.
Skills Needed to Be a Fashion Buyer
- Trend forecasting
- Eye for fashion and design
- Commercial awareness
- Analytical skills
- Negotiation skills
- Math skills
- Being highly organized
- Building and managing relationships
Fashion buying is a very interesting career, because no two days are the same. There are always new collections to plan and new designers and brands to discover.
Personally, I have enjoyed my time in buying, because I could travel and source products from all over the world and build relationships with creative brands and help them reach new customers. It was also very fulfilling to choose products and know that your customers are going to love them, and then see it happening in action after 6 months.
Depending on the company that you will join and their structure, a lot of buying and merchandising tasks are going to overlap. That’s why we recommend you familiarize yourself with both functions and start learning more about retail math and its formulas, buying, pricing and merchandising.
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Retailer & Founder of Retail Dogma, Inc.
Rasha has 12 years of retail & ecommerce experience. She has started an ecommerce business in 2008, and later worked at H&M, Bath & Body Works, Victoria’s Secret and Landmark Group. She has lived in 4 different countries, speaks 3 different languages and holds a master’s degree in Strategic Management & Marketing.