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LONDON, United Kingdom — Seeking a “holistic view” of the industry as a foundation for her career, Catriona Macleod — the accessories buying admin assistant at luxury retailer Browns — studied an art foundation at Leeds College of Arts, gained a BA in international business from Leeds University and interned in editorial and PR, before landing her first job at wholesale agency Polly King & Co.
After 3 years in wholesale, Macleod transferred to buying and started at Browns in 2017, two years after the boutique was acquired for an undisclosed sum by online marketplace and multi-billion dollar e-tailer Farfetch.
Established in 1970, Browns’ flagship on South Molton Street continues to showcase luxury brands alongside young designers in both its bricks-and-mortar stores and its e-commerce platform.
Here, Macleod shares her experience of landing a buying job as an accessories admin assistant at the London-based business.
What is your role at Browns?
I work in the buying team within womenswear, specifically in the accessories department in bags — there are three members in each sub-department. I work closely with my assistant buyer to go through the collections and go to appointments in London, before they go to the Paris and New York appointments. I support the team on everything regarding orders, from buying and selecting to confirming everything and making sure it is manageable. It’s about being pernickety with the details, which can get a bit crazy during market.
We work closely with all different teams across Browns: from the accounts team, making sure payments go through in a timely manner, to online, press and editorial, to push the product that we’ve picked during market. It’s a close relationship at Browns. We have weekly updates with those teams and we talk them through what we’re excited about, what’s coming next and then they’ll work on the edits and editorials accordingly.
What was your experience before working at Browns?
I started with an art foundation at Leeds College of Arts and then I did three years of international business at Leeds University; business was more what I wanted to do at the time but it’s still really relevant to what I do now. I did a few internships in PR and at magazines including InStyle, before I went into wholesale where I was an account executive for contemporary, ready-to-wear brand Self-Portrait at wholesale agency Polly King & Co. Then, I transferred across to buying.
I don’t think I would have benefitted [as much] from going straight into buying.
It was quite a roundabout way of getting into buying, but all of those experiences were so helpful in getting to this point. I don’t think I would have benefitted [as much] from going straight into buying. Fashion is one of those industries that you really have to have a holistic view of what’s going on in order to be successful. We’re working with many young brands that need a lot of support so, coming from my wholesale background, I’m able to offer that insight and give them advice. There’s no right or wrong way of doing it and all the experiences will help you in the end.
How did BoF help you in getting your job in buying?
I think you can find everything on BoF. It's a great platform as it brings everything to the table, from corporate news to the runways to the profiles it has on people. It offers an all-rounded element in fashion that I don’t think any other website or platform offers. It can be daunting to have all that information and to try to find all that information, but [BoF] offers everything in one space, which is great.
I think it’s definitely the first port of call in terms of recruitment within fashion. The moment I went on BoF Careers, I found exactly what I was looking for. When you want to search the whole world, it gives you all those different options. But then, you can filter and navigate your way around making that more specific really easily. In fashion there are so many different sectors so it can be overwhelming. Being able to filter down using that tool can be really helpful. I applied and got an answer the very next day. I had a great experience with the process. [It was] really easy, streamlined.
What is the working culture like within the buying team at Browns?
Buying has a reputation for being quite competitive, which is great, but it can also be quite stressful. Browns makes it enjoyable, even though it’s hard work. The moment anyone is struggling, across any department, other people will chime in. The buying team is very supportive, not just within your sub-department but across the whole buying team.
Ida [Petersson], the buying director, has regular updates with all managers to make sure everyone is working towards a common goal. It’s not, “This is your role, stick to it;” I share the workload of other roles. Ida has the mentality that you don’t need to stick in your one department and she moves a lot of the buying admin assistants around so they can get a feel for other categories and build on our experience.
It’s empowering to see so many women at the top level of the business.
There’s a culture of, if you’ve got a question, you go and ask that person — speak to them directly. There’s a lot of face to face. Even Holli Rogers [Browns chief executive] knows all the names of the BAAs and she constantly checks in with us. It’s empowering to see so many women at the top level of the business. They do an amazing job, and they’re so nice and inclusive.
What do you enjoy most about working at Browns?
Browns has grown so much in the time that I’ve been here, and I’ve only been here for a year and four months. I think that’s exciting because there are so many new people that come on board with amazing ideas; they're very creative. Ida definitely interviews and hires people who are of the same spirit, so everyone gets on really well, even though it’s now growing quite a lot.
[Browns owner] Farfetch is a huge reason I wanted to work at Browns, because I was working with a lot of boutiques in wholesale that were struggling in this online environment. But Farfetch has kind of saved that and shined a light on these local boutiques.
What excites you about working in fashion now?
There’s definitely a move towards contemporary brands. Now, through Instagram and social media platforms, anyone can search any brands, [even] the smallest of brands. Many brands that we take on, for example, don’t even have a website. On a weekly basis, someone on the team will come in and say, “We’ve seen this amazing brand on Instagram, we want to talk to them,” and straight away, we can inbox them and set up a meeting. That is the direction we want to go in, working with the designer brands but also with the younger brands. It can be someone straight out of university who started a brand with their best friend. It’s great to work with young brands who take our opinion and expertise on board. We can work collaboratively with them, as well as working with the big designer brands.