Fashion Buying & Merchandising Degrees: Associate, Bachelor & Online Info

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Bachelor's and associate's degrees in fashion buying and merchandising can lead to careers on the business side of fashion and retail. Get the truth about the requirements, courses and career options, and find out what you can do with your degree.
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Studying Fashion Buying and Merchandising: Degrees at a Glance

Fashion merchandising and buying degree programs teach you the fashion industry's business side. You learn various aspects of retail, promotion and pricing. You also study current and upcoming trends and learn to predict which forthcoming trends will be most popular among consumers.

With a degree in this field, you may qualify for careers in fashion buying, marketing, merchandising, design or public relations. However, certain careers in the fashion industry may have more promising prospects than others. If you're hoping to get into the design aspect of the field, keep in mind that the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) expected little to no change for fashion designers between 2010 and 2020. Fashion buyers may also experience sluggish employment growth during this decade with an anticipated 9% increase, according to the BLS.

Associate's Bachelor's
Who is this degree for? - Students with little to no experience or knowledge in fashion business
- Fashion designers seeking business skills
- Students with or without an associate's degree
- Those wanting to work in fashion business
Common Career Paths (with approximate median salary) - Merchandise displayer ($26,000)*
- Wholesale and retail buyers ($50,000)*

- Merchandise manager ($98,000)**
- Sales manager ($102,000)*
Time to Completion 1-2 years full-time 2 years after an associate's degree or 4 years without one
Common Graduation Requirements Internship Internship
Prerequisites High school diploma or equivalent High school diploma or equivalent or an associate's degree
Online Availability Yes Yes

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2011 figures), **Salary.com (June 2012 figures).

Associate's Degree in Fashion Merchandising and Buying

Many schools offer Associate of Applied Science degrees in fashion merchandising and buying, which prepare you to immediately enter the workforce. Although some credits from AAS programs may transfer to relevant bachelor's programs, you may want to enroll in an Associate of Science program if you plan to transfer to a 4-year program.

As a fashion merchandising and buying student, you study the principles of advertising, marketing and selling, and you also typically learn management skills. You combine these business skills with fashion knowledge related to textiles, quality and trends. Your curriculum may also cover the inner workings of the retail industry.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Credits from an associate's degree program can be counted toward a bachelor's degree program
  • Internships and cooperative work experiences are often obtainable or required
  • Technology makes it easier to keep current with the latest trends

Cons

  • In an industry that relies on trends, job security can be somewhat unstable
  • You may compete for jobs with people who have less education, but more experience
  • Better job opportunities may be located in major metropolitan cities

Courses and Requirements

Your classes in this degree program are geared at teaching you the cycle of fashion and the critical thinking skills to react quickly and effectively in a volatile market. You can expect to take general education courses in math, writing, public speaking and social sciences. Practical learning may be gained through internships or workshops that replicate actual work settings and require you to apply your merchandising skills. Your core curriculum intertwines business with fashion and may include classes such as:

  • Textiles
  • Advertising and promotion
  • Fashion trends
  • Fashion buying
  • Visual merchandising

Online Degree Options

Some schools provide schedule flexibility by offering programs online. However, each school differs in their program structure and requirements, and you may need either a previous undergraduate degree or a designated amount of general education credits. Online curriicula is often the same as on-campus programs.

Stand Out with This Degree

While many students get retail jobs to help cover expenses while they're in school, you could work retail to do research and gain experience. Retail experience provides valuable insight into how the business works and how to relate to customers. Furthermore, pay attention to fashion trends, including celebrity culture and style publications, which influence consumers.

Your school may also have extracurricular activities that can benefit a fashion merchandising and buying student. Look for clubs related to merchandising, marketing, advertising or retailing. Your school may include a chapter of the National Retail Federation Student Association where you can network with retail executives and attend industry events. Clubs can offer ways to hone your leadership skills, or there may be leadership workshops you can participate in and improve your communication, organizational management and supervising abilities.

You may benefit from gaining technology skills, and you can look for programs that provide classes in fashion-specific technology. Software programs are used by industry professionals to create merchandising presentations, and you may also benefit from learning computer-aided design.

Other Degrees to Consider

If you're interested in making stores look appealing to customers, you may find an associate's degree in interior design useful. You learn about textiles as well as how to use space in a functional and visually pleasing way. Interior design training combined with retail experience may qualify you for a visual merchandising position. However, to work as an interior designer, which requires licensure in most states, you likely need a bachelor's degree. According to the BLS, interior design positions are expected to grow an average 19% from 2010-2020.

Bachelor's Degree in Fashion Merchandising or Buying

In a bachelor's degree program in fashion buying or merchandising, you study many of the same business and fashion concepts as in an associate's program. However, your classes may be more in-depth and cover concepts including market research and consumer behavior. You may also study the fashion market on an international scale and further develop your communication, presentation and critical-thinking abilities. While some schools offer fashion merchandising as a major on its own, you may find it as a specialization within a marketing, business or management program.

Pro and Cons

Pros

  • Bachelor's degrees may qualify you for management positions
  • Fashion merchandising programs may be part of broader programs in management or marketing, which can teach you skills applicable to fields other than fashion
  • Internships are commonly required, which provide professional experience

Cons

  • Fashion is a competitive and slow-growing industry
  • Long hours, including holidays, nights and weekends are often associated with retail
  • Much of your work is based on the whims of customers and the buying public, which can be fickle

Courses and Requirements

In addition to various business classes, a more comprehensive foundation of the fashion field is common. You also learn more about forecasting fashion trends and fashion culture. Your program may include field trips and the opportunity to interact one-on-one with people in the fashion industry. Classes may include:

  • Visual merchandising
  • Marketing
  • Fashion planning
  • Economics

You may be required to complete an internship. Also, some programs require participation in department-wide projects designed to provide students with practical experience. For example, you may apply your skills in a fashion show sponsored by your school or a store run by students.

Online Degree Options

There are a few schools with online bachelor's degree programs in this field. Coursework is similar to an on-campus program, including the possibility of a required internship. Some technology requirements may be necessary if you choose the online option, such as specific software programs and computer conditions.

Stand Out with This Degree

Choosing schools in close proximity to major fashion hubs, such as New York City, or that have study abroad programs may make it easier for you to network or gain learning experiences with top-industry experts. Study abroad programs can take you to fashion capitals throughout the world, which can enhance your fashion culture perception. You can also join professional associations, such as the National Association for Retail Marketing Services, which offers research, professional development and networking opportunities.

As a purchasing professional, you can earn certification through the American Purchasing Society. You can choose from 4 certification options: the Certified Purchasing Professional, the Certified Professional Purchasing Manager, the Certified Green Purchasing Professional and the Certified Professional Purchasing Consultant. Eligibility requirements include having at least 3 years of purchasing experience or a degree and 2 years of purchasing experience.

Other Degrees to Consider

A degree program in marketing teaches you the skills and training to market fashion as well as products and services other than fashion. With a degree in marketing, you learn similar business concepts as those taught in a fashion merchandising and buying program, including identifying your target audience, developing pricing strategies and managing inventory based on sales. According to the BLS, many marketing managers start out as buyers or purchasing agents.

Popular Schools

  • Online Programs Available
    1. Kaplan University

    Program Options

    Associate's
      • Associate: Business Admin.
      • AASBA in Sales
      • AASBA in Customer Service
      • AASBA in Retail Management
  • Online Programs Available
    2. Herzing University

    Program Options

    Associate's
      • Associate of Science - Business Management
      • Associate of Science - Business Studies
  • Akron, OH

    University of Akron Main Campus

  • Online Programs Available
    4. Baker College Online

    Program Options

    Associate's
      • Business Administration - Associate
  • Online Programs Available
    5. Argosy University

    Program Options

    Associate's
      • Business Administration (AS)
  • Online Programs Available
    6. American InterContinental University

    Program Options

    Associate's
      • Associate of Arts in Business Administration
  • Online Programs Available
    7. Colorado Technical University

    Program Options

    Associate's
      • Associate of Science in Business Administration
  • Online Programs Available
    8. Keiser University

    Program Options

    Associate's
      • Associate of Arts - Accounting

Featured Schools

Kaplan University

  • Associate: Business Admin.
  • AASBA in Sales
  • AASBA in Customer Service

Which subject are you interested in?

Herzing University

  • Associate of Science - Business Management
  • Associate of Science - Business Studies

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University of Akron Main Campus

Baker College Online

  • Business Administration - Associate

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Argosy University

  • Business Administration (AS)

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American InterContinental University

  • Associate of Arts in Business Administration

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Colorado Technical University

  • Associate of Science in Business Administration

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Keiser University

  • Associate of Arts - Accounting

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