Along with everything else that has changed in 2020, so has the role of a fashion buyer. When I first started out in the fashion industry as a buyer many years ago, the role was vastly different. Back then, a range showing with a national brand was a huge production. It was glamorous and it was all about who could put on the biggest and best shows! The who’s who of the business would be invited along and the buyer was treated like a king or most cases, queen. They were worshiped by the brands
ds (think Meryl Streep in The Devil Wears Prada). Overseas sampling and trend trips happened at least twice a year, at a minimum of two weeks each to allow plenty of time to research and shop. On return, we would come back and work on putting the ranges and collections together. It was a much slower and more methodical process. Buying decisions and selections for the following season were made from a post-season analysis or review that was conducted at the end of each six months of trade, at the end of December and June. These reviews formulated the plan moving forward and it provided the buyer with options by product category and brand. This is still what happens in the fashion buying world, however the analysis and reviews happen much more frequently. The buying of collections and brands were done six months ahead of time for a national brand and 12 months ahead for international brands. This is when fashion buying was a lot of fun and retail sales were buoyant. A new world for fashion buyers Fast forward to 2020 and we are seeing a very different landscape. We have been forced to do things differently and we’ve reflected on how the fashion industry needs to perform. The past year has shown us that a pandemic does not care about the seasons or the latest trends and our vulnerabilities have been exposed. It has also caused us to think very differently about how we buy in the future. How do we mitigate risk and how do we become more relevant? Is this the perfect opportunity for the fashion industry to have a reset that is long overdue? Do we need to produce volumes of stock? Do we need the endless release of collections? Or will we get serious about sustainability and being ethical in the way that we buy and source product? Timelines and critical paths have been changing over the years, some have been extended whilst others become shorter. If you are a fashion buyer for a fast fashion brand, your timelines are six to eight weeks’ turnaround from design concept to stock in store. It’s all about who can get the jump on their competitor. Analysis and planning are so critical to ensure the right product, quantity and selections are made. No longer can a buyer just have a “feel” for product. Now your intuition is being questioned and ‘the X factor’ that sets a good buyer apart from another is overlooked. It’s now all about the numbers! Risks are much more calculated. After all, fashion buyers are responsible for multimillion-dollar businesses, so there is a lot at stake. Engagement and buy-in from management and the greater team formulate the buying process and as a buyer and an individual, you do not have the final say on your range or collection. Prior to 2020, fashion buyers were travelling up to eight times a year, going on international sourcing and buying trips, attending international trade shows, events, and fashion weeks. With Covid-19 still impacting our planet, I feel that overseas travel will be a thing of the past, as we find new and innovative ways to source products. We are living in a digital age and as such, access to the world stage is quite literally at our fingertips. We have become more resourceful and open to sharing knowledge, given that we no longer have the freedom to go anywhere at any time. Virtual range showings, runway shows, event livestreaming and international resources are going to play an even bigger role than before. Fashion buyers will look at the local market for new designers, collections, and manufacturing. We’ll be sourcing from the vast pool of our talented local designers and those close to our shores and in doing so, we’ll give our economy and industry a much-needed boost. Fashion buying will take on a whole new mindset and way of doing business. The pressures will continue as businesses and individuals navigate a “new normal” of fashion buying. Agility and adaptability will be your greatest asset. Things will change but then that’s what fashion buying is all about.