Life After Graduation: The Role of a Trainee Fashion Buyer

 

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Chloe Smith

Job: Trainee Buyer at Debenhams

Degree: Fashion Marketing and Management at the University for Creative Arts

Instagram: @ChloeJaySmith /  @TrendbyChloe

“Fashion is competitive, so if you can, give yourself a head start!”

Did you intern whilst at University?

Yes, I did a placement year in my second year at uni and continued this on until my final year. It was hard going. I divided my placement year between three different brands, as I wanted a varied experience and I was certain on gaining an understanding of the luxury sector.

The hardest part was combining this, as well as working part-time at the weekends too, but the one piece of advice I was told was to INTERN. People always said it was something they wished they had done a lot more before graduating, as it would have prepared them for the roles they wanted. 

What were the key things you learnt through these internships?

How a brand functions and works!  Through interning, I learnt about the business side of fashion and the processes it takes to build and create brands or collections. It sounds silly but it even prepared me for answering emails and phones

 

“No one at uni taught me small things like these and

it wasn’t until I actually had to talk to others or use an email for a professional purpose,

I realised I knew nothing!”

Now I don’t think twice about sending an email or picking up a phone, but there was definitely an initial uncertainly towards such simple things. The importance of building relationships and not just connections is fundamental too. Nobody is exaggerating when they say the industry is a small world!

 

Have you always known what you wanted to do after Uni?

I was fortunate enough to know that I wanted to have a career in buying, but my desires were confirmed through interning. Whilst there are different roles within buying (head buyer, head of buying/brand), the ultimate goal will be brand consultancy whilst teaching fashion too!

I’m not sure if I ever admitted it to them, but I always found my lectures really inspiring and I would love to help pass my own knowledge and experience on to others one day.

 

What did you definitely not want to do in the industry?

Merchandising! At uni I always told myself that it was the boring side of the business, but since starting a career in buying, I now bow down to any merchandiser. Whilst merchandising can be just as creative and fun as buying, having the ultimate control of the budgets or analysing why and where the customer’s money is going is too big of a responsibility for my liking – I’d much rather understand my customer and provide them with the fashion they want.

I can’t express enough why internships are important when it comes to questions like these, there isn’t any point on banking on one job type and then not being happy. Internships allow you to gain a true feeling of the industry and really showcase yourself and talents to your future employer  

 

When did you start looking for jobs?

I initially began looking for jobs after the Christmas term of my final year but found it disheartening. I came across jobs I would have loved, but wouldn’t have been able to apply for until five months later. I then started looking after the Easter holidays instead. After interning for so long (as well as an initial foundation year of fashion after sixth form), I knew I wanted to get a job pretty soon after leaving uni – in fact, I started my role just 2 weeks after finishing.

I don’t regret getting a job so quickly, but I would recommend a holiday, or just a few weeks off to sleep and recover from your final projects.

 

How did you approach the job hunting process?

I recommend fashion workie, especially for internships and I know many luxury companies use this to advertise their roles. The application process on Fashion Workie felt more personal than applying directly through brands websites. Fashion Workie allows you to send an email directly to the employer, alongside your CV. You can upload your work or portfolios too and I believe it’s just an easier way of simply showcasing YOU.

I was quite lucky, I only ever had two interviews – one whilst I was at uni and one two days after I finished! My first one was with a brand I love, but not necessarily a job I wanted (although still within buying). I set my heart on this job in particular, purely based on the prestige attached to working there but looking back now (especially now I am a full-timer) it was silly to even apply! The trainee fashion buyer role I am in now was my second interview and it came at a complete surprise! Debenhams was a brand I knew of, but it wasn’t the luxury sector I had banked on being a part of.

Despite all of this, the brands I now work on are brands I have come to know and love. I’m so proud to be part of a high street leader. I think for me.

 

“My biggest learning curve in all of this was to not worry about perception,

it’s the job and experience you gain from this that matters.”

 

What advice would you give graduates looking for jobs or University students?

Fashion is extremely competitive and you’re lucky enough to even be offered an interview as clearly you stood out from hundreds, if not thousands of other applicants. But it’s also important to remember that it’s okay if you don’t get the job either. Just remember the key things you’ve learnt. A thank you or a follow-up (even if it’s a no) goes a long way too, ultimately an employer is looking at whether they actually want to work with you, or can they help you grow in a career you (both) love.

A thank you or a follow-up (even if it’s a no) goes a long way too. Ultimately an employer is looking at whether they actually want to work with you or can help you grow in a career you (both) love. So remember your manners, smile and that of course, even the person interviewing you is human!

 

What is a typical day like at work and what are your responsibilities?

Emails… morning, noon and night!

As a trainee fashion buyer I’m in hourly contact with our design teams, suppliers, and factories. This is mainly to work on material and garment approval, or working alongside my buyer to negotiate costings, deliveries and placing more orders.

Other roles include fit sessions, which is where we fit the garment with our designer or QA and decide what can be done to change the style of garment or amend what our supplier has initially carried out. We then use these sessions to work alongside our sourcing team in order to gain the best style from our international suppliers. Then daily meetings! This is where I shadow my head buyer. They include; design and trend building, so working on our current or future collections and ultimately looking back at our best and worst of each year in order to build our next successful range. Then there is the competitor analysis. I present back to other departments what our competitors are offering and whether to are in line or ahead of each trend product/trend.

 

“I don’t think there are enough platforms in the industry that help those wanting a career in fashion or those who are confused or just in need of guidance.

Joining The Junior Network was my first step in wanting to help and support that and make a change.”

What has been the biggest learning since starting your new role as a trainee fashion buyer?

Buying probably isn’t as glamorous as even I thought and that you won’t get things right straight away – that’s the fun in learning. I’ve already learnt so much about the business side of fashion in just three months. I can already understand our budgets or weekly intakes and profits. I surprised myself how enjoyable the business element can be within fashion.

NO, it isn’t as fun as creating the newest collection, but ultimately you need to know where and what is making the money – one of the key things that makes a great buyer.

Hannah Samantha

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