How do new fashions travel from the runway at Milan to the rack at your favorite retail store? With the help of fashion merchandisers -- the buyers, stylists, merchandisers, special events coordinators, and managers who connect customers with the latest fashions.
Fashion merchandisers work hand-in-glove with fashion designers, retailers, and manufacturers to procure and distribute clothes and accessories. They must combine the eye of the artist with the dollars-and-cents practicality of the business person to develop products that will fill shop windows, shelves, and clothing racks.
When dealing directly with designers, fashion merchandisers must be able to recognize ideas that are not only appealing, but also marketable. Merchandisers may attend fashion shows or visit designers at their own studios. They must be able to communicate intelligently with fashion creators about the needs and requirements of the retailers and customers they represent. The fashion merchandiser must couple continual research about social, economic, and fashion trends with an instinct for customer tastes.
Sometimes, as part of the merchandising process, fashion merchandisers will work together with designers and manufacturers to produce clothing and accessories. Other times the merchandisers' only connection to the design process may be through the catalogs that manufacturers supply. In either case, fashion merchandisers must be knowledgeable about the materials used in products— the textiles and fabrics, how different materials look and work together, and how they wear.
Fashion merchandisers must also be familiar with the reputations and capabilities of the manufacturers. Can the manufacturers supply what they say they can? Can they meet deadlines? Will the products be of the expected quality and workmanship? Since fashion is such a volatile industry, the timeliness and condition of a product can mean the difference between its selling out or lingering on a close-out rack.
Some fashion merchandisers are exclusively responsible for the inventory of one store, while others may determine what will appear across the country in a nationwide chain. No matter the case, they must still know what their final customers are going to want, when they will want it, and how much of it they will want. To do this, merchandisers should be ready to work closely with business people and marketers to best predict a timetable and strategy for acquiring and distributing inventory.
Overnight delivery services will also have an impact on the amount of travel necessary. Fabric samples, for example, can be mailed around the world in just a day or two. Travel, however, will by no means disappear. There will be no substitute for the first-hand impressions that can be collected by attending a fashion show, walking through a factory, or talking with a customer. For this reason, fashion merchandisers, even if only as a peripheral to their work, must be comfortable with traveling and moving around in different cultures.
Additionally, merchandisers must expect to work under seasonal time pressures and deadlines. They must possess a sense of aesthetics, but be able to balance it with the practical needs of business. Above all, they must enjoy working in a field that is constantly changing and evolving.
Educational requirements will vary from position to position. Many schools offer fashion degrees that can be earned in two years or less. And some programs can even be taken online, such as the Fashion and Retail Management Online Program at the Art Institutes.
Fashion merchandising can be studied as a specialization within a business, retailing, or marketing degree, or coupled as a minor with a curriculum in design.
Related Career Fields
- Purchasing Manager
- Purchasing Agent
- Merchandising Distributor
- Fashion Designer
- Textile Manufacturer