Cool Careers: Fashion Buyer

04.02.13 Dress Kate Spade Cotton Candy Magazine

For countless women, it’s the dream job of a lifetime: fashion buyer.  The top buyers in the business don’t just follow the trends  – they make them.  Cotton Candy caught up with one of today’s most prominent fashion buyers, Caprice Willard of Macy’s.  Not only do millions wear her choices each season, but now throngs of fashion lovers are watching the trendsetter from week to week on NBC’s hit reality show ‘Fashion Star‘, in which contestants vie to get their designs picked by the world’s largest retail brands, including Saks Fifth Avenue, Express and Macy’s.  Caprice shares what it takes to be a successful buyer, how she managed to break into the business and what it’s really like working next to superstars and fashion icons Jessica Simpson and Nicole Richie.

Cotton Candy: For those who don’t know, what is a buyer? 

A buyer is basically the person who chooses the product that goes into a store.  There is literally a buyer behind every item you can purchase in a store.  I was recruited out of UCLA into a training program for buyers.  We called it Buyer Boot Camp, and it definitely gave me the training I needed to be successful.

You’re a featured buyer on NBC’s competition reality show, ‘Fashion Star’.  So exciting. How did that come about?

Macy’s thought I would be a good fit for the show given my experience.  I have been doing this for almost 20 years and one of the best parts of my job is finding great new talent.  ‘Fashion Star’ gives me a chance to do that – just on network TV.

Does appearing on television make you nervous?

Honestly, not as much as I thought it would.  I am fortunate to be doing what I know how to do; it just happens to be on TV. I actually LOVE being able to pull the curtain back on retail and show viewers how we go about picking great fashion.

Do you feel extra pressure to make the right buying decisions with millions of people watching?

No more pressure than I do every day.  Every day I have the responsibility of picking fashion for millions of people.  Women count on me to help tell them what trends are must haves and what they need to buy as an update to their wardrobe.  If I can handle that pressure, I can handle anything.

OK.  What about working with superstars such as Jessica Simpson and Nicole Richie?  Does that make an impact on you during the show?

It’s great to work with both of them, as well as John Varvatos.  They are amazingly talented and have been able to help the designers considerably.

Tell us about the best buy for Macy’s that you’ve ever made?

Honestly, there have been so many over the years I couldn’t pick just one.

So when you make decisions on the direction for the company, do you consider your personal style?

Not really. The goal is to think like the customer and sometimes that means putting my own style secondary or on the shelf altogether.  I buy with her in mind, not me in mind.

What features, colors and textures do you look for when buying clothes and accessories?

It really depends on the season.  In the fall season, darker hues, heavier fabrics are key.  In the spring, it’s the complete opposite.

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For someone who wants to break into the fashion industry as a buyer, what challenges can they expect?

The biggest challenge is getting started.  There are not as many training programs now as there was when I started.  A retailer like Macy’s offers many opportunities but some others may require you to start in a different capacity and work your way up.  The key is to stay focused, work hard and recognize every position is getting you one step closer to your goal.

What about you personally? How do you overcome those challenges?

I realized early on that every position I took – both in stores and in the buying offices – got me that much closer to my goals.  Every position helped me to be a better merchant, and I made sure I always left a position with the business being better than it was when I started.

What natural talents do you need for this job?

You need to be good with numbers – basically be very comfortable with math!  You also need to have a strong ability to multitask.  Great communication skills are also important.  I majored in English, if that tells you anything.  I think having a business or economics degree is ideal but it isn’t required.  We have people with all different majors who have done extremely well in the retail industry.

Take us through your daily routine as the Vice President/Regional Planning Manager for Women’s Apparel for Macy’s Southwest Region.

I wish I could but there is really no routine.  That’s what is so great about retail:  no two days are exactly the same – ever.

What’s the most challenging about your job?

Finding enough time in the day to get it all done.

What about the fun element?

Working in retail is the epitome of fun.  I enjoy everything about it – the fashion, the customers, the strategic thinking.

If you were not a buyer, what would you be doing?

Who knows?  I fortunately found my perfect job career right out of college. and I have been doing this ever since. It’s hard to imagine working in any other industry. Fashion is my thing. Always has been, always will be.

Cotton Candy Magazine®