It is an open “secret” that many huge retail store chains do not directly purchase all the clothing that appear in their stores. They often use outside firms to help them keep their “fashion forward” image, and ensure that high standards of quality control are met. I had a chance to sit down with one of these independent buyers to learn about what she does for these companies.
Why the need to be secretive?
I do not want a lot of publicity because that makes my life more difficult as a buyer. Many of the brands that I sell do not want to be associated with the stores I represent. I want to help protect the brands I sell so they will keep selling to me.
How did you get started in fashion?
I have always been interested in fashion. When I graduated from Fashion Institute of Technology I started working in retail shops. I was offered a job buying clothing for a large agency. I eventually established my own firm and I have been doing that ever since.
What kind of clothing do you typically buy?
We try to provide staple items for people’s closets. Many big stores do not carry a wide variety of clothes so choosing the right, competitively priced inventory is essential. We want the clothes we buy to appeal to a wide portion of the population. Our goal is to provide clothes that are practical enough for our customers that they want to buy each item in multiple colors.
What are your day-to-day responsibilities?
There are several a different things that I am responsible for. First, I pick out the clothing. My office receives samples from manufacturers and I figure out which items will work for my clients. It is very important that I choose the right items because the profit margins are razor thin. It is hard to make a lot of money with any purchase but it easy to lose a lot of money.
I am the liaison between the store buyer, who is my client, and the manufacturer. I ensure that the buyer gets a product that suits his/her needs. I will show buyers samples and wait for the their feedback. Many times a buyer will be ready to purchase an item after some alterations are made. After we agree on what the design will look like the manufacturers will send us products for quality testing. Each company has its own quality control procedure. I confirm that the products are up to each company’s standards by sending items for testing to independent laboratories. Lab tests the durability/longevity of the clothing and also make sure that they do not contain toxic chemicals.
I also deal with the logistics of shipping the items. I need to be familiar with how importing and exporting works for a variety of different countries. This can get complicated depending on the country of origin of the clothes and their final destination.
Why do you like your job?
I love fashion. I love the challenge of matching what the buyer needs to what the manufacturer offers and turning it into value for the consumer. And I really love being my own boss!