Olivia Hawes, Fashion

I'm Olivia, and I'm a buyer for a menswear brand

Describe your job

What I love about my job, is that every day is different. I generally start the day catching up on emails and replying to my suppliers and factories, especially those who are based in the Far East due to the time difference, so they at least have an answer from me before their day has ended. I will review any approvals that need to be sent to factories too from anything that’s been sent in the post, whether its a final production sample approval or a lab dip/trim.

At any one time I will be working on at least three seasons – trading the season thats currently in stores/online and knowing what my best/worst sellers are, tracking the critical path for the next season to ensure everything is running on time and there are no delays to deliveries. And then I will be developing the next season after that.

We start off working on a season by attending trend/trade shows and get inspiration for colour, design and key new shapes. I will also go on comp shops with my team to see what designers and aspirational brands are currently showcasing. From this, we will come up with a development plan and a strategy deck and soon after this I will go on trips to China, Italy, Scotland etc to visit my suppliers where I will select/develop new product for the season. I typically buy between 400-500 styles each season and work with over 30 suppliers/fabric mills so my job is always very busy and fast-paced!

After my initial supplier meetings, I typically have to wait 4-6 weeks to get back development samples. At this point I will work with my merchandiser to come up with a plan for the range framework and I will build the range ready to present a pre-sign off meeting to management. Any comments that come from this meeting, I will go away and work on with my suppliers and my team.

At the point of a final sign off meeting around 4-6 weeks later, we will have all perfect samples and I will have negotiated all cost prices with factories. We will also have options and buy units finalised so that after this meeting we are at the point where we can confirm orders and raise PO’s to send to suppliers. All confirmed orders are added to a critical path which is a buying teams bible! This is what we use to track orders and ensure production/shipment runs on time so we can launch the season on time in line with business deadlines.

What are the most important skills you need to do your job?

Being organised is key as quite often you will be juggling lots of of different things at the same time, so being able to prioritise your workload and being able to work under pressure also helps.

Another key skill is having an eye for product; you’re developing your range based on what you think will sell well, so knowing your customer and creating amazing product that will look great online and in stores is massively important- You therefore need to be creative but at the same time have a commercial mind, knowing how your department sales are tracking and making decisions to drive as much profit as possible for the business.

I would also say it’s important to have strong interpersonal skills and being able to work well within a team- you work very closely with the rest of your buying and merchandising team and you also work closely with other departments in the wider business on a daily basis, including visual merchandising, marketing, web team, garment techs etc. Plus you’re also speaking with suppliers every day, so good communication skills and the ability to form strong relationships is key.

I left school and...

I went to University of Exeter to study Ancient History! I always felt like I wanted to work in fashion but never really knew how to get into it (I wish I had been given more creative career guidance and advice whilst at school!)

After graduating from Uni I thought I would probably have to do a masters in Retail Management or a course in Buying and Merchandising. However, after spending several months completing internships and working as a sales assistant on the shop floor, I got offered a job for an entry level merchandiser role.

After about 5 months working within the merchandising team I asked my manager if I could move over into the Buying team. I had to attend another assessment centre but luckily got the job and that’s when my career in buying started.

Since then, I have worked on many different product areas and a few different companies and have worked my way up to Buyer.

I’m most proud of...

As a Buyer, I am always thinking of new creative ways to drive positive sales performance for my department. An example is that I recently developed and created a swatch book to help customers choose their ties and accessories for their weddings or summer events. The book had fabric swatches of every design/colour we were offering within the product range, plus styling tips and beautiful photography of some of the products. I was involved in all stages, including the logistics of making the book at the factory, the copywriting and the photoshoot.

Before I started my career, I wish I knew…

I wish I had known that there are very different types of buying roles out there - the main difference being whether you work in product development or product selection.

I moved from a high street brand to a premium designer label and had no idea how different the roles would be. Although I learnt valuable new skills at the second role, it was more of a merchandising role and I missed the creativity of product development. So only stayed for a year and a half before moving to a new company.

I would advise making sure the role is right for you and not joining a company just because the brand sounds glamorous!

A mistake I made which you can avoid repeating is...

I don’t at all regret my decision to go to Uni to study History, but if you know you want to work in retail/fashion from an early age, I would advise investigating retail/buying related university courses. However, it is also possible to get your foot in the door through completing a Masters degree, short courses or just doing internships/work experience and showing real passion for the role and industry.

Some words of advice...

Working in quite a competitive industry, I have experienced knock backs, especially when trying to get a promotion or making that next step up the career ladder. If you do experience any disappointments, don’t let them ever deter you from reaching your goals. They will only make you stronger in your career in the long run, so allow yourself a moment of disappointment, but learn from the experience, put on a brave face, and don't give up. If you’re positive and motivated you will always get there in the end!

Here's my:

Instagram | Linkedin