A Day In the Life of a Buyer

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It was a walk-in closet the size of a convention center when the Moda and Fame wholesale clothing show came to New York City on Feb. 19.  Garment, accessory and shoe designers were packed into a high-energy warehouse, awaiting boutique owners and stylists to pick over the coveted trends of the season.

Buyers typically go behind the scenes in environments like this two to four times per year to cover the fall and spring lines of traditional and eclectic designers. Buyers are the people who represent the style for a store, generating looks and holding responsibility for the critical selection of deciding what’s in and what’s out. Every piece of clothing has been extensively thought over regarding whether the target consumers, such as the college market, will buy it, the price of the material and when the store will be able to stock the new merchandise.

As a buyer intern for Red Hue Boutique, 36 Maryland Ave. in Rockville Town Center, my responsibilities include conducting trend research, writing press releases, maintaining the display models for the windows, steaming clothes, contributing to D.C. Fashion Week 2011 and assisting owner Silvia Huezo with any help that she may need with the store.

When Huezo offered me the opportunity to accompany her and fellow intern Amy Sichler to the clothing show, I jumped at the opportunity to wake up at 5 a.m. and drive to a place where I could play with clothes for seven hours. After receiving my official entrance badge, I was awakened by a sea of mannequins adorned with Ada handbags showcased in Glamour and People, Ark and Co. in Stylewatch, Lovely People shoes featured in InStyle and Restricted shoes in Seventeen magazine. Most brands that had been featured in popular magazines proudly displayed them next to their merchandise as a way to further validate the quality of their design.

Huezo consistently considered her interns’ perspectives for what she decided to purchase. “We had chosen wrap belts from Ada, but Silvia was very unsure about the colors I had suggested. I convinced her when I explained how I was thinking about our target market,” University of Maryland sophomore business major Sichler said. “The belts were one size, versatile and would fit women of any age. The chic ladies in our target market have quality basics, but come to Red Hue for some sophisticated spice.”

Each booth in the warehouse represented a different line, with clothes organized on racks based on their shipping date of when the product could be delivered to the boutique that buys them. Yellow tags means March, white is April, etc. Accessories tend to ship immediately compared to garments because of the smaller packaging, making them more desirable to buy in bulk. While I wanted to be ab1e to shop for myself in addition to Red Hue Boutique and buy a dress on display, I soon learned that wholesale tradeshows don’t operate for the individual, but for the masses.

If an owner decides to buy a dress, they have to decide how many “packs” they want. A pack means two each of small, medium and large sizes. The most difficult aspect of being a buyer is selecting clothes that not just you will like, but what will be most purchased by the target audience of your customers. Red Hue boutique is for mid- to late-20s and up, so a lot of the shorter, feminine items I typically go for are tossed in favor of bolder styles that are more versatile to both the professional world and happy hour afterward.

One designer that Huezo and I both agreed on as a must for Red Hue Boutique was Judith March, a Florida brand that began production in 2009. Thus far, the company has sold to over 2,000 boutiques and is continuing to build a following from those that relish looks from the past. The ’50s vintage-inspired line is reminiscent of a classic pinup girl meeting at the crossroads with flirty, fresh colors. My favorite designs were the summer dresses that combined different patterns on the neckline than the base shape of the dress. The white stripes on dark blue fabric combined with a cream and orange thick, floral halter attached itself seamlessly to a peeking eyelet hole. This makes for a unique look that is rarely shown on college campuses: Showing a bold contrast on the color wheel with just the right amount of skin, projecting an unparalleled sexy confidence.

Judith March in-house representative Anna Garrott attributes the unique design to the cohesive thought process of the company as a whole. “Yesterday the owner went to a yard sale and came back with a box of patterns and as a group we decided whether they felt timeless or not,” Garrott said. The company of Judith March greatly takes into account the perspectives from all of the stylists in order to generate modern clothes that expose a particular strength in retaining a retrospective feel. Their clothes work for all different body types, especially with the empire waist, sweetheart strapless or versatile dresses with pockets. The shift dresses are especially useful for either weekend wear or appropriate clothing that will meet formal workplace standards.

Knowing that my opinions of what clothes should be bought for Red Hue Boutique mattered to my employer was one of the best parts about attending the tradeshow. Many of the Judith March pieces I pointed out to Huezo were approved by her and successfully purchased so that other customers of Red Hue can now be introduced to this fabulous line.

Becoming a successful buyer takes more than just loving fashion. It demands the ability to look outside the realm of your own taste in clothes and think in the perspective of your target market: Would a 28-year-old woman buy this dress? Do these shoes reflect the quality the store prides itself on? Are we bringing in new styles to continually attract customers to the high selectivity of merchandise that Red Hue provides for its customers? The Moda/Fame tradeshow was more than just the ultimate shopping experience; it encouraged the use of intuition and stylecasting to grasp the beauty of a secret dress, exposed by pushing away that last hidden clothing rack.