About working in Fashion

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I’ll start this article, like many other, by apologizing for letting this blog go to waste for so long. I think I’ve even broke records this time since my latest article is dated back from 2017… Bad bad me.

Funnily enough, the subject that is bringing me back here is the same one that kept me away: a.k.a. work.

I’ve been contacted quite a lot lately on Instagram and LinkedIn by girls who where interested by my job and the career path to get there. Thank you dear girls for raising my pride! Regardless of how flattered I’ve been, I still need to apologize since I have responded to none of them. Lack of time, lack of envy, maybe lack of confidence… The truth is, I didn’t felt particularly legitimate to guide these girls in their life. Honestly who am I to give some sort of advice with my little 3-yo experience?

But then I though and realized how valuable can my newness and objectivity be. Plus, in fairness, I’m quite excited to write about my favorite topics: me and my life… Hahah.

So there you go ladies, this is what I learnt so far.

How did I get in?

They are couple ways to enter the fashion world (please let me to exclude being a model or an influencer, since you would be aware if I had any trick for these jobs): study Business, study Fashion, or do both. I’ve studied Business in Paris, which I realised later on was a great conjecture. In the meantime, I’ve done many internships, starting with been Assistant Personal Shopper at Les Galeries Lafayettes where I’ve learnt lots about trends and style, I’ve then gone for Assistant Buying and Communication at Wishibam -a magazine snap and buy app- where I discovered the start-up aspect of things and the wonderful world of Press. That’s also where I launched the blog, inspired by all the articles I used to read. And finally my latest and greatest internship was with Monnier Frères a luxury online retailer where I worked as an Assistant Buyer. I discovered there the fascinating Fashion weeks of Paris and Milan from inside by following the wonderful Nathalie Lucas in showrooms and runways. This final internship completely convinced the young me that being a Buyer is what I wanted to do for a living. Currently, I work for Net-A-Porter which you may have heard of for being the first online destination for fashion and luxury goods. I joined their Merchandising/Buying team almost two years ago now, passing from Shoes to more recently being promoted in Fine Jewellery.

So, professionally, I was born and raised in the Fashion and Luxury world, helped by my deep interest for the industry and the blog, but not everyone started that way and the profile are actually more diverse than the though we can have of it. The Fashion Industry, like any other is mainly looking for talents and personalities.

What is being a Buyer and a Merchandiser?

The Buyers are in charge of selecting the products or materials and negociating contracts and prices, it is the main contact to the supplier or brands. The Merchandisers are reviewing the orders to make sure that the spend is optimal and in line with budget, plan and business strategy.

There are different types of Buyers. As a Buyer you can either be responsible for buying finished goods and building the selection of products (if you work for a multi brand retailer or for shops for instance), or buying the materials in which case you are more involved in the production process and you would work more with a Product Developper than a Merchandiser (for example buying the leather for a leather good company).

There are also different type of Merchandiser. Sales Merchandisers, they are the analytical ones that are in charge of planning the buy and implementing a business strategy, Collection Merchandisers that are building the collection and involved in production (working for a Designer in most cases), and the Visual Merchandisers that are more involved in the display (working closer to marketing).

What is the career path?

Depending on the company the path to become a Buyer or a Merchandiser is very different. In small structures, the Buyer is by itself to build the selection, and as the companies get bigger, so does the teams. In most cases, there is one Buyer by product category and each Buyer has at least an an Assistant. In bigger structures Merchandisers are implemented as an analytical support. Generally speaking, the Luxurious brands have the following team for each department: Merchandising/Buying Administrator – Assistant Buyer/Merchandiser – Buyer/Merchandiser. They might be Junior and Senior levels in between, mainly for high-streets brands. French Maisons work a little bit differently since internship is a big thing in France and the lower levels are generally assured by interns and apprentices.

But in all cases, the minimum experience required to be a Buyer/Merchandiser is 3 years, the average requirement is 5 years and most of the ones I know are between 26 and 35 yo. Don’t get me wrong there are some lucky ones that got there quicker. A good way to evolve quicker is to do apprenticeship (part time work while studying to gain as much experience as possible while studying). Another good way is to start for a smaller company where there are less hierarchy levels.

My advice is, be patient. The fashion industry is very hierarchical and competitive. You’ll have to start from the bottom even though you have done great studies. This is also a little reminder to myself as I am the most impatient women in the world. In total transparency, this has been the biggest struggle for me, being really ambitious and facing the frustration.

After I receiving my Master Degree, I’ve been lucky enough to join Net-a-Porter teams as Merchandising administrator, the entry level of Merchandising. I’ve noticed how common it is for people to tell as little as possible on their first experiences. First jobs are rarely exiting. But well, since I’ve started being totally transparent with you, I’ll continue that way.

My role consisted in following orders and deliveries to make sure that the goods would be with us in a timely manner and that suppliers (in my case Brands) where payed. These were real administrative task and I felt bored very quickly. One of the things I’ve learned though is, if you are bored at, say it. It worked out well for me. My team started including me in Trading action and Sales forecasting very rapidly. Potentially because I was good enough but mostly because I’ve shown interest. And there you go, I was offered a promotion on my first year.

Where am I at?

Something I potentially need to come back on is the reason why I choose Merchandising. The advantage of Merchandising is that is less competitive than Buying and it is more analytical which suits well my business-oriented profile and I figured out that I would evolve faster within Merchandising. Although being a Buyer is still my objective and knowing that Merchandisers and Buyers are working together on a daily basis with full visibility on each other’s work, it is quite easy to pass from one to another.

So as you may have understood now, I have been promoted to Assistant Merchandiser meaning I am assisting the merchandiser but also managing the merchandising administrators. My role is to work with the Assistant Buyer to provide Merchandisers and Buyers with all the neccessary information to plan the buy for the season. For instance sales forecast and other key performance indicators toward all brands and products (should we buy more earrings and less silver?), some analysis on competition (how can we differ?). And then in-season, follow the performance of products, for instance if a product is over performing we might want to reorder, if it is underperforming we can try and work with marketing to push it… Etc.

What is it like to work in the Fashion Industry?

Continuing on what I’ve learnt, I’d like to go through the many prejudice our little world is facing. ‘The Devil wears Prada’ did not helped here, the industry is suffering from quite an awful reputation. Personally I like to believe that it is very similar to any other competitive sector.

Here we go with all the clichés:

It is full of Superficialistic women

Dear lord, how many time have I been called superficial for working in Fashion… It still irritates me though since the meaning of superficialism is: “a lack of thoroughness, depth of character, or serious thought”.

The men and women that are working in these branches are generally driven by the same passion for: the fast-paced nature of Fashion, the constant newness and renewal; the relation that Fashion has with Art, the beauty in design, in ‘savoir-faire’; the Societal aspect of Fashion, the way each period of time has its own trends; and finally the payfulness of Fashion and how fun is assembling pieces to create an outfit.

If I haven’t convinced you totally, I’ll talk about Buyers and Merchandisers in particular. You’d might like to know that the day to day work is complex and strong analytical skills are necessary. Most of the decisions are based on forecasts and strategies. They need to have a deap understanding of the customers wishes, the business needs, the financial possibilities, the production delays, the selling time and the seasonality of product… and this is a non exhaustive list. The number one rule of the Buyer is not to buy their own taste, but based on 80% maths logic, forecast and strategy, 20% knowledge of the industry (they call it instinct but well).

I can assure you my dear people, the non-famous ones truly diserve their seat at runways.

It is only about the way you look

Most of people think that working in Fashion is all about your (good?) taste, your style, maybe just even your pretty face. Let me tell you, it is not. None of that is important. Like for any other job it is all about: knowledge, experience, skills, expertise, creativity, instinct, passion and vision. Put all these in a banking context and it makes as much sense. Of course yes, you need to be presenting well but this is the case for any company isn’t it? The only difference with Fashion is that the way you will be dressed can prove your interest for the sector. But this is just a plus, not a requirement.

As for any other industry the dress code is not necessarly strict. In the prestigious Parisian Maisons, yes women should wear make-up and heels, but so do they in Finance, Restauration, Sales… In some other companies the dress-code is very casual. Today I was wearing no make up, a basic grey jumper, Levis 501 jean’s and Converses (if you have had any doubt, this is not fashion), all this knowing that I was to present Trade meeting. I can assure you, no one cared.

Also, eventhough I’ve always been passionated by fashion, I was -and probably I still am- lacking knowledge toward the industry, its Designers and its History. I remember my early days being amazed by someone who’d be able to state loads of fashion and luxury pieces by their name and brand. This may sound really crazy for some of you, but this is a real skills and knowledge you developp by working with the products over and over again, and by remaining curious toward the trends.

It is very sneaky / b*tchy

It is a very competitive industry. So yes, let’s face it, it can be, this is sadly human nature. But once again, it depends entirely on your company and team -like everywhere else. Also where this industry attracts mostly females, I am convinced that the mentalities are quite feministic and in-willing to empower women more than anything else. My personal opinion toward the attitude is more of a “don’t mess with me” one than a sassy one which I think is fair enough.

We’ve all heard stories but from my own experience, I am really grateful that I haven’t experienced anything sneaky. I am not a gossip kind of girl and I believe this is the best way to stay away from drama.

 

I think I’ve said it all, but to conclude on that topic I’ll say that Fashion and Luxury world is a really inspiring one to work for. The way Designers make the planet dream and looking forward for more is my everyday motivation. There is also this way some people look at me when I speak about what I do for a living, it makes me feel so thankful and proud that I wouldn’t change it for a thing.

I hope I’ve answered all the question, if I haven’t please leave me a comment and I will.

Also please feel free to share your experiences and feelings, I always love it 😉

Mathilde x

 

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