How to Become a Fashion Buyer

Do you have a passion for fashion, love shopping and have a knack for spotting trends? Then a career in fashion buying might be right for you.

Reviewed by Chris Leitch

fashion buyer with clothes scattered

Anyone who loves fashion has often wished that their favourite department store, dress boutique or online shop had more options from a particular designer, or better sizing, or something a little more on-trend. As a fashion buyer, you could be in charge of all those decisions, curating the perfect collection of clothing and accessories for your customers.

That level of creative power makes the fashion buyer role one of the most sought-after jobs in the fashion industry. It takes a lot of work to succeed in this potential dream job, however, and a unique combination of skills that doesn’t suit everyone.

So, is this the right job for you? Finding the right career isn’t easy, but we’ve got the tools to help you figure it out. Read on for step-by-step details on how to become a fashion buyer, and all the information you need to decide if this is the beginning of a fulfilling career.

1. Understand the dual roles of a fashion buyer

Just as professional food tasters don’t merely eat candy all day, fashion buyers do a lot more than swipe through designer Instagram accounts and buy gorgeous clothes. Most buyers work more than 40 hours a week on a variety of tasks that can include spreadsheets, phone calls to suppliers, planning sessions with your team and even international travel.

A fashion buyer is responsible for all the apparel and accessory merchandise for an entire department or store. You must be up to speed on the latest trends and understand the needs and wants of your store’s customer base. Orders must be placed well ahead of each season, so you’ll also need some predictive powers about what will be in fashion by the time those clothes go on display.

Being a fashion buyer doesn’t mean you have carte blanche. You must work within your organisation’s budget and consult with team members and upper management about the type of purchases that will build your brand. Your fashion savvy may drive decisions, but you’ll need the skills to communicate and defend your vision to others. Fashion buyers typically require cooperation and input from multiple departments, so teamwork skills are also essential.

Profit is what keeps a business afloat, so fashion buyers must always be conscious of how well items are selling. You’ll need to keep track of inventory and adjust what you’re buying to meet customer demand. This could vary by department and even store location, so fashion buyers must keep meticulous records and statistics to inform future purchasing decisions.

2. Get the right education

You’ve likely pondered your career choices during secondary school and must be prepared to take the next steps as a graduate.

While an undergraduate degree isn’t always necessary, it can be helpful on two fronts. What you learn as you pursue your degree can improve your job performance and make you suitable for promotion. Having university credentials can also set you apart from other candidates and help you land the most prestigious and highest-paying fashion buyer jobs.

A bachelor’s degree in fashion merchandising is ideal, but any relevant degree in fashion, business, finance, retail or marketing will assist you on your career path. Consider a combination of related coursework as you pursue your degree. Hiring managers will be more impressed by a résumé that shows you understand the complexity of the role.

3. Pursue a variety of experience

Check with your university for internship and graduate scheme opportunities. Often major brands or retailers will coordinate with educational institutions to offer on-the-job learning opportunities. There are pros and cons to internships, including financial considerations. You may prefer to simply apply for an entry-level position with your favourite company.

Beginning at the store level in retail sales, for example, can give you valuable experience for a future role as a fashion buyer. In a large organisation, you may be able to work your way up from trainee to assistant buyer. Once you’ve gained knowledge and skills as an assistant, you can apply as a head buyer at the same institution or use your experience to land a role at another company.

Consider honing your skills in a variety of roles. Many prospective fashion buyers take on part-time work throughout their schooling, gaining experience in marketing, accounting, fashion writing and social media, or as a personal shopper. The more you know about how all aspects of the fashion business works, the more desirable you’ll be to future employers as a fashion buyer.

4. Join professional fashion and retail organisations

Networking is beneficial in a variety of careers, but it’s essential for fashion buyers. Making multiple contacts in the fashion business helps you keep up on the latest news, trends and designers, while maintaining solid relationships with vendors can also lead to better service and pricing for your retail outlet.

One way to find networking opportunities is to join professional fashion and retail organisations. Check with your local chamber of commerce or board of trade for groups in your area. If you’re working as an assistant buyer, check with your colleagues and bosses for recommendations on the best fashion organisations.

Large organizations like the National Retail Federation (NRF) and the American Purchasing Society (APS) in the US also offer certifications. Options range from retail sales to customer service to ethically sourced and green purchasing. The NRF’s Certified Purchasing Professional designation is the best choice for a fashion buyer, but don’t dismiss other opportunities. The associated coursework and exams can help you understand more of the fashion business and hone your skills as a buyer.

Only 26.7% of US workers with a degree have additional certifications, and only 12.7% of nondegree workers have them, so continuing education can set you apart from your competitors for roles at the best companies. The added credentials in your field can also help you land fashion buyer jobs with more responsibility and a higher salary.

5. Prepare for the interviews

Getting your education, credentials and relevant experience are all important steps as you work towards becoming a fashion buyer. Your accomplishments can get you an interview for a job opening, but your work has just begun. As Ellie Sibley, a buyer’s assistant for Topshop in London, warns: ‘The interview process when you’re trying to land a job is long, and can be intense, so I wish I’d prepared a little more for some of them and put myself in the best position possible.’

Fashion buyer interviews are more than the usual ‘tell me about yourself’ type interactions. Prospective employers are often keen to see actual examples of your fashion sense and knowledge of trends. You may be asked to create a mood or trend board, evaluate an apparel item for purchase, or analyse a budget issue. Practise these types of interview assignments beforehand so you’ll be comfortable with any challenge they throw at you.

Research the company you’re applying to and learn all you can about their brand, customer base, and strengths and weaknesses. Some of the most common interview questions relate to your thoughts on the company and why you want to work there.

Spice up your answers by giving examples of how you could help their business thrive in a new market or how well a new designer might fit into their collection. Showing how you can improve their business as a fashion buyer is a great way to ace the interview. Just be careful not to overstep – unless the job description indicates they’re looking for radical change, don’t try to upend their entire business model on the first day.

Dress stylishly and professionally for the interview, whether you’re in person or on a video call. Doing a virtual interview requires some extra preparation. Make sure your devices are fully charged, you’ve downloaded the appropriate apps, and you’ve got a quiet spot to chat without interruption. Place any materials you’ll need close by so hiring managers don’t have to watch an empty screen while you run around your house looking for a pen or your sample trend board.

Above all, show your passion and dedication to the world of fashion and sharing that joy with your customer base. Fashion buyers have a complex and labour-intensive job, so your new bosses will want to be sure that you have enough enthusiasm for the role to stay focused and productive.

6. Never stop learning

This is where surfing Instagram will come into play because it’s currently the hot platform for discovering new designers. It’s also a way to check out what everyone is wearing when they want to look best on their Insta, as well connect with both fashion brands and influencers.

Social media outlets peak and fade, so you’ll need to stay on top of any emerging platforms. If you want to become a fashion buyer, it’s essential to demonstrate adaptability to prospective employers. The fashion industry moves fast, so you need to show that you can keep up with any changes and stay relevant with your customer base.

It’s not all about social media, either. Check out industry publications, trade shows and fashion shows. If it’s within your company’s budget, you should travel internationally for fashion events to keep up with designs and styles around the globe. You’ll also connect with designers and vendors and make deals to sell their products in your store, so work to develop your negotiation skills if you want to succeed in this role.

Fashion buyers can also work their way up to sourcing fabric and other materials for a particular designer. Consider some additional coursework in textiles to understand how fabrics are created, how to discern quality, and where to source the best products.

Final thoughts

It takes a lot of work to become a fashion buyer and do the job well, but it’s an exciting and rewarding career path for those who love it. Follow these tips and you’ll be well on your way to a successful career in fashion buying!

Additional resources

Have you decided to use all your fashion savvy and killer budgeting skills to become a fashion buyer? Share your story in the comments below and let us know which of the steps you’ve already started on!