So this morning I took a few hours off of co-op to attend Fashion Group International’s monthly “professional breakfast series.” The workshop was called “READY FOR RETAIL: What Fashion Buyers Want,” and featured the Vice President of Neiman Marcus, and the owners of Boston-based boutiques Serenella, Follain, and Caramelo. It was only $5 for students, and they provided some awesome insight on what criteria they look for in designers they work with, as well as advice on how to become a fashion buyer. A few really awesome and adorable Fashion & Retail Society club members came as well, and I met a really cool girl who goes to Bay State College who had silver hair and is studying Fashion Merchandising. Don’t worry: a post entirely on silver hair is in the making already.
And now for the recap of the event, advice for fashion designers trying to get their clothes in stores:
- When contacting a buyer, an email and/or an in-store visit sometime in the morning is best, because they day is just starting and they are ready to work. Most of the buyers said they dislike follow-up phone calls, as they read all their emails and will either respond or are disinterested.
- Do research on a company first if you are trying to get your clothes in their stores, because fit is everything. Firstly, you don’t want to call and ask for information such as the company’s address or hours if it’s on the website. This makes you seem uninformed and unprofessional. Secondly, brands have certain criteria that they have to adhere to. For example, Follain is a beauty store in Boston and Nantucket with a commitment to healthy, effective, and sustainable products. Tara Foley, the owner, says she has to make sure to choose healthy products with safe ingredients, and attractive yet sustainable packaging.
- Buyers care about the clothes. This means they should be well-photographed, clear, and simple. Buyers want to see a good product that fits in with the other brands that their company offers. Show your whole collection so they can get a better feel for who you are. Some buyers like to visit the studio where the clothes are made, to get a more authentic feel for what kind of designer they could potentially be working with.
- Also, beware of fancy invitations and gimmicky packaging of the product. It is obviously a nice touch, but sometimes time could be better spent on smarter advertising or finding the right person to pitch your product to. Price and exclusivity also factor into decision-making. They want to know: am I the only person selling this brand in Boston? That exclusive partnership provides a significant advantage.
- They also look for designers with staying power, because they don’t want to buy from a designer who will only be around for one or two seasons. They want someone with an arc, and potential to keep innovating and growing. Buyers also often meet with both the person who designs the clothes and the person who runs the business, because those can be two separate factors in the success of that particular line.
- For Neiman Marcus specifically, it’s well-known brands are its bread and butter. Going into the store, its customers expect certain brands to be present. Emerging designers are “icing on the cake.” As for which gets preferential treatment in terms of marketing, promotion, and store-front displays, it comes down to the trends. They’ll put an Altuzarra coat with a random funky designer’s clutch all in the same Instagram. It’s up to the stylists and visual merchandisers to decide that. What’s important to note is that if a company is investing in your clothes and your brand, they have incentive to watch you succeed too. They want to help you promote your brand as well. A great way to get brand exposure and attract potential buyers is to get an it-girl to wear your clothes, which I realize is easier said than done.
Building a good storefront business:
“Anyone can buy anything at any time from anywhere in the world.” So why do clients choose to go to Serenella? It’s all about that product expertise, trusted customer service, and the curated collection provided. For Neiman Marcus, “The relationships [their] associates have to clients is integral.” Often times, those who work in sales are the ones who have their fingers on the pulse of what their customers want to see and buy. And of course, “Customers are people willing to try new things and provide input. Use them!”
And lastly, for potential buyers:
Buying is a huge investment. You have to be bold and take risks, and if you make a mistake you could cost a company a lot of money. Take classes if possible, but also have a clear understanding of analytics. “Math and taste level is a winning combination,” as Dan Kramer of Neiman Marcus said. And if you play it right, you can be like Leslee Shupe of Serenella: “Milan is next week, I’m ready to go.”