Becoming a Fashion Buyer: Job Description & Salary Info

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What are the pros and cons of a fashion buyer career? Get real job descriptions, career prospects and salary info to see if this field is right for you.
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Pros and Cons of Becoming a Fashion Buyer

Many fashion buyers can earn above-average salaries and gain positions with only a high school diploma. Read about some of the pros and cons that come with this job below.

Pros of a Fashion Buyer Career
Possible entry-level employment with only a high school diploma*
Above-average pay (approximate median salary for retail buyers was $52,000 as of May 2014)*
Advancement opportunities through experience and continued education*
On-the-job training typically included*

Cons of a Fashion Buyer Career
Retail buyers often work overtime*
High-pressure job (wrong choices can lead to a company's decline)*
Slower than average projected job growth for all occupations (4% between 2012 and 2022 for retail buyers)*
Frequent and tough negotiations might be needed to arrive at a price*

Source: The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Essential Career Info

Job Description and Duties

Working as a fashion buyer, which is a type of retail buyer, doesn't just involve shopping for clothes. In reality, even though fashion is a huge part of the career, professionals need keen analytical and math skills to be successful. As a fashion buyer, you must choose products from wholesale fashion vendors to be resold in retail markets. You're responsible for scouring through different suppliers in order to find the highest quality items for the lowest costs. You also must consider the length of time in which suppliers can deliver these products.

Fashion buyers also have to carefully scrutinize inventory levels, sales records and ever-changing trends in the fashion world that may impact supply and demand. Fashion buyers who work for small businesses may develop more personal relationships with their customers, which can help them to better understand their tastes and can therefore influence their buying choices. They may also be responsible for all of the buying decisions. Buyers for large retail companies typically work as part of a team that often includes a senior buyer, associate buyers and assistant buyers. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that buyers might work in office settings, but traveling is sometimes part of this line of work as well (www.bls.gov).

Salary Info and Career Prospects

The BLS reported that the annual median income of retail buyers was about $52,000 as of May 2014. The top 10% of salaried workers made about $94,000 or more annually, while the lowest 10% made less than $30,000. Employment opportunities were only expected to increase by 7% between 2012 and 2022, which was slower than the average for all occupations.

What Are the Requirements?

Education and Training

Many fashion buyers can get their start in this field without any postsecondary education. Larger organizations, however, may prefer to hire applicants with a bachelor's degree. If you wish to eventually work as a purchasing manager, you also may want to earn your degree. Economics, business and fashion merchandising are some of the degree options that can help prepare you for a career as a fashion buyer. Fashion merchandising programs cover topics such as the fundamentals of the fashion industry, merchandising mathematics, trend forecasting, fashion media, marketing and accounting.

When you first secure a job, you may receive on-the-job training for more than a year. This training is meant to teach you how to carry out basic job responsibilities, such as engaging in supplier negotiations and keeping track of inventory quantities. Advancing in your field may take a good deal of experience and, sometimes, continued education. Purchasing managers generally have at least five years of experience as a buyer, but you may also advance to an assistant purchasing manager position by working your way up. Some employers may require a master's degree to secure a top-level management position.

Job Listings from Actual Employers

Many employers look for buyers who are fashion savvy and able to stay on top of the latest trends. While not all employers are seeking those with a degree, they generally look for applicants with fashion or retail experience. Proficiency with certain computer programs is also a common skill needed. Below are just some of the available requirements for fashion buyers as of April 2012.

  • A fashion retailer in New York is searching for experienced retailers with strong backgrounds in sales for buyer and assistant buyer positions. Prospective candidates should have interpersonal skills and the ability to build relationships. Negotiating and analytical skills are also necessary.
  • A large retailer in Minnesota is searching for a buyer with a 4-year degree and 5-7 years of experience. Prospective candidates should have strong decision-making and organizational skills, as well as an entrepreneurial outlook.
  • A ladies' fashion company in New York City is looking for an associate buyer with 1-2 years of experience as an assistant or associate buyer in retail and, preferably, a degree related to fashion. The applicant should be able to pay attention to detail and must have basic computer skills.

How to Get Ahead in the Field

Gain Experience

One way to get ahead in this field is by securing a part-time job in retail while you're still in school. You may also consider taking on an internship. Both are effective ways to provide you with industry connections, exposure and experience. Since many employers prefer to hire those with prior retail work, doing so can also help you land a job right after you graduate. Subscribing to fashion and celebrity magazines, attending runway shows and staying tuned to the latest developments in pop culture and fashion can also help you learn more about consumer appeal and successful buying strategies.

Earn Certification

The American Purchasing Society offers certification to buyers and purchasing managers at various levels (www.american-purchasing.com). To obtain certification, you should usually have at least three years of purchasing-related experience or a degree from a recognized college and two years of related experience. Generally, you must take a few self-paced online courses and pass a written exam to earn the certification. Although it's not required, earning it can signify to potential employers your commitment to the job and may therefore help you with employment pursuits.

Develop Related Skills

Since your position as a buyer relies heavily on negotiating good deals, taking effective communication and negotiation courses may assist you in building these skills. You must have strong math skills as a buyer as well, so taking additional math and accounting classes can be beneficial. Because many employers look for buyers who are proficient with computer programs like Microsoft Excel and Microsoft Word, you might also take computer classes that can help you develop such knowledge.

Other Career Options

Fashion Advertising Manager

If becoming a fashion buyer doesn't sound like the perfect fit for you, but you're still interested in a career involving the business side of fashion, then you may want to become a fashion advertising manager. Advertising managers in fashion work closely with buyers to secure their interest in products for a department, an entire organization or a particular project. As an advertising manager, you could work at a media firm that sells advertising time or space, an agency that creates advertising campaigns for different clients or a company that utilizes a good deal of advertising. You typically must work as part of a team designing ad campaigns. A bachelor's degree is usually needed for most positions, according to the BLS.

The annual median salary for advertising managers as of May 2011 was almost $88,000, reported the BLS. On the downside, 19% of all advertising managers worked 50 or more hours per week as of 2010. Jobs in this field were expected to grow 13% between 2010 and 2020, which was average. Advertising positions are highly attractive, so this field can be very competitive. As print media continues to decline, advertising managers who can oversee digital media campaigns were predicted to enjoy the best job prospects.

Fashion Designer

If, on the other hand, you think you may be more interested in the creative side of the fashion industry, then becoming a fashion designer may be the job for you. As a fashion designer, you can create the designs used to make clothing, accessories and footwear. Typically, you must sketch your designs on paper or through computer-aided design (CAD) programs. You also must select the fabric, color and embellishments for your designs. Working long hours to meet deadlines or prepare for fashion shows may sometimes be necessary in this line of work.

As of May 2011, the BLS reported that the median annual wage for fashion designers was almost $65,000. However, employment was projected to experience little to no growth between 2010 and 2020. Additionally, nearly 75% of all designers with salaries lived in California or New York as of May 2010; therefore, it may be necessary for you to relocate to find employment. Those with postsecondary education, an impressive portfolio and prior work experience were expected to have the best job opportunities in this highly competitive industry.

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