Cool Careers: Handbag Buyer10.01.10
Shopping is always fun — especially when you’re getting paid to do it. Luna Boston’s Sarah Johnson, one of the fashion industry’s budding handbag buyers, tells Cotton Candy readers how to break into the business, spells out the must-have traits for success and shares how to have longevity in the ever-changing field. Check it out.
Cotton Candy: For those who don’t know, what is a buyer?
Sarah Johnson: A buyer sees everything on the market in their category and edits all of the available product to present their clientele with the best possible mix of the product that they are looking for.
CC: So, how did you start your career as a buyer?
SJ: I fell into it somewhat. I’d worked the sales side of retail in high school and college and had a strong interest in handbags and accessories. When we opened Luna Boston, I learned how to become a buyer along the way.
CC: Tell us about Luna Boston?
SJ: We are an online contemporary handbag/accessories retailer. We are different from anyone else on the market because we hone our selection and provide product exclusives based on our strong relationships with our designers and because our company is based on excellent customer service and building long-term vendor and customer relationships.
CC: Spell out for us the challenges for someone who wants to break into the fashion industry as a buyer?
SJ: It can be very hard to get an “in”. Most buyers either fall into the position as I did, or go through larger department store training programs, which are long and can be trying. Buying also involves both styling and math, so prospective buyers need to be well rounded.
CC: How do you overcome those challenges?
SJ: I started small – our business started as a small retail operation in Boston with a budding Web site. Starting at that scale allowed me to learn as I went.
CC: What natural talents do you need for this job?
SJ: Well, a knack for filtering trends and the ability to build relationships and get what you want while still managing those relationships.
CC: What about education or training?
SJ: Some might disagree, but I think to be a successful buyer you should have some direct retail experience to understand that side of the business. Some experience in business and negotiation can be very helpful, and obviously a strong interest in fashion and the product that you will be buying, since you will be immersed in it.
CC: OK, point out some top companies in the industry to be a buyer?
SJ: I think this really depends who you ask! For example, buying for a boutique or a department store is a completely different experience. Personally, I think Zappos does an amazing job and hear great things about their buyers and their company culture.
CC: Take us through your daily routine at Luna Boston.
SJ: We’re a small company, so I do more than just buying. I don’t really have a typical day, but I’ll often e-mail with a few customers, review our selling and check where we need to re-order or consider markdowns, maybe work on some upcoming orders or go visit one of our showrooms. It really changes every day which is the beauty of it!
CC: What’s the most challenging about your job?SJ: The multi-tasking. I switch gears all day long, so I work hard to block out time to do big picture things like focus on seasonal ordering plans or designer projects.
CC: What about the fun element?
SJ: Collaborating with our designers on exclusive product. I love this because I can use my own knowledge about what customers want and will buy, and can hone that vision with our designers who can design and source the leathers and hardware that we need.
CC: What features, colors and textures do you look for when buying clothes and accessories?
SJ: I look for quality – stitching, structure, details, and for ease of design – we sell mostly handbags and we are online, so when my customer opens her package, that bag needs to be not just pretty but easy to get in and out of, well-organized inside, and feel good in her hand or on her shoulder. If it doesn’t, she will put it right back in the box to me.
CC: List some cities for us that yield themselves to your profession?
SJ: NYC and LA. The fashion industry really is centered in NYC, so it is easy to build relationships with designers and to see new collections or work on collaborations when you are close to the pulse of things.
CC: What do you say to someone who does not live in those areas?
SJ: I lived in Boston for five years and did this job from there! It still works, but you have to make time to travel to see designers as much as possible.
CC: If you were not a buyer, what would you be doing?
SJ: Good question. It’s really hard for me to say. I love the operations and service side of fashion as well, so I’d probably look to do some consulting helping fashion companies streamline their operations and improve their customer service.
Sarah Johnson is the cofounder and head buyer for lunaboston.com, a leading contemporary handbag and accessories Web site founded in 2004. She attended Duke University and has worked in retail and fashion since she was sixteen.