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What it’s really like to be a fashion buyer

From someone who does it.

If you’ve spent any time around Melbourne’s CBD recently, you’re probably familiar with Zénith.

The retailer is giving your favourite international designers an Australian home. Behind the scenes, buying director Patricia Zhang is responsible for bringing those labels Down Under. She spends her time travelling between Asia and Europe, sourcing clothing from the likes of Vetements, Kenzo, Moschino and more.

It sounds like a pretty ideal career, hey? But we know not all jobs are as glam as they seem. We decided to chat to Patricia and see what life is really like as a fashion buyer.

Tell us a bit about your background and how you got into fashion.

I actually studied business management. I started my own business about three years ago selling Alice McCall and Aje to the Chinese market and that’s how I got into fashion. During this time, I began to discover that in Australia, there weren’t many European or American designer brands. I started to go into this area, talking to the brands to see if I could bring them to Australia and fill the market.

So you didn’t study fashion or styling?

Yes, and that’s made a difference. Most fashion buyers study arts, but studying business gives you a different insight into the industry. Everyone needs to make money. A lot of people get into this business because they love the fashion. I love fashion but the realistic side of things is that I need to make money out of what I like. So, that’s why business helped.

What does your role as a buying director involve?

Most people think a buying director is someone who just goes shopping and talks to brands; an amazing job because you are going to get free travel around the world. But that’s definitely not all of it. If I fly to Paris, I have to stay in the showroom the entire day. I even eat my meals in the showroom. It takes a lot of research, too. When you go to a showroom, you have to know the brands well. You have to research how the brand works in the market and whether it will suit an Australian audience. There’s a lot of things you need to calculate and you must always work within a budget. You need to fill out a lot of forms and send many emails each day (laughs). That’s basically the role: many emails, a lot of conferences and a lot of talking.

Is it hard to bring a label to Australia, especially if you’re a new store?

In this role, there are two sides. The first is that you need to think about the store and the customer: what type of brand suits the store and what designers will attract the customer.

The other is that you need to present yourself really well to the brands. They are in America and Europe and you need to convince them to think about bringing their culture into Australia. That’s a lot of talking and you need to know what a brand is looking for in a stockist. Most people think if you stock a brand, it will be happy because you are spending money on it. But that’s not entirely true. Gentle Monster, those sorts of brands, don’t care about money. They care about how you market them, how you present them in-store and how you educate your customers about them. A lot of designers are focused on the culture around their brands, rather than just making sales.

How do you stay up-to-date with new trends and brands?

The thing about being a buying director is you have to know the brand about two years before everyone else does. This is especially true in Zénith. We’re selling current trends, so we can’t just wait until a brand is booming.

The first way to do it [discover a brand] is to go to the showrooms and fashion weeks. Fashion weeks are especially good because they promote entrepreneurs, too. Secondly, reading.

Reading?

Yeah, reading (laughs). Reading a lot of articles, but ones that are archived or from a few years ago. You start with a picture of a trend and then work backwards, researching designers who did it first.

What’s the most important consideration when deciding to stock a new brand?

At the moment I keep an eye out, not just for a brand or product, but also for brands that we can become an official stockist of. It’s very important for a store, not to just keep on getting product but to be an official distributor of it.

What’s the best part about your job?

Travelling. It’s very tiring but I do like to travel because I get to experience a number of different cultures. I also love talking to the designers. I get to know more about a brand and the ideas behind it. You meet a lot of people and make a lot of friends.

You can visit Zénith at Tivoli Arcade, Bourke Street Melbourne.

zenithau.com.au

Follow Patricia’s journey here.

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