How to Become a Buyer for a Clothing Company

Research the requirements to become an apparel buyer. Learn about the job description and duties, and read the step-by-step process to start a career in apparel merchandising.

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Do I Want to Be an Apparel Buyer?

Apparel buyers are professional shoppers and negotiators who use both business sense and fashion savvy to acquire apparel and accessory merchandise for clothing companies. The job entails staying current with fashion trends, sourcing products and developing relationships with product vendors, as well as managing product orders and sales in line with the employer's margin and profit goals. Apparel buyers also negotiate costs and set the retail prices for products while establishing promotional sales strategies and tracking industry competition.

A career in apparel buying will likely appeal to individuals who have strong business skills and who want to work in the fashion industry. This is a full-time position that often requires overtime hours. While it tends to be high-paying, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects little growth for the career over the 2012-2022 decade.

Job Requirements

Although educational requirements for purchasing managers in general can vary, larger fashion companies will likely prefer to hire apparel buyers who have at least a bachelor's degree. The following table describes the common qualifications and requirements for apparel buyers:

Common Requirements
Degree Level Undergraduate degree*
Degree Field Fashion merchandising or related field*
Experience Varies; employers may look for 1-5 years of related professional experience*
Key Skills Skills in communication, relationship development, negotiation, analytical and financial sense, organization and time management*
Computer Skills Excel, Word, Outlook and inventory management software*
Additional Requirements Travel and unusual hours may be required**

Sources: *Job postings from employers in October 2012, **The Princeton Review.

Step 1: Research Job Requirements

Apparel buying often requires long hours, extensive travel, and difficult negotiations. People in this position must use business and fashion knowledge to make confident purchasing decisions that directly impact their companies' goals. Buyers must analyze and forecast trends, work with retail sales and operations employees to discern buying trends, and locate and place bids on apparel and accessories. These tasks require sophisticated product and market knowledge, as well as strong analytical abilities.

Step 2: Earn a Bachelor's Degree

Many employers seek apparel buyers who have completed a bachelor's degree program. Fashion design, marketing, merchandising, and business degree programs can provide aspiring apparel buyers with skills and job-related knowledge. Required courses typically include consumer behavior, marketing, statistical analysis, trend forecasting, accounting, and economic theory.

Success Tips:

  • Participate in an internship. In addition to coursework, many schools offer internships in the fashion or retail industries for credit for students pursuing a college degree. These programs can also provide college students with real-world experience and skills in their field that can be used after graduation.
  • Develop product knowledge. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, employers look for purchasing managers, buyers, and agents with working knowledge about the products they sell in addition to a bachelor's degree. Retail sales experience can help develop product knowledge and give apparel buyers an understanding of trend cycles and customer buying habits. Reading about and researching industry topics can also help professionals stay on top of fashion trends.

Step 3: Gain Experience

Entry-level positions in this field often include purchasing clerk, allocation assistant, junior buyer, associate planner, and assistant buyer. These jobs provide aspiring apparel buyers with experience in the buying process, and opportunities to learn about trend forecasting, inventory and sales systems, and price negotiations. They can also learn about the ways economic trends impact retail sales. Some companies offer long-term training programs for new employees with goals to advance in the merchandising field eventually to the position of buyer, and possibly beyond.

Success Tip:

  • Stay current on industry trends. Apparel buyers must continuously educate themselves about the latest trends and product lines to be successful in their field. Attending seminars and fashion shows and reading industry publications can provide networking and learning opportunities.
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