‘Meet the Insider’ is a part of the DIY Fashion Agency monthly agency subscription, available exclusively on Fashion Bloc.

This Month’s insider is a Fashion buying consultant Karen Thomas, whose professional portfolio spans over 15 years, multiple continents and fashion clients of all sizes. Karen has worked with international retailers such as Harvey Nichols and Selfridges, and multi-brand boutiques, as well as luxury and contemporary designer brands. Recently, together with a friend, she launched ‘Harries & Jones Presents’ – a fashion week-tied shopping event cycle where customers can pre-order designer collections straight after the fashion week.

Fashion Bloc speaks with Karen to get insider’s knowledge about the role of the fashion buyer and first-hand tips for the independent fashion brands looking to build relationships with this essential figure in the fashion business chain.

Karen Thomas fashion buyer how to launch your own fashion brand
Karen Thomas

Fashion Bloc: What is a fashion buyer and a fashion buying consultant?

Karen Thomas: A multi-brand fashion buyer is someone that is trained to look for a product that is best suited to their market ( store ) and demographic. The buyer will look at their demographic and find products that are best suited from a price and aesthetic point of view. Good buyers will have to learn how to negotiate terms, work within budgets, know how to leverage supplier situations when their stock is not performing and generally be able to think (creatively) at all times.

A fashion buying consultant will also work to the same remit as above, however, they may not necessarily work “in house” for the end client. Consultants all work on the unique briefs from their clients so it’s hard to generalise too much in terms of what the two differences are.

Consultants may also provide more of a holistic approach to the business whereby an “ in house’ fashion buyer is likely to have a specific category to buy for and role with more defined parameters.

The best way is simply to try and call the office and ask who is the person that looks after their product category

Fashion Bloc: How to understand who is who in a buying office and who is the right person to contact if I want to introduce my brand and my collection?

Karen: The best way is simply to try and call the office and ask who is the person that looks after their product category. Larger fashion offices will have dedicated market reps for specific categories whereas a smaller office will have a team that may cover multiple areas.

Fashion Bloc If I am contacting a fashion buyer for the first time, what should I send?

Karen: Lookbooks, press info, a line sheet and some physical samples (if possible). But always find out whether the office is happy to accept samples as sometimes this may not be appropriate. A courtesy / introductory phone call is always recommended before sending anything “physical” in the post 😉 

Karen Thomas fashion buyer how to launch your own fashion brand
Karen Thomas

Fashion Bloc: What is the major mistake one can make (and if you experienced that personally) in a relationship with a fashion buyer?

Karen: I think misjudging the market into which you are trying to introduce your new product. Brands and designers need to look at the existing selection of brands that the buyer has in his / her department or store. Questions need to be considered like: Does my product work well and compliment what is already there? Does my product work well with the existing price point? What is my USP (unique selling point)?

Sometimes it feels that brands just mindlessly contact you without really stopping and thinking “will my product ACTUALLY work in their store”! Is it even appropriate for the market?

Never call a buyer unless you have sent them information to look at first

And another pet hate is when brands contact me by phone and start telling me about their brand when they haven’t sent me anything visual to look at. This is a big mistake, never call a buyer unless you have sent them information to look at first. It’s a total waste of everyone’s time as its impossible to have a dialogue about something you have not seen!

Fashion Bloc: Is it true that fashion buyers are decision makers in brand selection?

Karen: Yes, but sometimes there can be a few politics when you work with a larger store. But for the most part, its normally the buyers that will make the decision, although sometimes they may need to report back to their fashion director before they can make the final decision. Again, it depends on the structure of the buying division of the store they work for, and what brand is on the table!

Fashion Bloc: What is the best and worst timing to build relationships with buyers?

Karen: Best time is to start to build a dialogue with a buyer is a few weeks after the market has ended and when all orders are in. We call this “down time”. This is when buyers get a chance to catch up on research after a hectic few months of travelling. Trying to build relationships with buyers during or just before fashion market for the first time is not ideal, schedules are set and buyers are travelling extensively and often doing very long days, so any speculative emails from brands will not be prioritised at this time.

Karen Thomas is our industry insider of the month. DIY Fashion Agency subscribers will have an opportunity to win a Free mentorship with Karen, and will have exclusive access to her personal contact details for further collaboration.

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