Inside the Industry: Luxury Fashion Buyers

by Sebastian Burchell

The world of luxury fashion buying is one of riches and pressure. Despite lying in the shadow of the more glamorous roles within fashion, these luxury fashion buyers are arguably the most pivotal employees. Not only is the success of a fashion retailer pinned on their decisions, but also they ultimately decide how our wardrobes will look.  This article will shed some insight into the process of luxury fashion buyers, illuminating the complex intricacies that are concealed within their job responsibilities.

Eudon Choi at Designer Showrooms LFW Fashion Agency London
Eudon Choi at Designer Showrooms LFW | Fashion Bloc Photo

Any buying process starts with scrupulous research of brands currently operating within your specific market. Jess Stead buyer for Larizia, highlights how extensive online research is an essential first step when procuring new products. “It’s important we gage an understanding of what’s available in the current fashion climate, before visiting any companies that we’d like to stock. Generally speaking, we use fashion publications and social media to keep on top of the latest collections from brands, and more widely the new brands that are coming onto the scene”.

With a long list of brands at hand, the next step is getting out and seeing them in person. It’s well recognized that the role of buying can take you to some of the most exclusive fashion stores and events in the world. Notably, the European fashion weeks are a regular for many retailers, with specific shows acting as both inspiration and aspiration for those buyers who attend. At Paris Fashion week 2017, we saw collections from Isabel Marant exude a casual fusion of retro sportswear, yet Stella McCartney’s collection coherently combined sophisticated ease with her moral ethics. In going to these shows, buyers essentially aim to get a feel for a collection, subsequently either becoming connected or disenchanted with a brand/line.

When it comes to choosing the actual items, how does the buyer finally decide which products are best for their company? Connor Grieveson, Menswear buying assistant at Jules B suggests it’s appropriate to base decisions from a statistical perspective with previous sales data providing a strong insight into which items are worth investing or reinvesting in. “As a buyer, it’s all about analysing the data, what’s working and what isn’t working – what do we need to buy more of so we don’t sell out, and how can you learn from current trends for the next season. We look at whether a trend will evolve or are we looking to create newness and explore up and coming trends to redefine the collection?” Using this approach will help retailers look forward, by enabling accurate prediction of future results.

Natasha Zinko's son posing with models at her show LFW, Fashion Bloc Photo Fashion Agency London
Natasha Zinko’s son posing with models at her show LFW | Fashion Bloc Photo

To supplement data led decisions, a consideration of current fashion trends are integral to the buying process. Harry Fisher senior buyer from Machine-A identifies how understanding popularity of items via social media has justified their purchases. “Social media can give us an insight into what people love and will want to see more of in store.” Buying director of MyTheresa.com, Justin O’Shea adds, “If it’s not part of the lifestyle matrix of what people are wearing and sharing on Instagram, then it doesn’t matter.” In today’s interconnected world, social media acts as an accessible platform for buyer research as well as a measure of popularity.

Actually buying

Although the chosen products may have been identified, buying them is a whole different kettle of fish. The luxury buyer has to decide a number of important factors first, for instance, what budget do they have to spend, and how many of each product from the chosen brand, do they want. The latter requires honesty in the form of both, realistic selling aims and feedback from previous lines.

Another vital aspect to consider is how much stock needs to be sold (in your store) to make your buying procurements worthwhile. Luxury fashion buyers may have to ponder this most, as their purchases are of high value and therefore quantities have to be somewhat exact. It will help being confident with Maths in this situation, as it enables assured decision making as well as personal comfort around notions like VAT and currency exchange rates, for those procuring overseas.

Arguably the hardest element of any sales process is striking a deal. Those wanting to stay within their budget will inevitably look to negotiate or in their worst dreams, compromise with the buyer. High-end fashion buyers may be in a slightly more rigid scenario, as the number of products obtained may not warrant a discount. With all this being said, building strong and close relationships with brands is of high importance and may alleviate any negotiation issues.

It’s fair to say that taking on the role of a luxury fashion buyer is far more complicated than first thought, with it taking more than a keen eye for style to succeed.